Making video game movies is hard, much harder than you think it would be. After all, the marketing research is done for you at the get-go, they're usually full of action and excitement, and the modern ones have whole bits of brilliant dialogue you can just lift right out. How on Earth do you mess this up?
That's Hollywood for you. They view every intellectual property as a starting point that must be cut and stretched until it fills up a demographic BINGO card rather than simply saying, "What would that look like as a movie?" The result is mediocre hybrids of film and cinema that usually smell like Uwe Boll's ballsack.
In the history of video game film, the first Mortal Kombat was watchable, the Resident Evil series is all right, Tomb Raider could've been worse, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was brilliant but completely impenetrable to people who hadn't played the original game, and the rest is forgettable crap that had no business ever being greenlit.
It's gotten to the point that if you want to experience a game as a film instead of a player, there are entire YouTube channels just for that. For instance, we loved BioShock, but can't play the sequel because fuck the colorblind, that's why. So we simply watched a playthrough of it on YouTube. Or how about the latest Mortal Kombat or Twisted Metal games? Enterprising YouTubers cobbled together full-length films by editing together cutscenes.
Then there are the people who make their own film adaptations free from the constraints of the studio system and succeed so hard on an artistic level that it's only a matter of time before they sneak up behind the film industry and beat it to death with its own solid gold shoes. The list of YouTube adaptations that trump anything Hollywood has ever done includes...
When David Jaffe, the co-creator of the Twisted Metal car battle series of games, said that he'd like to make a low-budget horror flick and distribute it on PSN, Ben Moody was inspired. Home Sweet Home is a slasher flick based on the iconic killer clown Sweet Tooth, rather than trying to make some kind of realistic car battle short.
There are some great shots of the infamous ice cream van, and Chris King is a frighteningly accurate representation of one of video game history's greatest monsters. Execution-wise, it's somewhere between Charles Band and Stacy Davidson, which puts it in very good company. Anyone else thinking how awesome a Grindhouse 2 would've been if this had been the double feature alongside Machete?
Of all the genres of games that defy an explanation as to why they can't be made into good films, the fighting game is the most baffling. We mentioned the first Mortal Kombat as being somewhat acceptable. That's because aside from the terrible script and crap acting, there were a series of undeniably awesome battles between martial artists.
Thousand Pounds Fight Team has made many forays into turning fighting games into not-crap. Their latest effort is the merging of the Street Fighter and Tekken worlds, which deals with both Ryu and Jin Kazama being seduced to the potential for evil in themselves by Kazuya Mishima and Akuma respectively. The effects are a bit hokey, the music isn't inspired, but would you just watch those fight scenes? It's like watching gods at war.
We wouldn't blame Hollywood too hard if they couldn't make a good Portal game. Portal is proof that games are their own distinct art form, not just playable movies. The very act of solving the puzzles, the way it changes your brain, is as much an essential part of its art as the dialogue from GLaDOS and the fantastic imagery. Translating that to film might be impossible, so we'll let Hollywood slide on this one.
Or we would if Dan Trachtenberg hadn't already proven that thinking with portals can accomplish a lot. If you made a film version of Portal, you would have to make it more than one woman's struggle against a sarcastic super computer, and you would have to up the danger factor considerably. Trachtenberg does both by making his Portal a sort of Cube/Matrix mash-up that absolutely works. If someone would give him a shot, he just might make the cerebral action film we've all been waiting for since Matrix: Reloaded failed so hard to deliver.
Of all the works we've covered here, Hero of Time suffers the most from its own limitations. On the one hand, it is absolutely amazing how they managed what they've accomplished. Hell, the film looks better than Dungeon Siege, and they poured money into that like it was some kind of currency-eating, vengeful god that would otherwise destroy them. On the other hand, the Legend of Zelda is an epic that needs the Hollywood money, and you can clearly see places where BMB Finishes just had to make do.
Keep in mind, though, that they did manage to make a full-length Zelda film. On top of that, Nintendo, in a move of enormous magnanimity, allowed them to actually release it in a small way. They only got to screen it in a few theaters and online for a little more than a year, which was the deal the two sides made, but as far as we can tell, that means that a little film group from Atlanta has accomplished something truly extraordinary. They actually made a feature Zelda film, something that Hollywood hasn't even been able to start.
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Kevin Tancharoen also did the impossible. He took a beloved franchise, completely altered almost everything about it in a display of not giving a shit that will surely ensure him a place in the No Fuck Hall of Fame, and still made fans fall in total love with it. All the mysticism is replaced by brutal serial killers being gathered for an underground fight ring. It was daring; it was cutting-edge; it deserved to be made a film.
Then...well, Warner Bros got involved and the result was Mortal Kombat: Legacy, a Web series we covered in exhaustive detail when it came out. Though there were some spots of undeniable genius in the series, it was just as clear that Tancharoen was pitted against the studios to compromise his vision with the vision of the upcoming game. The result was a watered-down attempt that we don't think is going to get any better when the feature film Tancharoen is helming comes out.
Rebirth remains a parable. Why you can do whatever you want artistically on YouTube is the same reason that mainstream video game movies suck hose water. When the studios get involved, they are trying to make something that will appeal to such a low common denominator that it will do big business here and overseas. Including elements of the original material is more of a chore than an artistic objective. When they put it up on YouTube, it's just because they want to see a damned Twisted Metal horror movie.