Movies inspired by games face several unique challenges. There is an existing audience that must be served. These are the core fans and most of them are going to go see this film (even if it’s directed by Uwe Boll). I’d like to believe some films are made for game fans, to broaden the experience of the game and to celebrate the stories and characters we love. (It’s probably all about money, but whatever…)
Then there is the new audience: folks who don’t game and those who might have heard something about something and are curious enough to check it out. I’m sure there are fans of the Resident Evil franchise that have never played the games.
The biggest challenge is in balancing these two audiences without boring the first and confusing the second. Then there are matters of script, direction, actors and overall vision.
There have been some truly terrible game movies (In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale) and some pretty good ones. I like the Resident Evil movies because you don’t need to know anything about the world before going in. The movies do a great job of catching you up because the plot of each is based on the story. So even if you have no idea what came before, a few minutes in, you’ve got a pretty good idea that a) there’s a zombie thing happening and b) an evil corporation is behind it all. Recruit a capable actor (I really, really like Milla Jovovich), give the movie a half-decent plot, show us some fab stunts and special effects, and we’re happy. With the Resident Evil series, there’s also the added bonus of every movie being a collaboration of a sort between the husband and wife team of Milla Jovovich and Paul Anderson. You can tell they love the movies as much as the fans do. They do their best and it shows.
I found the Assassin’s Creed movie somewhat disappointing. After learning Michael Fassbender would be leading the cast, I really wanted to see the film. I read articles about how involved he was in the development of the project and got even more excited. I think my main issue with this film is that I have played nearly every Assassin’s Creed game. From the beginning. I know this world very, very well. The movie feels more as though it’s geared toward those who’ve never played a single game. There’s too much backstory and it lacks the impact of having “lived” through several twists and turns of plot over the course of nearly a decade.
I understand they wanted to separate the movie from the games in a way that allowed them to create a new and unique story, and I’m all for that. I’ve read a few of the tie-in novels and am generally a fan of any media that expands a universe. But the story felt almost foreign to me. I failed to connect. The romance didn’t work. All I really came away with was that the new Animus was pretty cool, the special effects had been handled fairly well, and I liked the inclusion of a real-world leap of faith. That was about it. I’d maybe watch a sequel on video. Maybe.
I really, really enjoyed Warcraft: The Beginning. I had a lot of fears regarding this one as I think it’s harder to adapt fantasy worlds to the big screen. There is so much lore. And you have to get it right or every fan with a smartphone is going to nitpick on every social media platform. (Actually, that’s probably true of every adaptation, but gamers are the ultimate nerds.) Warcraft did a good job. I loved the sets. They actually made me nostalgic for World of Warcraft. I remembered being in certain places. I felt like I was there again. I also liked the story. I think the script struck a good balance between serving fans without boring them and giving every viewer something new. If I had a quibble with the movie, it was in trying to separate Ragnar Lothbrok from Anduin Lothar. 😉
One of my favorite film to game adaptations is Battleship. The movie has been roundly ridiculed for a lot of things, the two biggest being the Missouri actually being seaworthy and that amazing anchor-drop broadside. Whatever. The anchor-drop broadside looked SO COOL and I loved that they used real vets in the film. I liked the idea that they were still battle ready. The movie is director Peter Berg’s homage to naval conflict, which doesn’t get a lot of screenplay. My favourite aspect of the film is the unique way Berg translated the pencil and paper game of Battleship to hide and seek game on the open water using the tsunami buoys.
Let’s talk Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Um, I loved it… and I’m going to tell you why. First of all, I feel Jake Gyllenhaal is an undervalued actor. He puts so much into every role, every project, and while he undoubtedly knew this movie would face the same critical ridicule garnered by every “game” movie, he put his all into this. I believed he was Dastan. I kinda loved that he was Dastan. I drew fan art of Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan and went on to design a playable character in another world based on that art. Oh, yeah.
I liked the story. I liked the other actors. I liked the production. But what I really, really loved about the Prince of Persia movie was how much like the game it felt. I’ve played Sands of Time and there were moments in the movie where I could almost have had a controller in my hands. They translated the acrobatic sequences really well.
Which brings me to the reason I started writing this post: the new Tomb Raider movie. I went to see it on Tuesday and I enjoyed it very much. I’ve been playing Tomb Raider and watching the movies since the beginning. I don’t know that I was drawn to the series because it had a female protagonist and I’m pretty sure the original series, games and movies, weren’t designed with female gamers in mind. I simply wanted in for the adventure. I really like games that combine action with puzzling, making me a fan of such long-running franchises as Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted. (When are we getting an Uncharted movie??)
The 2013 edition of Tomb Raider (game) felt more like it had been designed with me in mind—except for the multiple occurrences of death by impalement. I’d always felt Lara to be a capable heroine, but her new clothing (and breast size) fit more comfortably. I liked that she could do what needed to be done while remaining feminine (which is what I loved about Wonder Woman).
So I was pretty pleased with Alicia Vikander as the new Lara Croft. She’s smart and capable, but not always the best at everything. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She screams when she’s free-falling and grunts in pain when she’s taking a beating. This is not a woman trying to be a man; it’s a woman being a woman. It’s a difficult distinction to make sometimes, but one I always appreciate.
The movie isn’t the most imaginative, spectacular game-to-movie movie out there. But it’s decent. I liked the plot. I liked that we went back to the beginning so a new generation of fans could get to know Lara. Find out where she came from and appreciate how she became the Tomb Raider. The stunts were great. I was all geared up for impalement and happily disappointed. I enjoyed seeing Daniel Wu and Nick Frost (Into the Badlands) on screen together, even if they weren’t exactly on screen together in this one.
My favourite aspect of the film, though, was the way the stunts were filmed. Like Prince of Persia, I actually felt as if I was in a video game world for some of them. There were even a couple of instances where I was glad not to be because the acrobatic puzzle would have been one I failed and failed and failed. I also felt the movie remained faithful to the game with the inclusion of notebooks and puzzles. All in all, it was just a lot of fun to watch.
I’m off to see Ready Player One today and I have high hopes for it. It looks as if it’s going to be bigger than the book—as though the producers have taken the virtual reality part and made it the most important aspect of the movie because it will all look so cool! I hope they remember to put a good story in there. The story is very good, especially for old gaming nerds like me.
What are your favourite video game movies?