With the upcoming Tomb Raider movie releasing in just a few days on March 16th, the debate as to whether video game movies (or indeed any kind of adaptation of video game material) are a good idea has once again come around. Equally, the question of whether video games based on influential materials like films, television or literature are a positive addition to our game libraries is once again being toyed with, and a number of people – reflecting upon previously poor installations on both fronts – have been shaking their heads. I am not one of these people.
While video game movies and TV shows may have a notoriously bad reputation due to their generally poor execution, I don’t believe this to be the norm – or a permanent situation – for one minute. There are some exceptional examples of shows and movies which take video games as their inspiration and create something great from it. Who can forget, for instance, the 40-episode long Sonic Underground series? Although the show was lenient with the Sonic source material, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience which weaved an emotionally-engaging and exciting story about three young hedgehogs fighting evil and trying to find their absent mother. I have the entire series on DVD and still rewatch it every so often.
There is so much potential in the two-way conversion of video games into other forms of entertainment and of entertainment into video games
And, on the flipside of movies, television and literature being converted into video games, who can deny that The Witcher series is a work of art? Who didn’t love all of the Lego Star Wars games on the PS2 and all of the various iterations since, such as Lego Harry Potter or Lego Batman? Heck, who can hate on all of the amazing fighting game adaptations that have combined both video game characters and cinematic heroes, such as Marvel VS. Capcom? There is so much potential in the two-way conversion of video games into other forms of entertainment and of entertainment into video games, and anyone who doesn’t believe that something great can come out of that process needs educating on the great adaptations that already exist.
Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft and Hitman: all critically and commercially successful video game franchises that failed to replicate that success through their respective film adaptations. These examples are indicative of the situation since video games’ transition to film began in 1993 with the Super Mario Bros. movie.
Perhaps it’s the structure of the gaming industry itself that causes the failure of its film adaptations. Creative directors that craft the narrative structure of a video game often move on to bigger and better projects within the same industry instead of working on films. Even Neil Druckmann, creative director of The Last of Us, who is attached to the film version, has remained busy with numerous game projects since the original announcement of the film.
And then there are games like Resident Evil which have film franchises that bear only a very slight resemblance to the games that inspired them. If this needs any exemplification, the latest (and supposedly final) entry in the film franchise received scathing reviews upon release, while Resident Evil 7, the new entry in the game series, saw massive critical success. However, both the game and film were financial juggernauts, so it remains to see whether Capcom will take note.
Some elements of video games are impossible to translate to film
Above all though, some elements of video games are impossible to translate to film. Game developers enhance the relationship between a player and the protagonist of a game by ensuring they are actively involved in their character progression. Add this to the more significant length of time a gamer would spend with a character than a cinema audience, and it’s evident why so many films falter in adapting these relationships - watching is much more of a passive experience than playing. And beyond that, die-hard fans of the franchise become detached when watching character ties created over many hours compressed into a two-hour film.
Films rarely supplement the games that form their foundations. Instead, they’re usually weak recreations that are unavoidably simplified. While the concept of translating great stories to a broader audience is noble, it ultimately misses the point of IP that are strengthened by the unique characteristics of the medium they were designed for.