It’s coming for us all
It’s no secret that superhero movies have dominated the box office for over a decade now. It’s also not a secret that a lot of people out there, myself included, have suffered from superhero movie burnout. Things have been winding down in the MCU after Endgame, and DC never really got much of a start to begin with. Now, it seems like Hollywood is running out of comic book material to mine, so they’re moving on to another action-oriented market they haven’t fully tapped into yet: the video game movie.
It seems like a new video game movie or show is being announced just about every day, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Games are the natural next step after comic books — they’re usually packed full of exciting fight sequences, and often center around the same fantasy or sci-fi tropes that audiences love. Plus there’s the added bonus of the automatic audience of people who already love the IPs that they’re adapting. It’s the obvious safe choice, something filmmakers gravitate towards every time.
Working against the past
But there’s just one problem — video game movies in the past have been notoriously bad, because for whatever reason filmmakers can’t quite seem to hit their stride in translating interactive content to a more linear format. Of course, there have been a few exceptions over the years. The Sonic series has been doing well on the silver screen, but for every success, there are dozens of other failed game-to-film projects. The World of Warcrafts, Assassin’s Creeds, and most recently, Uncharteds of the world have already telegraphed to the public that video game movies are almost always a letdown.
On the other hand, we have shows like The Witcher and Arcane that have done exceptionally well, which provide a little bit more hope. I’m a staunch believer that games should have always been adapted in a serialized format anyway, especially if the creators are going for a 1:1 translation of the story that was originally from the game.
Games already tell their stories in a much longer form than films, so if you want to cut it down to a two-hour runtime rather than a fifteen- to thirty-hour one, creators will need to make a lot of changes.
I’m all for changes, though, when they can add to the experience. Arcane was set in the world of League of Legends, but expanded upon that world in a way that players and viewers hadn’t seen before. Trying to make an exact TV version of League of Legends would have been kind of ridiculous given that it’s not a story-driven game, but the end result of Arcane is a good case study in how taking an idea and transforming it into something new (aka the whole point of adapting something to a new medium) is what will make the project shine the most.
Putting a new spin on the classics
This is especially true of games where the performances are their most iconic feature. It’s what makes me most hesitant about HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us — Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are Joel and Ellie. They put so much of themselves into those characters, which means the new cast has some big shoes to fill. Those story moments are punctuated with such specific emotional beats from the actors, which were so perfectly captured by the animation — just try and tell me that the last shot of Ellie’s face when she says “okay” isn’t one of the most iconic and recognizable in all of gaming.
For me, the only way that the Last of Us show can see success is if those in charge of creating it lean into Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s respective takes on Joel, Ellie, and the relationship between them rather than trying to perfectly recreate moments from the game.
Netflix’s newly confirmed BioShock movie will have a similar problem; it also contains some of the most iconic performances in games history. It also has the additional problem of using more gaming conventions to convey its narrative than The Last of Us does, specifically through the radio. Having the player receive so much of the game’s story content through a radio that plays as they explore was a smart way to keep the player engaged in the narrative, and although it’s not impossible, I think it will be pretty difficult to keep the viewer engaged in the same way while also not giving up the twist right away.
I think the thing I find most frustrating about all of these adaptations is that they mostly just don’t need to happen, not really. In theory, it’s really cool to think of seeing some of my favorite stories in a new light — the abstract, nebulous idea of seeing a stylized, well-produced new take on BioShock or Portal is something I’m ravenous for.
If you’re gonna do it, do it right
I can’t know for sure why Hollywood keeps getting this stuff wrong, but my guess is that they don’t understand how the interactivity of games makes them unique. It’s an entirely different set of rules of how you tell a story, and that can be much more difficult to understand when one doesn’t have a grasp on the medium in the first place. Any old film executive understands how a book works, but I can bet that plenty of them have never even played a video game before.
My only hope is that these studios continue to incorporate lots of people from the games industry who can help bridge that gap, and that they try to capture the spirit of what made the original fun rather than just copy and pasting story beats.
For now I will remain skeptical, so that when a good video game movie does come out, I can be pleasantly surprised, rather than let down yet again.
[Featured Image Source: Variety]