Wednesday, April 8, 2009

OPINION: Why Video Game Movies Suck, and Why Bioshock Will Be Different...

It's been a slow news week this week. Outside of some minor stuff, probably the biggest, or most interesting news coming out of the world that we like to call Hollywood, is this:

It looks as though Gore Verbinski has decided to ditch the franchise he helped boost, the Pirates series, to go work on the video game adaptation, Bioshock.

Before I get into what makes this news interesting, here is the VERY brief plot synopsis of the Ayn Rand influenced survival-horror video game.

The story of Bioshock places you in the mind of Jack, a regular guy. You are on a airplane crossing the Atlantic Ocean, when suddenly the plane crashes into the sea. Your only hope for survival is a large tower on a small island near the crash site. You make your way inside and take a small submersible down to the under water city of Rapture. You must fight the inhabitants of the underwater hell in order to survive.

Now what makes this news interesting, outside of the fact that Pirates 4 is now in limbo (will be done, just don't know by who), but it's because of this little coda.

Video game movies suck, and always have.

Just take a look at the track record of films. Double Dragon, Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Wing Commander, Tomb Raider, House of The Dead, Doom, DOA: Dead Or Alive, and the people in Hollywood even messed up Hitman.

Yes, there have been quite a few bright spots, particularly Silent Hill. Probably my favorite video game franchise, this film left me frightened, and most importantly I think, wanting to put in the disc and start up the game. Great performances, alright script, and a great score all were amped up by the most important thing about that franchise, the mood. However, where this one succeeded, many, well, most, have failed. And there is a distinct reason for this.

The biggest thing hindering this medium from making the jump to feature film, is the lack of narrative storytelling within the game. Yes, there are a few games series that rely heavily on plot and plot movement. Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, and yes, Bioshock. Bioshock has a very deep and compelling plot, yet it may not be enough to make the jump to the silver screen.

The best example of a film without a plot stinking up the cinemas is Hitman. Basically a game about a guy who goes around assassinating folks sounds like an interesting game, right? Yeah, it does, and it really is. However, take that to the film studios, you throw in a newcomer director, religious cults, and a hot Russian, and you get a schlock fest to end all schlock fests. Want another example? Max Payne will give you one. Basically a game about a man who wants revenge for the death of his family (sounds like our favorite caped crusader, right?), yet you take out any interesting concepts about the act of revenge, or any plot turns that happened in the game, and throw in Mila Kunis, and you get a gorgeous failure.

Yet, go back to Silent Hill. In my humble opinion, the creepiest game in the history of video games, not only has a brilliant visual style, but the storyline is so deep within the series that it allows the player to not only chew on the visual style, but get their appetite fulfilled by omnomnoming one hell of a great plot line, that balances their distinct sense of horror, religion, and creative narrative.

That smaller, yet influential, thing hindering video games from making the jump is one simple thing. Participation. Video games, with the huge influence of sandbox games like GTA and the like, have become heavily open ended. Almost to a point where they can be comparable to chose your own story books. Games like the aforementioned GTA could never work, as they are based to heavily on our imagination to fill in voids in the plot, and also what we do as the character in the game.

That is one thing going for Bioshock. Not only does it have a great and compelling story, but it's also, while the game-play is influenced by upgrades, is rather heavy in narrative game-play. Another thing as well is that the main character is compelling. Games like Halo wouldn't work, as the main character isn't truly a part of the narrative in any interesting way.

The one thing not boding well for Bioshock, is the medium in which it's being adapted. Modern film makers are not simply attempting to adapt something. Sure, Watchmen was basically a straight adaptation, but that leads me to my point. Modern films, or at least ones that are worth watching, are striving to say something more than simply a storyline. Yes, there are your Slumdogs, but even that film had the subplot of what it takes to come out of poverty. The Wrestler had the poverty subtext, Benjamin Button was about aging, love, and a thousand other things that I could, but won't list, and you have the aformentioned Watchmen, which tried to say just about every thing but the blue, atomic kitchen sink. That is where video games falter. In that respectable medium, it's simply about the interactive narrative, no subtext, leaving not much to be said for either discussion, or multiple viewings. What makes a film successful is not the box office, but the amount of times one is willing to subject themselves to the film, and if it leaves you feeling something. Anger, sadness, or happiness, all make films worth spending 8 dollars.

So sure, there is a great history of craptastic video games, but you know what. Here's to Bioshock. Here's to hoping a great game can be turned into a great film.

Actually, on that fact, I have a question, or more a series of questions.

I want to hear from you guys, on the following:

I want you all to go ahead, pick a video game, cast the leads, give me a director, and think of a one, two, or three sentence plot synopsis. Be creative!

Go see something good!


  1. Firstly, you can take a GIANT step back. Super Mario Bros. The Movie was excellent, and is high up on the 'my favorite movies' list. I would never call it a film, but it accomplished a good deal, although there is a bit I would like to change about it. From the 'poop list' you mentioned, I deem it the most successful. The casting for it was decent, and yes, I will admit there were a lot of things I would've changed, but overall it didn't flop nearly as hard as "Max Payne" or "Hitman".
    Secondly, I think the director will be shooting himself in the foot by switching away from the Pirates series. It's a goldmine, and everyone knows it. He's done a good job so far, and the only flaw I saw with the series is the Giant Tia Dalma at the end of Pirates 3. It kind've lost itself then... but overall, I think it has been at the very least a success and i'm happy there was no rebuttles from the Ninja film industry.
    Thirdly, I would be intrigued to see a Bioshock movie. A bit soon? sure. But was it one hell of a video game that won numerous awards at the G4 video game awards. I just hope it doesn't end up in the pile of shitty video game movies that have sucked and aren't even good enough to waste in a bonfire or to throw at other people in a 'dvd battle'.

  2. On those three things.

    First, I actually despise pretty much everything about Super Mario Bros, from top to bottom. It just doesn't hold up at all. Sure, it's fun when you are four, but it doesn't stand up as even a "to bad it's fun" type of film, as is say Street Fighter (originally written to be a GI Joe film btw)

    Second, I agree about the Pirates film series, but it's the Chris Nolan effect. Verbinski, while not half the visionary Nolan is, is a great film maker, whose resume includes great films like The Ring and The Weatherman, two really solid movies. Now, like I said, he's not half the director Nolan is, so this isn't a direct comparison, but the comparison is made in that he's a creative guy who should try to not be stuck in a series that looks to tread rather redundant waters. Sure, Pirates 4 will be huge, but really, there isn't much more they can do with it.
    Third, sure, it's a bit soon, but it's about time they do it, because the franchise may end up being lost in the new generation of bigger scope video games. That's just my opinion. Strike while the kettles hot.


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