Why Aren't There Any Quality Videogame Film Adaptations?

by Paul Deeter

When I write articles involving retrospective takes on semi-recent films or film genres I usually tend to do some research prior. While it can be distracting to listen to music in the background, or have something playing on the TV, sometimes, on certain exceptions, I'll put a movie on that helps inspire me to write. For this article tonight I thought it would be appropriate to put on the movie Silent Hill from 2006, a film I had rented from Blockbuster (God I'm old) and watched with a young friend of mine. Back in the teenage years I had a penchant for watching movies based on videogames, mostly because I was something of a gamer then, and even now. The blur between the virtual reality of videogames and the use of film narrative to fictionalize a story seemed like the appropriate media to blend. What's wrong with taking a franchise like the games Silent Hill, and using the horror and dystopic elements that seem so eerily inspired by Twin Peaks to make a movie in the same style? It is with this movie that I give the second chance of impressing me post 2006: watching it in 2021 with the eyes of an experienced film fan. Silent Hill is not a good movie. But at the same time its not a bad film either. My parents had a close film-buff friend who would recommend classic and international films that flew under the radar to most viewers. And given his film expertise it felt validating to have his recommendation given for a film that was mostly considered a flop financially and was poorly received by critics. He (at least at the time) vouched for Silent Hill.

All that being said, I've chosen not to use his name in the article for either of our sakes. Film opinion can be sacred, personal and even private. I wouldn't want the world to know about all of my guilty television and film pleasures, and I'm sure my readers are in the same boat. So flash-forward to 2021, and even now the question begs to be asked: Why are there no good videogame adaptations?

Maybe the exception that proves the rule.

I know what you're thinking, or want to say, so I'll jump ahead and throw out some films that have been honestly considered quality or even high-caliber to some degree. I'll point towards probably the most successful and franchise ready film of 2020, Sonic the Hedgehog which not only catered to younger audiences but even brought in grizzled fans of the series to boot. With the combination of talents from Jim Carrey and Ben Schwartz, two comedy pros at different apexes of their careers, the film glides by on a brisk 90-minute run (pun intended) due mostly to their phenomenal performances. The movie was a successful film despite only a 60% favorability on Rotten Tomatoes, and even led to a confirmed 2022 sequel. So. Do I think Sonic the Hedgehog is a good movie? Yes. Do I think its a video-game movie. Well, no. Sonic and the fictional entities of the characters created by Sega are characters that exist in and around the franchise of the videogames they're featured in. So it could be said, that Sonic the Hedgehog is a successful franchise film, or a fresh re-introduction to a character seen on TV and commercials as well as in games. I may be stretching the rule here, but let's just say, even if Sonic is a successful and overall positively received videogame adaptation, why then did it take so long for us to see one?

Let's bring it back to the golden age of gaming, or at least the decade that changed the landscape so rapidly after the popularity boom in the 80s. I briefly referenced the transition to gaming arcades to home use consoles in my previous article, but let me elaborate on that. The Super NES came out in 1990, which would make 1993 a very popular year for at home gaming. This year had Secret of Mana, Star Fox and Kirby's Adventure and more relevantly Super Mario All-Stars. So when the famous financial flop that was Super Mario Bros hit the theatres, a film that wasted Dennis Hopper in his goofiest role along with other respectable actors, people were pissed. There are countless exposes on this film and what it did to the 90s and how it is still considered probably the worst film ever made. I'll sum it up with a line from this article by Keith Stuart:

A little while into the planned 10-week shoot, the LA Times sent journalist Richard Stayton to write a set report. He found a cast and crew simmering with resentment over rewrites and production changes. . Hoskins was cruelly dismissive. “All these rewrites get frustrating so I don’t do too much research,” the article said. “My seven-year-old son is quite depressed about my playing Mario. He knows I can’t even program a VCR, let alone play the game. How do I prepare for the role? I’m the right shape. I’ve got a moustache.” Keith Stuart

This doesn't look like any Goomba I grew up with.

If Bob Hoskins' own son is suspicious of the casting choice of his old man as Mario, well, need I say more? This film sent echoes ahead. With the exception of the success of the Paul W.S. Anderson feature Mortal Kombat in 1995 (which would be followed with a popular sequel in 1997), the millennium came around to bear bad tidings for us all. Let's talk about Uwe Boll for a minute. I know. I'm sorry.

Uwe Boll is the Ed Wood of a digital and graphically oversaturated film era. He's the cream of the crop when it comes to bad film adaptations. This cinematic enfant terrible would go so far as to beat up critics of his that dissed his films. And he loved to adapt films based on videogames. Starting in 2003 with House of the Dead, Uwe Boll would go on to adapt Alone in the Dark in 2005 and work on Bloodrayne and Postal adaptations in 2007, keeping very busy. While he pumped these movies out, he received both critical and consumer based backlash for his films, some that would even be considered to this day offensively bad. Postal: The Movie for example, a movie based on a series of games in which you basically "go postal" decided to try to be as controversial as possible (because wasn't the game bad enough?) This film flies between racist, sexist and crude humor to shock the audience into having a bad time. Postal: The Movie currently sits at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, which embarrassingly enough is actually one of his higher rated films. All this between 2000 and 2010!

Let me get back to what I mentioned before about Super Mario Bros. This movie was not just bad, it set a precedent. While today we can look back upon the film with amusement and a respect for the corny cult following it led to years later, at the time it was terrible PR. Not just PR for the film series, company and actors involved, but also for the simple fact that it was a bad videogame movie. It's kinda like stumbling before you hit the ground running. But as a baby giraffe clumsily learns how to walk after lots of falls, videogame movies continued to fail, most of them financially and almost entirely critically. It's no under-talked about topic of discussion in both the videogame and film communities. It's just a given.

Part of this discussion begs the question of why this keeps happening, whether its bad casting like Jake Gyllenhaal as the Persian Prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, or bad direction and lack of self-awareness like the computer graphically spliced footage in House of the Dead. There are simply so many examples of these failures that studios didn't recover from. We're talking extremely successful videogames like Max Payne, Assassin's Creed and Hitman, how could they go so wrong? Part of it, in my opinion, comes down to lack of sincerity over everything else. Big production companies may see money when they put Mark Wahlberg on the big-screen as a bullet fueled revenge anti-hero straight from the consoles. But where is the respect for those who closely followed the series these films are based upon? Or maybe it's that these movies have trouble distinguishing themselves in a market of action flicks and superhero films. Because of this precedent I can only imagine how many pitches for films about classic arcade characters have been declined and trashed. We can only imagine.

So over 25 years after Super Mario Bros, do we appreciate Sonic for its quality, or just the fact that it doesn't completely suck? Well, if anything we can appreciate it for the gamble it took and paid off. And if this film's success is any sign of continued faith in future franchise films, we can already see an April release of an R-Rated Mortal Kombat, an Uncharted film with Tom Holland, and a pretty-promising The Last of Us series starring Pedro Pascal. Videogame movies may have had a bumpy past, but they're certainly confident about their future. I'll swing back to my viewing of Silent Hill. Like I mentioned before, this film is admirable for its attempts to honor the series that birthed it, as much as it tries to stand out as a solid-atmospheric horror film. Most of the movie was shot in Super 35mm format. It contained an excellent soundtrack from composer Yamaoko, straight from the original games. And dammit, it's scary. So all in all, while Silent Hill came and went from the limelight to overall obscurity, it holds a soft spot in my heart, and a few others confirmed. It's a film that's sincere without trying to wring money out of a classic franchise. There's a lesson to be learned here. As videogames become more cinematic, cinema should take note that making a good adaptation is not easy game.,fists%2C%20rather%20than%20his%20films.

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