Once upon a time in Hollywood…
…a creative executive looked down at his child’s game console and wondered: why hasn’t someone made movie out of a game? True to showbiz piranha fashion, he then realized that he could do a low-budget film adaptation based on a game which would play to an existing audience, could get partial funding from the gaming company, attract lots of game-loving kids who would then pour their hard-earned allowances and holiday cash into merchandise and fast food tie ins. And, of course, just like an endless cycle of video games, a movie adaptation of a popular game could spawn endless sequels.
Said movie executive overlooked one key principle when it comes to gaming: unlike cinema which relies on the creative vision of a team of artists working to create a reaction in an audience, the audience drives the game. Does that mean that video games are not art? The great Roger Ebert didn’t think so, and wrote extensively to reject the notion. He may or may not have been right, though the track record of video games as movies would suggest that something gets lost in the translation from console to screen.
Perhaps there is a more fundamental truth at work here: maybe video games just make rotten movies, as these ten can attest.
So then, in no particular order…
10. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider might be the most watchable film on this list, benefiting from a charismatic, curvaceous lead actress in Angelina Jolie. Like the game that inspired it, Tomb Raider is something of an Indiana Jones knock-off, following adventurer Croft as she tries to recover a mysterious artifact on the eve of a celestial convergence. Unfortunately, while a game can transport the player around the world between levels with little explanation, a movie like this one requires an actual narrative. Simon West directs with little finesse or penchant for action: the fight choreography is standard post-Matrix wire work accompanied by noisy techno, and the tone of the film seems torn between out and out camp and sincere adventure. Jolie moved on to better projects since, and Tomb Raider landed in the discount DVD bin at Wal-Mart.
Doom plays like a tease and a mockery to fans of the classic game: one sequence is shot from a first-person perspective, ostensibly as a homage to the groundbreaking perspective of the game. Instead, that one sequence illustrates everything wrong with this cinematic adaptation: the fun of playing “Doom” came from playing it, not from the story. Dwayne Johnson–still billed as “The Rock”–and Karl Urban labor through this low-rent, ridiculous dreck about giant Martians threatening the population of Earth…or something like that. The characters fire enough guns to make the viewer scream “stop shooting” both in the context of the noise, and as an order to the camera operator. If the original game functioned like a shooting gallery, the movie works more like a firing squad.
8. Super Mario Bros
Adapting the most popular game series of all time seemed like a natural start for a movie business exploiting video game audiences. The final film, however, despite a very talented cast and a media blitz, argues otherwise. Gone are the walking mushrooms and floating turtles, (yes, I know they’re called Goombas and Koopas), replaced by a dinosaur Manhattan covered in fungus. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, as the titular brothers, try their best to make the movie entertaining, but alas, no amount of boozy mugging (both actors confessed to getting drunk to get through filming) could save this mess. Fans of the games hated the changes to the source material, while critics and general audiences hated the whole thing outright. They had good reason.
7. The Resident Evil Series
It may seem alien now, but at one time actress Milla Jovovich seemed poised for a long and prestigious career. As the inamorata of director Luc Besson, she starred in hit movies like The Fifth Element and even landed work as a spokesmodel for L’Oreal make-up. Then she started doing Resident Evil movies.
Granted, I know the film series has a devoted following having generated six entries in the franchise, but that doesn’t make them watchable! Whereas the Resident Evil games relied heavily on atmosphere to establish a creepy tone, the movie swaps out the atmosphere for gore and bad special effects. Director Paul W.S. Anderson–now married to Jovovich–directs individual sequences like mini music videos or commercials, and Jovovich poses her way through the action. Anderson and Jovovich manage to provide some style to the movies, but little else. The sad reality: they’re probably the best adaptations of Resident Evil we could hope for.
6. Mortal Kombat
The game “Mortal Kombat” caused a firestorm of controversy when it debuted in the 1990s for its gratuitous gore and violence. Amazing then that the cinematic adaptation came and went with little more than a whimper. Dumped to theatres in August 1995, it generated decent box office numbers, due in large part to the dearth of competition (unless you count The Babysitter’s Club…which we don’t). Significantly toned down from its source inspiration, Mortal Kombat suffered from wooden acting, a meandering plot, and a lack of engaging characters. Nevertheless, it did spawn a sequel, the even grimmer Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which even fans of the cult of the first film deride.
5. Street Fighter
Hot on the heels of the Super Mario Bros. debacle, Capcom games partnered with Universal Pictures to sire this dud, which fell into many of the same traps. Plot inconsistencies, bad acting and b-movie level production values abound, wasting the talents of the great character actor Raul Julia, a young Ming-Na and even Aussie-pop siren Kylie Minogue. Star billing goes to Jean-Claude Van Damme though, who tried to ascend from his z-grade action star status amid a nasty cocaine addiction. Even sadder, it marked the last film for Julia, who was suffering from cancer during filming. It bombed on release in 1994.
4. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Along with the “Super Mario” and “Legend of Zelda” games, the “Final Fantasy” titles hold legend status among gamers. Lauded for strong stories and beautiful graphics, adapting the game to the big screen might have seemed a surer bet than some of the other titles featured here. Unfortunately, it didn’t. While the film scored mixed reviews and moderate box office business, the all-CGI film necessitated new production facilities and computer technology, as the filmmakers strode for photo-realism, and utilized the fledgling technology of motion-capture to aid in animation. The choices resulted in an astronomical budget, and lukewarm reactions from critics and audiences who found the visual stunning but the story turgid condemned the movie to an almost $100 million loss in 2001. While not a total failure, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within suggests that studios should spend their money on scripts rather than groundbreaking technology.
3. Wing Commander
Remember this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it adaptation from 1999? We didn’t think so. Wing Commander, based on the popular CD-ROM game of the same title, was a low-budget attempt to cash in on the success of the game and the building anticipation for the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Starring then hot teen idols Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard, it netted only $11 million at the box office–about a third of its final budget. Hampered by bad effects, dud performances and a script that makes Battlefield Earth look like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it died a swift and quiet death at the box office despite theatres reporting audiences buying tickets just to see a single trailer: that of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
2. Prince of Persia
With comic book movies exploding at the box office, Disney decided it needed to get in on the market. They already had the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and eventually would buy Marvel comics (and their then indie movie studio) to conquer the biz. Before that, they also tried something else: adapting the popular video game “Prince of Persia” to the big screen with Hollywood hunk Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. Modeled after the success of the Pirates series, it failed to have the same effect on pop culture, and flopped at the box office. Critics attacked it as a noisy mess, while audiences flocked to see Sex and the City 2 instead. Think about that…
1. Silent Hill
Yes, the 2012 follow-up to this 2006 mediocrity is worse…much worse. Still, the problems stem from the root: a mystery/puzzle horror game like “Silent Hill” didn’t lend itself to the big screen. The game story involves a complicated mix of ghosts, cults, parasites, zombies and demonic possession, which proved a bit too complicated to adapt, and the real fun of the game–multiple possible endings–couldn’t translate at all. Despite some great visuals and an appealing cast, the film never quite comes to life…or makes sense. The popularity of the game helped Silent Hill do good business at the box office, though the total failure of its sequel doomed the franchise to the netherworld of gaming consoles.
The moral of the story here, kids: GAME OVER.