Assassin’s Creed was released in December 2016, with a cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons. It had had big budget a stellar cast and reams upon reams of historical information to call upon for a storyline. It was touted to be the one to break the curse, the film to finally break the unbearable line of horrendous video game – film adaptions. Alas, even Michael Fassbender’s beautiful face could not save what critics described as a ‘weak, pedestrian storyline’, that was ‘heavy on CGI’ and ‘low on imagination’. News.com’s Wenlei Ma went so far as to describe the experience as:
‘Slowly drowning in a giant slop bucket while desperately looking for a rope to climb out from the immense craptitude’
After all these years it seems just as likely for hell to freeze over than a film adaption live up to the critical success of its interactive sibling. Yet with Call Of Duty and Metal Gear Solid adaptions, and a Tomb Raider reboot all planned for release in coming years, the video game – film adaption genre is steaming ahead at full force. The appeal for the making of such movies is obvious what with huge fan bases and game developer pockets brimming with cash, so what is it that plagues video game adaptions with such critical scrutiny?
The very first movie adapted from a video game is largely acknowledged to be the Nintendo/Disney collaboration Super Mario Bro’s. Released in 1993 and based on one of the most successful video game series of all time. It starred 90’s hero’s Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the bumbling brothers Mario and Luigi and cinema royalty – Dennis Hopper as the dastardly villain King Koopa. Super Mario Bro’s was set up to deliver, riding on the arcade game boom of the 80’s and a great production team; it was however an unmitigated disaster with box office takings not covering production costs whilst simultaneously being labelled by critics as a ‘non-story with sporadic highlights, waiting to soak up time and money’.
With Super Mario Bro’s seemingly setting the bar quite low, what does constitute success in the vast and treacherous territory of video game movies? Nintendo’s second foray into video game movies, in complete contrast to their first, was hugely successful. The very first Pokémon movie – Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, released in Japan in 1998 and worldwide in 1999 was one of the most anticipated video game films of all time. The Media Behemoth that is Pokémon had begun in 1996 as collaboration between game developers Nintendo, Game Freaks, and Creatures, it successfully transitioned into both a trading card game and an animated TV show within 12 months. With the promise of a rare Mewtwo trading card for every attendee of the premiere, Mewtwo Strikes Back exploded into its’ first weekend, topping box offices worldwide and eventually raking in over US $160 million. Despite receiving mixed reviews it was adored worldwide by children of the Pokémon generation, myself included.
Since the 90’s it seems movie producers have been quite unable to keep their money grubbing hands off of the huge fan bases of popular video game titles with varied levels of success. Whilst generally unable to gain the favour of critics, there have been many box office success stories for studios and producers. Most notably with the Tomb Raider franchise, Hitman franchise and the hugely successful Resident Evil which has since spawned five sequels. Indeed many of these franchises have launched the careers of their starring actors, with Angelina Jolie gaining worldwide recognition for her carnal portrayal of the Lara Croft and Mila Jovovich becoming a household name for her portrayal of Resident Evil heroine Alice. Both are held in lofty company alongside the Uma Thurman’s, Michelle Yeoh’s and Pam Grier’s of female cinematic bad-assery.
And yet, even with all their financial triumph, every single one of these movies fundamentally failed to capture the genius of their video game counterparts. But why is this?
And yet, even with all their financial triumph, every single one of these movies fundamentally failed to capture the genius of their video game counterparts. But why is this? Many reviews point to unimaginative story lines, or worse convoluted storylines; overuse of CGI, poor scripting, lack of character development, lack of a villain, cheap looking special effects – the list go’s on. The most damning thing being, similar problems consistently pop up throughout the genre.
An interesting observation to notice is films that have used a similar recipe – films about video games, have often been quite successful. Specifically Wreck It Ralph and the Tron Saga, which were both critically and commercially successful. Likewise video games adapted from movies are often very successful, most notably LucasArts many titles including: Star Wars Episode 1: Racer and Star Wars Battlefront, to 007 Golden Eye – which many regard as the first great FPS.
So where will the trend buck? Who will be the anomaly; who will be the exception? With the video game based movie genre an almost guaranteed cash cow, it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. So what will it take to finally make a GOOD video game based movie?
There are so many incredible video game storylines up for offer, especially within movies already in preproduction – Deus Ex, Metal Gear Solid, Watch Dogs and Uncharted all have fantastic plots and character depth. My money however, is on one of the greatest video game franchises of all time… Halo.
In 2005 the announcement of a Halo: Combat Evolved movie was met with much fervour, Columbia pictures were heading up the project and writer Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) was attached. With a scheduled release date set for 2008 everything seemed to be in place to launch what could have been the most exciting spin off of the time. However, due to conflicts involving salary negotiations, budgets, filming disputes it was subsequently dropped and picked up by multiple studios over the following years until it was ultimately put on an indefinite hold. Now 12 years after the film was officially announced, the last we have heard is that Dreamworks had obtained the rights to the film, and in 2013 Microsoft and Xbox announced a television series to coincide with the release of Halo 5. The release of Halo 5 came and went and still no television series, and more importantly no movie.
Still, after all that, Halo seems like the shining light in the darkness, with its almost universal praise, not only for gameplay but for it’s soundtrack, character depth and plot depth. Halo has an uncanny ability to effectively adapt its story to different platforms with the series finding success not only literature but in animation as well with it’s web series’ Forward Unto Dawn and Nightfall receiving critical praise.
With all this in mind Halo represents the ideal candidate to be the first video game movie adaption to truly capture consumers and critics alike.
And what do you know? We’ve got the Master Chief and Cortana coming to AVCON this year! Maybe you could ask them about when this long awaited movie will arrive.