Will we finally see a good video game movie adaptation?

Nothing sends chills down the spine than mentioning those dreaded words, video game movie adaptation. Whether you’re a fan of games or a fan of movies, everyone is pretty much in agreement that video game adaptations are average at best and downright offensive at worst.

However, there has been a sudden glimmer of excitement with the release of the new Warcraft trailer. For the first time in a long time, there seems to be some genuine anticipation for a video game movie adaptation. Along with an Assassin’s Creed movie and Activision launching their own movie and TV studio, could we finally see the day where there are good video game movie adaptations? I look into the evidence and also discuss what these movies need to do to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Getting the right talent involved

'Every good director has a beard. This is a fact.'
‘Every good director has a beard. This is a fact.’

One thing the new upcoming slate of video game movie adaptations seems to be getting right is involving the right talent. The new Warcraft movie is directed by Duncan Jones, acclaimed director of Moon and Source Code. Not only is he a fan of the series, he’s a genuinely good director who has demonstrated a good eye and has produced great genre pictures that stand out from the crowd.

However, Duncan Jones isn’t the only exciting talent attached to Warcraft. Movie magicians, WETA will be providing the special effects and having brought the Lord of The Rings Trilogy and the latest Planet of the Apes movies to life, there could be no better fit. Along with some proper Hollywood stars such as Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster and Toby Kebbel, there’s clearly been a concerted effort to give Warcraft the budget and talent it deserves.

Warcraft isn’t the only video game movie adaptation employing the best of the movie world to bring their stories to life. Assassin’s Creed has none other than Michael Fassbender, the Oscar nominated actor and X-men star. The film is in fact another collaboration between Fassbender, Oscar winner Marion Coitillard and director Justin Kurtzel, who all recently worked together on the critically acclaimed Macbeth.

You only need to see the trailer for Macbeth, to see that we’re in for a visual treat and with the acting chops of Fassbender and Coitillard, Assassin’s Creed looks set to be a movie that will become difficult to ignore.

Respecting the source material

'Trying to get your mate home after a heavy night on the tiles is always a tough task.'
‘Trying to get your mate home after a heavy night on the tiles is always a tough task.’

Having the best talent involved in video game movie adaptations isn’t enough, the movie also has to please video game fans who want to see their beloved universes brought to life on the screen. Although some of the more far-fetching nature of video game narratives don’t always translate well to the screen, therefore movie makers have to strike a balance between pleasing fans of the games whilst also pleasing general movie goers.

So far video game adaptations have found this balance difficult. Often video game adaptations seem to bear little resemblance to their original source material. Just look at the Resident Evil movies or Doom. Even when there are nods to the video games, they often feel crowbarred in. Fans want to see their favourite characters and moments brought to life, not some type of B-movie rip off, which unfortunately most video game adaptations feel like.

Whilst by no means a great film, Silent Hill did at least capture the essence of the video game, both in it’s visual representation and in elements of it’s story. It helps that a lot of what is seen in the Silent Hill game series isn’t seen in other horror films. Therefore, it’s important for a video game adaptations to make the most of their unique worlds and characters that they are based on.

'There's no better way to fly than on the back of griffon.'
‘There’s no better way to fly than on the back of Gryphon.’

Warcraft goes one step further and lifts whole characters, settings and plot from the franchise. Arguably, the movie can go that extra step as unlike other franchise, such as Tomb Raider for example, Warcraft isn’t a universe based solely on a handful of characters and settings. Instead it’s based on a persistent world that has developed a lore of it’s own over several years. Therefore, there’s more to draw on and the movie makers can pick and choose what to include and what not to.

Likewise, Assassin’s Creed is based on a franchise that now has a different lead and time period every year. Thus, it’s easier for the movie to have more creative license with the source material, whilst still fitting in with the key elements gamers will expect to see in a movie. I expect that this is an approach that Activision will take when coming to make their Call of Duty movie and it’s hard to argue that it isn’t a smart one.

Creating the best movie

'Hoods are cool, not matter what the century it is.'
‘Hoods are cool, no matter what the century it is.’

This may sound like an obvious point, but one of the failures of video game movie adaptations is that they fail to be good movies. What I mean by this is that they don’t succeed at trying to be the best movie they can be. Relying on an existing fan base or throwing in a few cheeky nods to the source material, does not a good movie make.

Instead video game adaptations should try to be the best movies they can be. Stop trying to ape other Hollywood films and demonstrate a little originality. Focus on a good script, a talented cast (not necessarily famous, just good at acting) and a clear visual and auditory translation of the source material.

Obviously, this is easier to say than to put into practice, but too often video game adaptations fail to create an identity of their own. Instead they easily fall into genre troupes and have weak scripts with little character development or a cohesive plot. Some would argue that this is because making a video game adaptation is really like adapting a movie of a movie, as video games take much of their inspiration from Hollywood. Many video games recycle old movie plots and surely adapting them is just another rehash of a story that has already been told.

However, this argument could be made of anything, as these days, what hasn’t been recycled or rehashed? Therefore, I believe it’s vital for video game adaptations to focus on being a successful movie first and foremost. Sometimes producers, directors and most importantly writers need to ask themselves, ‘would this work if it wasn’t based on a video game?’ The movie needs to stand on its own rather than just act as an extension of the video game’s universe and there has yet to be a video game adaptation that has done this.

With the release of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed coming next year, things may change. There’s clearly been an effort to involve real talent, resources and respect to the source material behind each project. We’ll just have to wait and see whether we’ll finally have a good video game movie adaptation.

What do you think? Have there already been some good video game adaptations or have they all been disasters? Let me know in the comments below.

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