I’m of the opinion that reimagining a video game as a movie is a double-edged sword. I’ve seen this work in some cases, resulting in a nicely fleshed-out film that tells a good story. In other cases, the adaptation is a directionless, over-the-top mess and not worth the money. Granted, I prefer not to pass judgment until I’ve seen a film for myself, but I’ve found video game adaptions to be either hit or miss.
I believe part of the problem is that it’s hard to condense a game that contains hours upon hours of content down to a two to three hour movie. Or Hollywood will try unsuccessfully to build a story from a game that doesn’t really have one, as is the case with Angry Birds.
Below is my list of the video game adaptations that I’ve seen and my opinion of them.
1) Resident Evil live action films – I am a huge fan of the Resident Evil video games, and I was excited when I first heard there would be an adaptation back in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with the live action movie series as a whole. Too many liberties were taken with the franchise, such as the films revolving around a character named Alice and her struggles against the villainous Dr. Isaacs, neither of whom were present in the games. Of the dozens of iconic monsters in the video games, only five or six actually made it into the film adaptations. Even more frustrating, especially to me as a writer, is the lack of consistency in the movie series even though all six films were directed by the same person – the story in the sixth movie even directly contradicts the plot presented in the second. If you wish to discover what the game series is about, the live action films with Milla Jovovich are not the way to go.
2) Doom – Doom is a film that worked because the game had a simplistic plot that translated well to the silver screen. It’s hard to go wrong with the basic premise of combating creatures coming from a portal to hell that was inadvertently opened at a Mars colony. The film adaptation added an extra layer to this concept by introducing a pair of estranged siblings – a marine and a scientist – who must band together if they hope to survive. Granted, I know the film bombed at the box office, but it is one movie that I thoroughly enjoy and find worthy of a spot in my DVD library.
3) Mortal Kombat – Mortal Kombat is perhaps the best game-to-film adaptation I’ve seen. It is the one and only movie on this list that is the most faithful to its video game counterpart. The first Mortal Kombat film did a fantastic job fleshing out the characters and conflicts in addition to telling a good story. I wish the same were true of the sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. But I’ve yet to see another video game adaptation that’s on the same level.
4) Assassin’s Creed – Assassin’s Creed had potential to be a really great film since it had an excellent premise to draw from. Granted, I’ve never played any one of the games as of this point, but I would say that the film suffers from poor direction and lackluster storytelling. While Assassin’s Creed has some good elements, the pacing is too slow and it fails to delve into what motivates each of the central characters. In the hands of a production team with more vision, this movie could easily have been much more compelling.
5) Super Mario Brothers – Super Mario Brothers is a film that I initially liked in spite of its childish plot and over-the-top acting. The movie had some interesting concepts, such as a world where dinosaurs evolved to a human state. And I still get a kick out of hearing Dennis Hopper as the evil King Koopa, to get his men to hunt down the title characters, issue a “Plumber alert” like it’s an everyday occurrence. Super Mario Brothers isn’t necessarily a bad film. It is simply one that would appeal more to kids than adults.
6) House of the Dead – I’ve never played any of the House of the Dead games, but I do know they generally have you fighting zombie-esque creatures created by a mad scientist named Dr. Curien. The film took a step back to serve as a prequel to the first game and explain where Dr. Curien acquired the formula to manufacture these monsters. The House of the Dead movie presented an interesting plot in the trailers, which is what drew me to watch it. The ending, however, was anti-climactic and left a lot to be desired. That’s not to say I dislike this film. In my opinion, the fight choreography and some aspects of the cinematography balance out the flaws in the movie.
7) Silent Hill – Silent Hill is another film adaptation that is quite good. It does a fantastic job of matching the spooky atmosphere and nightmarish world presented in the first game. Not so much with the story – some liberties were taken there. The most notable difference between the movie and the first game is the inclusion of the iconic monster, Pyramid-Head, in the film – this particular character features only in the second game in the series and is not quite as threatening as he’s made out to be on the big screen. I would say the biggest failings of Silent Hill and it’s sequel is that there’s too much of an emphasis on acts of violence instead of quiet subtlety.
8) Prince of Persia: Sands of Time – I’ve never played the Prince of Persia games and I honestly don’t know how the movie compares to them as a whole. But I really like the film for its fantasy premise and use of a mystical dagger that can allow the holder to go back in time a few minutes to undo life-threatening situations. There are enough twists and turns in the movie to keep it interesting until the end. The only downside I encountered with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was watching it with a drunk older brother who kept making me pause it so he could rant about the historical inaccuracies.
9) Mass Effect: Paragon Lost – Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is easily the poorest piece of cinema to make it onto this list. It seems to exist only as a way for the game creators to milk some more money for their franchise. Paragon Lost delves into the backstory of James Vega, a supporting character introduced in the third game in the Mass Effect trilogy. Overall, the film is a waste of money, doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the games, and is poorly animated. My advice – find something better to watch.
10) Final Fantasy: Spirits Within – I know that the Final Fantasy game series started with medieval fantasy games before morphing into contemporary or futuristic adventures. But I don’t know if Spirits Within came before or after this transition. The first animated Final Fantasy film is set in the future and sees humanity struggling to survive against ghost-like monstrous entities set to wipe out the last dredges of mankind. Unfortunately, Spirits Within lacked a solid story and the ending didn’t make a lot of sense. While I got a bit of enjoyment out of it, I definitely would not recommend it.
Honorary mention: Wreck-It Ralph – The only film on the list that wasn’t adapted from a video game, Wreck-It Ralph is still one of the best movies out there for gaming enthusiasts. It is chock-full of characters from popular retro games, such as Q-Bert, Pac-Man, and Sonic the Hedgehog. And it tells a fantastic story centered around three separate fictional games – Fix-It Felix Jr., Sugar Rush, and Hero’s Duty – that exist together within the same arcade. I’m a lover of video games and stories with good plot twists, and Wreck-It Ralph has both. Two thumbs up.
I hope you enjoyed my critique of some of the video game adaptations out there. Do you agree or disagree with my views? Please let me know in the comments below.