Why I Want Video Game Movies
I’m a big movie fan. I think it’s a brilliant medium for telling stories. I also think the same of video games, and they have the added bonus of making the story interactive. Very few new games come out without me thinking to myself, “I’d love to see a movie of this,” and until I was recently playing through Red Dead Redemption, I never thought about why. For decades now, people have tried crossing back and forth between the two mediums, usually with horrific results. So why do I continue to eagerly crave video game movies?
In theory, the game version should be superior in that it allows me to actually participate in the experience in a way that a movie never could. At the same time, though, that’s one of the medium’s largest challenges as a form of entertainment. It requires a lot of interaction, and that can make for a high barrier to entry for both newcomers and those seeking a relatively casual entertainment experience. Great game mechanics are awesome if I am settling in for a long night of gaming, but if I want to sit down with friends or family to be entertained for a couple of hours on a Saturday night, the easy-access of film is the way to go. Anyone can sit down and enjoy a movie, and the experience is complete within just a couple of hours.
It’s with that in mind that I think Alan Wake has hit on something. Their narrative format creates story threads that span the entire game, and subplots that last for just a single “episode.” Additionally, they begin and end each episode of the game with neat, clean bookends. It’s easy to imagine taking in only a single episode and then saving the rest for later, or simply replaying one of your favorite episodes while killing time on a Saturday afternoon. In thinking about the things Alan Wake does well, though, I still wasn’t convinced that the narrative structure and interactivity were to blame for my desire to see more video game films.
As I watched a digital John Marsten give stiff speech after stiff speech to the locals in his pursuit of Bill Williamson, it came to me. Performances. That was why I wanted video game movies so much. These days, I’d argue that video games are the creative hotbed for new intellectual properties and interesting storytelling. There are some amazing artists in this industry, and they’re creating fantastic worlds for us to explore. However, no matter how hard we push technology, video game characters just can’t turn in academy award-winning performances. That’s about the only thing video games can’t do, honestly. Todays games are full of amazing special effects, fully realized worlds, and astonishing sound design. In many ways, games rival movies in the production aspects. But with all of those strengths, no game character has ever moved us with the strength of a live actor. On a regular basis, I find myself in these fully-realized worlds, completely engrossed in delicate plots and subplots, committed to amazing ideas, only to be ripped back out of my comittment by poor lip synching and a lead character who looks like he threw his back out just before the scene.
Unfortunately, this also happens to be the single area where most videogame-to-movie transitions fail – their casting. If you can’t get top-of-the-line actors for a videogame movie, you shouldn’t bother making it. Everything else your movie could deliver I’ve likely already gotten from the game I originally played. Generally speaking, when the latest videogame movie comes out, the first thing everyone is talking about is the awful acting. Sometimes, the complaints come even sooner, as rumors of popular wrestlers and of-the-moment pop stars get tossed around in casting rumors. Until Hollywood really begins to recognize the creative value of the completely new intellectual properties coming out of gaming, I can’t see that changing. There is hope, though. Comic book movies finally got past this and have been legitimized by their casting choices. Their industry has prospered because of it. Video games aren’t far behind. The casting of Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx in the forthcoming Kane and Lynch is a testament to that, as is the recent casting of Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. As long as filmmakers can match strong performers with the strong production design and narrative ideas found in todays games, it should be a big win for fans on both sides of the fence.