Статьи о кино - Would you settle for less?

Кино-критика.
Английский журнал BigLens.
Под редакцией ответственного редактора Джюли Мэйнс
Posted on May 28, 2018
by biglensfilm blog


WOULD YOU SETTLE FOR LESS?:
AN EXAMINATION OF FAILED VIDEO GAME ADAPTATIONS THROUGH THE YEARS


Over the past three decades, we have witnessed the arrival of a plethora of films based on popular videogames. The gaming industry, although still young, lends a new approach to filmmaking, so it was only logical it would branch out into the realm of Hollywood blockbusters sooner or later.

It all began with Mortal Kombat (1995). It was among the first mainstream films based purely on characters and stories from videogames. Prior to the film’s release, the fighting game was extremely lucrative in its own right, and it has become one of the most successful franchises of its genre. The film extends the Mortal Kombat Universe by introducing fighters’ biographies and bits of pieces of their personal stories. It did really well among younger audiences as well as in the general gamer community and was considered a breakthrough with a lot of promise. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annhilation (1997), was just as highly anticipated, though sadly turned out to be rather banal. The visual effects were less impressive and the story felt as though it was plucked out of thin air.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) followed in Mortal Kombat’s footsteps, though this time the approach was more serious in nature. With newer, more advanced technology, visual and sound effects, the Lara Croft franchise was very well-received within the gaming community. It felt fresh, new, brazen. The story was complex, the characters powerful and charismatic, and the plot action-packed.

2002 was another exciting year for gamers around the world as it saw the adaptation of a Japanese classic, Resident Evil (2002), and eventually, five sequels. The original game was an absolute phenomenon and anticipation of the film tremendous. Despite a low budget, there were high hopes for it. Upon release, reactions were a rabid mix of delight and disappointment. Why? It was poorly produced yet managed to capture the tone of the game well enough to resonate with its players. Personally, as a player of the game, and although I did enjoy the film, watching it does not compare to the experience of playing the game. The sequels – Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017) – are not as authentic. They are watchable – even captivating – but the franchise is clearly dwindling. Somewhere after the second instalment it took a wrong turn and everything that follows is unsatisfactory, seemingly abandoning any hint of the original premise.

A similar thing happened to Silent Hill (2006). An absolutely epic Japanese horror – ruthlessly crumpled into a poorly produced, cheap, slow-burning exploitation horror that by some otherworldly magic managed to abandon its source material’s essence, particularly when it came to characters and the richness of the original storyline. Adapting Japanese horror games was not, it seemed, Hollywood’s forte. Silent Hill Revelation (2012) was a sincere attempt at restoring the public’s faith in the franchise, but six years on it was sadly too far gone. The industry then turned its attention to American videogames, and from 2006 until 2010, pumped out Doom (2005), BloodRayne (2006), Hitman (2007), Far Cry (2008), Max Payne (2008), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010).

Doom was the first film to feature a 15-minute-long first-person-shooter scene. It was a difficult feat, but they did it, and in doing so rendered an immersive, authentic, videogame-esque viewing experience. Max Payne (a third-person-shooter game) remains so popular years following its release that you may still find people uploading walk-throughs on YouTube today. When news of the film adaptation was first announced, everyone screamed Mark Wahlberg’s name. The man was born to play Max as he is nearly identical to the character. Wahlberg’s performance was indeed admirable, but the film… I suppose it’s safe to say it was an utter failure. But what exactly went wrong? The filmmakers seemed to have all the right components to create a truly great adaptation, and they still failed. The film was cheap, boring, lacked slow-motion effects (a trademark of the original material), and its plot deviated too strongly from that of the game.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) symbolized a kind of revamp of Hollywood’s desire to keep adapting games into films, and it felt like things were finally looking up. Although the film itself was mediocre, it seemed to have it all: an interesting love story, several well-shot fight sequences, a rich mythos, and a twist at the end! It was well-financed and was worked on by a very professional crew. Thankfully, the producers spared no expense on the special effects budget.

Things got better after 2010. I can only imagine Hollywood, as an industry, realized it is risky business tampering with an already great work of art, providing insufficient budgets, and relying on audiences liking a film solely because they liked the game. The production of Assassin’s Creed (2016) saw a lot of uncertainty, and when it was finally released got heavily criticized for being generic and lazy – but at least it isn’t cheap.

Warcraft (2016) – this MMRPG sensation shan’t be overlooked – was an extremely well-financed project and, of course, a very well-produced one, too. I’d go as far as saying it’s the most carefully thought-out and professionally implemented videogame adaptation in the last decade, although much of this credit is owed to Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind World of Warcraft. I am confident it was their presence and involvement that spared this film the fate of so many of its counterparts.

So why have film adaptations of videogames been so overwhelmingly unsuccessful so far? My own instinct is that the two media are inherently distinct. Gaming is such a personal and cathartic experience and it is easy to project one’s expectations of how that experience should be translated to the film medium – often resulting in disappointment. It would be extremely challenging – perhaps even impossible – to create something that satisfies all. This would explain why Warcraft, with the supervision of Blizzard, saw a better outcome. I won’t say making films based on videogames is a lost cause, though; in fact, I suspect the genre will only continue grow over time. With the gaming industry ever-thriving, the opportunity for adaptation is there for the seizing.

by Val Milevskiy

edited by Jules A Maines


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ОРИГИНАЛЬНЫЙ ТЕКСТ автора статьи:


WOULD YOU SETTLE FOR LESS?

Imagine you are an anatomist. A scientist, who dissects and studies the structures of various body parts, including a human body. Imagine that. Now our skeletal structure has long been studied and described in utmost detail by other anatomists (and their mom!) long before, so what do you study? Probably the other systems, right? Circulatory, lymphatic, digestive, muscular… And then someone walks into your lab and – "Right, I’ll have that!" – takes everything, leaving you with mere 206 bones of an adult human body. Perplexed you get up from your chair and claim: "What am I supposed to study now?!"
"Well, you got the bones, don’t you?"
"But it’s all been studied a million times!"
"Not my problem."

Would you settle for such scenario? Would you settle for less when you can surely have more? I doubt that! The same may be said about films based on video games; and today we shall try and analyze as to why exactly this seemingly boundless and fun subgenre has so far been so unsuccessful. 
Over the past three decades we have witnessed the birth of a whole plethora of films, the storylines of which were based merely on those of famous and popular video games. Computer games industry – although young – has since its establishment won over millions of hearts worldwide and I guess it was only logical that sooner or later Hollywood would turn to it in search of ideas.
Now, some love these, some – don’t – which is only natural – yet personally I have no moral right to call this article objective. Why? Mainly because I am somewhat prejudiced towards films whose characters, events and scenes have been borrowed off of the PC game. Especially, those which I personally played.

And it all starts with Mortal Combat (1995). Mortal Combat was probably the very first mainstream film based purely on characters and story from a game. Prior to film release this eternal console-market fighting game won the world over making every 10-year-old see his/her hero in their dreams every night. I myself was one of children, and my childhood was great.
Unlike the game – whose story was extremely basic: a worldwide fighting tournament, you got to fight your way to the top – the film has actually extended the Mortal Combat Universe by introducing biographies and bits of personal drama per each character.
The film did very well among the younger generations as well as the general gamer community and was considered a break-through that promised a lot. The second movie – Mortal Combat: Annihilation (1997) – was just as highly anticipated, though turned out to be rather banal. The effects were grander but less impressive, if you will, and the general story felt as though it’s been sucked out of thin air at the last minute. I enjoyed it still, however, having seen the original fighting sequences: Scorpion – God! That fire-breathing skull in the grey-leafed autumn forest! – Sub-Zero and the Reptile –it felt senseless and mindless.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life (2003) followed Mortal Combat’s footsteps in being adapted to a movie screen. This time the approach was a more serious one. With greater, more advanced technologies, special sounds and effects Lara Croft franchise was very well-received in the gaming community. It felt fresh, new and brazen. The story was complex – with a feeling of an impending twist. Characters were powerful and charismatic. A 2-hour-long reel packed with pure action. To many, including myself, it came as a fresh ocean breeze.

Now 2002 was also exciting one for gamers all over the world for we have finally witnessed the very first adaptation of a Japanese classic. It was even MORE exciting when we learned that this adaptation was to be Resident Evil (2002). Followed by Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004).
The original game – an absolute phenomenon! Anticipation of its motion picture was tremulous. Everyone gasped for a teaser. And even though everyone knew its budget to be low the hope was there. It was all down to talent of its production team. When the film came out though, reactions were a rabid mix of delight and disappointment. Why? The film was produced poorly, – I’m being honest and objective here – yet by some strange and bizarre coincidence it managed to create that malevolent "Resident Evil" feeling we all, people who enjoyed the game, knew so well, i.e. hopeless danger, apocalyptic melancholy. And although I personally am more inclined to agree with the latter nothing in that movie resembled the crazy amalgam of emotions one experienced playing the game.
And that was that.
What?!
Yes, the Resident Evil franchise ended right then and there. For the films that followed – Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), Resident Evil: The final chapter (2017) – were not Resident Evil. Watchable! Captivating! But the franchise seemed to be over. Somehow it took the wrong turn and everything they made after the first two was hideous. It was a set of standard averagely-made zombie slashers without as much as a hint at the original idea.
   
The same thing happened to Silent Hill (2006). Again! An absolutely epic Japanese horror – more than a classic! A stand-alone cult! – ruthlessly and barbarically crumpled into a poorly produced, cheap, slow-burning exploitation horror, that by some otherworldly magic MANAGED to transfer the game’s atmosphere onto a filmstrip and completely LOSE it when it came to characters and the original richness of its storyline. It was a rape.

It then became apparent that Hollywood was a complete failure when it came to making films based on Japanese treasures that are their horror games. No wonder Japanese companies who owned the rights to the "Silent Hill Universe" went to wars with Hollywood over its future (games, books, comics, anime, and films). Silent Hill: Revelation (2012) was a sincere attempt in restoring public’s faith in this franchise, but at that point the brand was so dead nothing seemed to help. Even 3D versions of it didn’t revive the corpse that was "Silent Hill". I don’t believe in "do it yourself if you want it done right" but it was a true in this case for Silent Hill needed a rescue before more damage was done to it, and we’re all happy that Silent Hill is since then being revamped by Japanese film companies.

It was obvious at that stage that American filmmakers were failing at adapting Japanese games because even the western viewer preferred to watch and play the originals. Hence in search of great ideas Hollywood once again went back to American video game industry. And from 2006 till 2010 Doom (2005), BloodRayne (2006), Far Cry (2007), Hitman (2007), Max Payne (2008) and Prince of Persia (2010) saw the light of day.
Their respectable PC-CD versions were translated into almost every language on the planet and had received all major accolades throughout all international gaming communities.

Doom was also the very first film that had a 15-minutes-long FPS scene. First-person-shooter, that is. It was hard to believe it, but they had done it. And while sitting pinned to your seat you got to go along with the main character slashing all kinds of demons that jumped at you from every side. The photo-shoots, the weapons, the demons – were all very much in style of "Doom 3" – a game that came out a couple of years prior – however, lack of Mars scenery, oversimplified science labs, absence of certain types of enemies you got so used to in the game – all this left you longing for your good old keyboard and mouse.
Same happened to BloodRayne (2006). And though the characters and choice of weapons in the film were very much intact with what we’ve seen in the game, the storyline itself tended to go off the tangent at times, which in turn was very upsetting and annoying. 

Hitman (2007) and Hitman: Agent 47 (2015). Everyone who played the game knows that its cornerstone were methods of stalking, fighting and killing enemies. The game was ruthless! It was a menacing, ingenious, slow-burning, action-packed masterpiece that allowed one to virtually follow "the way of an assassin", feeling Agent 47 at your very fingertips.
Now, unlike many story-based games Hitman was mainly praised for these and not for the storyline even though a rather vague thread of it ran throughout the game. So when it came to films many said it was dry and boring. Many claimed it was really basic and the only enjoyable things about it were the fighting scenes. Well, isn’t that what was expected you may ask? Well, yes. In fact, I believe movie-makers felt so too back then, for they went ahead and introduced some romance to these films. But even that didn’t satisfy the fans? Why? I honestly do not know, for I have enjoyed both movies and felt that everything was actually in place, dynamic and well-balanced.

Max Payne (2008) was a game that was so popular that years after its release you may still find people uploading its walk-through to YouTube even today. When we first heard they were making a film everyone on the planet screamed Mark Wahlberg’s name. The man was born to play Max for his appearance seemed to be identical to that of the game character. And Wahlberg’s performance was admirable, but the film… I suppose it would be wrong to curse and swear here for it was a mismatch and a complete failure. What exactly went wrong? Nobody knows. It is a myth. The city, the characters, Max – the producers had all the cards in their hands. Plus a story that was as clear as day… And they still failed.
The film was cheap. It was boring. It lacked slow-motion effects – the reason it became so famous in the first place – and Max’s head was a mess. Yes, the character dealt with things that resembled nothing of his original game story issues. I doubt any fan actually went back to watch it again for it wasn’t worth it. I’m sorry. It wasn’t Max Payne. Honestly! It was some dim-lit gangbanging cop drama. Geez!!!

Prince of Persia (2010) symbolized a kind of revamp of Hollywood’s desire to keep adapting games into films, and it felt like things were finally looking up. And although the movie in itself was mediocre it seemed to have it all: an interesting love story, a bunch of well-filmed fights, a rich mythos and a twist at the end. It was well-financed and had a very professional crew working on it. Thank God, the producers spared no expense on special effects this time otherwise there would have been yet another cadaver to bury under miles of filmstrips.

Need For Speed. If you have ever been a teenager – and I believe you have – than you’re bound to have played at least one of its series. Its movie version came out in 2014 and was loosely based on the original game. I say loosely because the game itself had a story that was almost non-existent so the film – although well-made and with real-life stunts – was a silly compilation of cheesy scenes for a couple’s hot date.

After 2010 things got better. I can only imagine Hollywood – as an industry – realized that it is generally a bad idea to temper with great scenarios and low budgets in hopes that "everyone will like it anyway because they liked the game".
 
I can’t say that Assassin’s Creed (2016) was "wine" yet it came out to be "vinegar" of the highest quality. Why am I making such a comparison? Because talks about turning this game into a film have been brewing for a long time since its initial release. Yes, brewing. Many companies were on the "on-and-off" talks with the game-makers, and when the movie was finally out it got heavily criticized for being generic and lazy. "It could have been better" they all claimed. But at least it was no longer a cheap version of your favorite thing.

Warcraft (2016). Of course, how could this MMRPG sensation go overlooked? Of course, it was an extremely well-financed project, and, of course, it was very well-produced one, too. I’d go as far as saying that it was the most carefully thought-out and professionally implemented game-related thing in the last decade, but I couldn’t help to think that the merit for it should go to Blizzard – the company that created WOW, i.e. World of Warcraft. If they didn’t take part in the actual process of movie making I doubt it would have been good at all. In fact, I am confident it would have been yet another ruined forever franchise should Blizzard had given Hollywood the rights to make it on their own.
Surely the filming was done by utmost professionals and, yes, the CGI technology they applied was no-match to anything that was done previously but it was now obvious to all:

" The only way of making a decent game-based film is to let the game-industry professionals take a practical part in the process of producing it. All other options are a defeatist. "

And look at the result! Warcraft (2016) possessed all necessary qualities to become the next big thing! A saga on its own of the likes of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit".

So why has films based on video games have been so unsuccessful so far? There always were and still are many factors that affect the final outcome but my guess is that gaming is completely and utterly subjective.
It is such a personal and cathartic experience that every gamer would have its own perception and expectations of what the film should resemble. It is extremely hard – perhaps even impossible – to yield something that every gamer would approve of.
Some like the characters; others are infatuated with the storyline, while the next guy loves the weapons… it is endless. Having passed all levels and bosses in the game one would under no circumstance settle for less than that. And unfortunately the film is much less than the game. 

Gamers have always been na;ve and vulnerable. And playing with their perception of the world has cost Hollywood a lot for in majority of their game-based projects they failed unconditionally. But gamers are also well-known for being hopeful. And taking into account the current hot numbers out there – Tomb Raider, Unchartered, Minecraft, Halo – the current situation has everything build up on and become better.
I shall never say that making films based on games is a lost cause. This subgenre will only grow in size over time. Plus taking into account numerous other games that have already won over millions of hearts – Mass Effect, F.E.A.R., Fallout, BioShock, Dead Space, Far Cry, Crisis – the area for creativity here is extremely vast. Almost endless. The opportunity is here for the taking. Would we settle for less?


Vadim Milevskiy

~May 2018


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