"Based on the hit video game" seems to be the biggest turnoff to critics everywhere. In the United States, there have been 28 films based on video games that have seen theatrical release. According to Wikipedia's entry on the subject, not a single one of those 28 films have scored higher than a 44% as of this post.
Now whether or not you think critics are horse's asses is an unrelated matter. The point which I am trying to make with that statistic is that the overall quality of films based on video games seems to be inherently lesser than those of almost any other genre. Why is this? What are these filmmakers doing wrong? Well, I have compiled a list of my thoughts.
1. Picking the Wrong Properties
I don't have any idea why filmmakers insist on picking games to adapt that are low on story. Maybe it's because they can pump out a script in three hours, or maybe it's because the American public will go see anything that promises explosions and boobs. But in this day and age, when games have entire writing teams, it's just unacceptable. There have been a couple of promising prospects in recent memory, with adaptations like Max Payne and Hitman offering potential but ultimately falling short (we'll get to that later). But for every one of those promising contenders, there are three or four like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li or any Resident Evil film. How can it be so hard to recognize good material? Among the millions of games out there, it shouldn't be.
2. Hiring the Wrong People to Write the Scripts
I'm going to highlight a specific adaptation for this one, and that is 2008's Max Payne, which was misguided in almost every sense of the word. The film looked great, totally nailing the atmosphere cultivated by the game, and had Mark Wahlberg perfectly cast in the lead role. Where it went wrong was its script, written by someone who had written ABSOLUTELY ----ING NOTHING before that project, and has written nothing since. When you adapt something with a huge fanbase, it is completely idiotic to go with a screenplay written by a nobody. At least the writer of Prince of Persia had Remember the Titans and The Rookie to back his case up.
3. Completely Missing the Point
This one is directly tied to the last point. There are many games that have good stories, better than many movies. But when they get translated to the screen, something gets lost. For example, Max Payne had the potential to be a tremendously entertaining piece of film noir, with a classic dark vibe and cool narration. But for whatever-the-hell reason, the writer of that film went and added some stupid crap about demons into the story, something that had never been featured in the games. And then we can look at the Tomb Raider movies, which took emphasis off of exploration, history or actual, you know, raiding of tombs in favor of mindless action and Angelina Jolie's boobs. Video game movies have a history of missing the point and instead placing the focus of the entire film on the stuff that looks coolest in the trailers. Just stick with the script, idiots!
4. Just Being Stupid
It doesn't seem like I should have to say this, but it is true in so many adaptations that I simply have to point it out: why on earth do people actually hire other people to be stupid? Whether it be the misguided script for Max Payne, the simply awful costuming of the Mortal Kombat movies, or the fact that someone actually authorized the making of Super Mario Bros., it seems like stupidity is a contagious infection in video game adaptations. Is there no quality control on these sets, or in the writing departments? Is there no one that can pull the producers aside and tell them that this is total crap?
5. Complete Removal of Character from the Equation
What makes any film go is emphasis on characters. Games like Bioshock, The Last of Us and the recent reboot of Tomb Raider do an excellent job of illustrating some of the fundamental flaws in human nature, as well as the humanity's incredible capacity for survival and the will to live. The Max Payne series explored themes of revenge, justice and loss, only to have those themes all but removed from the pitiful film adaptation, again in favor of action and the vague possibility of boobs.
David S. Goyer, co-writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, said the following about video game movies:
"Once we start seeing video games that have memorable characters then I think we'll start seeing more successful video game adaptations."
And that right there is the biggest reason that video game movies fail so often. They lose sight of the characters that redeem the games. Lara Croft isn't just boobs and guns, she's a survivor. Max Payne isn't just a badass, he's a scarred and deeply troubled man seeking justice for his family.
Even the Prince of Persia movie did a decent job of sticking to the script, incorporating many elements from the games and producing a reasonably passable swashbuckler. But even then, being a cut above your average video game movie, it failed to impress on any serious level.
With his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan took a film franchise that had been made into a joke, brought it back to its roots and crafted three deep, affecting meditations on justice and power that rattled us to our core. Why can't some other director do the same with the plentiful video game properties ripe for adaptation?
I believe that there is hope on the horizon. Just around the corner, we're looking at an adaptation of Need for Speed, which promises to be a faithful throwback to the carchase movies of the 60's and 70's. The action sequences look promising (director Scott Waugh insisted on as little CGI as possible), and Aaron Paul, fresh off of Breaking Bad, is a great young actor, and it would be remiss of him to come off of such a successful series to anything less than favorable. At worst, I am expecting at least a serviceable throwback.
But even if Need for Speed doesn't pan out, we have Assassin's Creed and Warcraft in talks for adaptation, as well as rumors of Shadow of the Colossus, Splinter Cell, and a new Tomb Raider getting their time in the sun.
Let's get Paul Greengrass directing Mark Wahlberg in a Splinter Cell movie. Put Peter Jackson in the chair for a direct translation of last year's Tomb Raider. Get Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers on Red Dead Redemption (I actually have some excellent ideas for that, particularly regarding soundtrack). Get your head out of your rectum, Hollywood, and into the game!
What do you guys think? Is it ever going to happen, or is it the stuff of fantasy?