Audiences were “graced” with the release of “Silent Hill: Revelation” (in 3D!) last weekend; reviews and box office numbers were predictably scathing, with a number of critics lambasting its choice of scares and plot details. In the decades long battle to bridge the gap between video game and movie, directors still haven’t perfected the art of video game adaptation. While there have been very great adaptations of books to film and even licensed video games from movies, the transition from video game to movie hasn’t been a great one.
- · The plot is incoherent. A common complaint with critical reviews of video game based movies is the fact that the plot seems to be hastily strung together. Unfortunately, with movies that wish to adapt video game plots, it seems to be a herculean task; video game stories are usually categorized as an excuse plot (where there’s really no reason a game to have plot at all, and the story is summed up in a throwaway line at the beginning of the game) or something that includes loads and loads of information (“Final Fantasy XIII” had a whole database dedicated to plot details and other relevant facts). With adaptations, viewers are either getting an expansion of unnecessary details (such as the contrived plot of the “Super Mario Brothers” movie) or a quick synopsis of an twenty hour game (things like the original “Silent Hill” come to mind). The pacing for both of these scenarios tend to be drawn out and confusing.
- · It’s gamer fanservice. Going a bit hand in hand with the first point, a lot of video game movies want to appeal to gamers; after all, they’re the audience that are fans of the source material after all. However, what that does is alienate casual moviegoers, in essence most of the people that watch movies in the first place. So while it may be cool to reference a ton of lingo into a film (“Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children” was somewhat guilty of this), as well as eke in as many over-the-top action scenes as possible, it ends up going over a lot people’s heads, leaving many viewers confused with only the initiated fawning over the movie. There’s a demographic that a lot of video game movies don’t dare to touch, and that unfortunately is the underlying problem.
- · Things don’t translate well from the source material. Finally, it’s a given that when adapting something to another medium, there are some details that cannot be translated. Things like inner emotions and descriptions have to be forgone with visual works, so it’s a bit hard for games that are text-heavy to be explained visually; backstories of characters can only be glossed over as well, which makes fighting game movies, of which the source material is already convoluted, to be a foreign mess in regards to plot.
However, with the upcoming release of “Wreck it Ralph” and the recent success of the cult hit “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”, as well as anime like “Summer Wars”, things are looking a bit brighter for the world of video game-based movies. Some factors that “Scott Pilgrim” thrived on and how “Wreck it Ralph” can achieve cinema greatness:
- · The movies have an original story. While it’s true that the aforementioned movies aren’t based on video games, they do have an engrossing story that pave the way for a cinematic treat. “Ralph” relies on an almost “Toy Story”-esque plot to determine what happens to the film’s characters if they were left to their own devices. “Scott Pilgrim”, adapted from a series of graphic novels, is a love letter to Canadians as well as hipsters, and the characterization of the protagonists is realistic yet slightly fanciful.
- · It’s gamer fanservice, in a good way. From the numerous references to gamer culture to the heaping amounts of game related humor, “Scott Pilgrim” had enough material to satisfy casual moviegoers while also giving something for gamers to adore. The inclusion of a “Legend of Zelda” piece in one of the dream sequences created a trance-like atmosphere that fit the sequence while also treating gamers to said song. The film alluded to gamer culture without alienating its audience.
- · Games take a backseat to more important film details. While it still had a main focus on the fictional game it created, “Summer Wars” was also a film that had themes of bonds as well as family. The interactions outside of the game’s universe was as important as the gaming aspects of the film, which is partly why it garnered such accolades regarding plot and graphics.
With these factors in mind, only time will tell if “Wreck it Ralph” will succeed in theaters and if a video game adaptation will fully reach its potential and truly bridge the gap between game and movie.