Despite what Roger Ebert says, there’s a serious argument for video games being a valid art form as opposed to just something a student might play for the duration between waking up and going to bed (i.e. all day). Games such as ‘Shadow Of The Colossus’ and the ‘Uncharted’ series have proven that emotional depth and bombastic action isn’t exclusive to the filmic landscape. You only need to look at cinematic talent like Ellen Page and Susan Sarandon, who have taken roles in recent high profile games, to realise the gaming industry has as much clout, creativity, and cash as any movie studio. Unfortunately, it seems the two mediums just don’t sit well together, with very few video game adaptations living up to their source material. In a decade during which video games have consistently raised the bar of what is achievable within the industry, it’s a shame that all too often Hollywood show a propensity to render an adaptation devoid of any of its original qualities.
To mark the release of SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D, we look back at ten video game adaptations that made us want to switch off the telly and go back to twiddling our thumbs.
The original and still arguably the worst game adaptation due to its utter destruction of source Nintendo classic, SUPER MARIO BROS. is a film that takes the foundations of the popular video games and manages to completely misinterpret them. Husband and wife directing duo Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel spent almost $50 million on a film that turned the Mario brothers, played gamely enough by Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, into Mafia-battling, New York-accented plumbers that wander around in overalls looking like oddballs from some convention and squaring off against a reptilian Dennis Hopper (looking as uncomfortable as his tongue prosthetics would suggest). If there is a redeeming feature, its that it was clear that gaming had finally reached the mainstream; but it’s a miracle it didn’t take the first sewage exit out after this abomination.
The first MORTAL KOMBAT wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it was faithful enough to its source material and made with the right amount of self-awareness to ensure it remains a cult classic. Its sequel, MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, cannot lay claim to these qualities. With a colour palette as dull as its plot, first time director John R. Leonetti – relinquishing his job as cinematographer to take over from Paul W.S. Anderson – fails to provide a coherent viewing experience; there’s an abundance of characters who flit in and out of the story with wild abandon, and every single one is poorly acted. Add into the mix action scenes so woefully choreographed that I’ve seen primary school dance recitals with better technique, and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION ultimately performs a self-fatality.
I had recently finished the first Tomb Raider game when the poster for its big screen adaptation was released, and on the face of it things didn’t look so bad; Angelina Jolie with shorts and guns was a sturdy selling point for the original fanbase. It’s a shame that her performance, delivered with gusto if not exactly quality, and great visuals are let down by a script almost engulfed by plot machinations and devices so hackneyed the film failed to have any sort of identity of its own. Jon Voight and Daniel Craig also turn up in roles that require nothing of them but to recite the script soullessly. In the absence of strong male action heroes following the mediocre Brosnan Bond era, the world could have done with Lara Croft; the trouble was bringing a film adequate enough along with her.
Uwe Boll’s first appearance on the list, HOUSE OF THE DEAD was based on an arcade game in which the story came second to filling zombies with light gun lead and pointing the gun away from the screen to reload. Boll didnn’t understand that the formula doesn’t particularly translate to cinema (as he’s demonstrated time and time again with his various adaptations of video games), and as a result HOUSE OF THE DEAD is a strong contender for worst video game adaptation of all time. Taking every zombie film cliché – boobs, bullets and brains adorning floors – and applying them to a script so poor that the original game looks positively masterful in comparison, the only consolation is that the film’s characters suffer just as much as their undead enemies; it’s hard to determine who is more loathsome.
It takes a lot for a film that markets itself based on a bevy of well-endowed females kicking people to actually be shallower than it first appears. DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE manages it with none of the self-awareness that might have improved it. The original game series is a lesser clone of ‘Tekken’ anyway, but compared to its big screen adaptation its an artistic masterpiece; there aren’t many films with less emotional depth than a puddle but Corey Yeun – co-director of THE TRANSPORTER – appears lost at sea without Luc Besson next to him, and a cast including Holly Valance and Jaime Pressly manage to imbue gravitas and talent into their lines so sparsely, its almost as if their states of half-nudity seem a distraction from the film’s shortcomings. Which would explain why they’re unclothed the entire time.
Timothy Olyphant, so good in DEADWOOD and potentially the strongest lead actor since Hoskins to take a game character role, is unfortunately at odds with the material given to him in HITMAN. His bone-dry performance uneasily contrasts against a plethora of violence which tries desperately to be balletic; instead it comes off about as graceful as a bull in a bath of beer. The film ironically makes the mistake of character assassination; Agent 47 is not meant to be an empathetic character, yet in order to make the film marketable Skip Woods rewrites him in such a way he deviates from what makes the games great. Replacing the dubious morality of its main character with a blank slate is a huge misstep; the genius of the game’s assassination missions, based around stealth and deception, being shelved in order to create a more conventional action film is the biggest crime of all.
The game itself is a vague representation of what ‘going postal’ means, yet how Uwe Boll concocts such an offensive plot for his adaptation remains a mystery to me. Satire with all the subtlety of a sausage, POSTAL focuses on the eponymous hero of the game and his plot to sell rare dolls in order to recuperate the money lost from his recent firing. All well and good, but Boll and co-writer Bryan C. Knight tack on a subplot with Al Qaeda and George W. Bush that repeatedly implies a sense of intelligence, political context and bravura which overall is sorely lacking. The film plays like a live-action SOUTH PARK episode with none of the wit; even in its final moments it mistakes something in atrociously poor taste for a film resembling a sense of satirical ingenuity. POSTAL plays like a wannabe neo-DR. STRANGELOVE but has not an ounce of its brilliance.
Max Payne as a character is not an especially unique one, but the combination of strong writing and voice acting create one of modern gaming’s most recognisable heroes; the film adaptation is a huge misinterpretation of what makes its source so strong. Casting Mark Wahlberg – an actor who is only as good as his script – is its first mistake, with Wahlberg unable to bring emotional depth to Payne, a character whose entire motivation is based on a tragedy. MAX PAYNE doesn’t improve, with miscast actors and murky plotting failing to create an engaging experience. The action is akin to many of its contemporaries, unsuccessfully reaching any sense of individuality in a genre so packed with cop stories. It’s a shame that the admittedly strong visuals don’t compensate for what is generally an extremely poor showing all round; it says a lot about the film when the most enjoyment generated was when THE WIRE’s Jamie Hector appears.
Certainly not the worst film on the list but the most disappointing, PRINCE OF PERSIA assembles a cast and crew capable of providing stellar entertainment, draws its influence from a series that had breathed new life into platforming, and proceeds to create what feels like… nothing. The whole film is so soulless, so by-the-numbers that it’s a legitimate letdown, especially when comparing it against its peers. PRINCE OF PERSIA did so much pre-release to combat the curse of poor game movies and promote itself as something more and worth watching – unfortunately it ended up being possibly the blandest of the lot. Jake Gyllenhaal puts in work far beneath his best and inevitably, carrying such an average script on his shoulders shows. If not for Alfred Molina’s energetic showing, this would be a complete waste of time.
The most recent of the RESIDENT EVIL films and the worst, RETRIBUTION is a work of complete laziness and credits its viewers with less intelligence than one of its braindead zombies. Despite a relatively strong cast, its script is lowest common denominator rubbish, making its predecessors look like masterpieces; Milla Jovovich speaks more sense in THE FIFTH ELEMENT. The first RESIDENT EVIL film was fun for what it was, but the series has degenerated into a poor imitation of itself, showing up with less effort every time. In a year during which the game series has put out its poorest instalment, its probably only right that the film series does too. If only those pesky zombies stayed dead, so could this worthless franchise.