Lost in translation: Film adaptations of video games keep bombing

Here’s a link to the Seattle PI story, by Winda Benedetti

The article traces is deep and detailed and worth a thorough read. It talks about the adaption of movies to video games as well (the other direction). It’s fairly scathing at times, but also points to some very hopeful developments as Hollywood and the game industry try to come together better on these converging medias. Some highlights:

“Doom.” “Super Mario Bros.” “Final Fantasy.” As video games go, each has been wildly successful, earning legions of dedicated fans while selling thousands of copies.

But as films go … well, that’s another story.

Stinkers. Bombs. Total failures. These are the words that most accurately describe the feature films created from these best-selling video games.

Everyone agrees Hollywood and the gaming industry are growing closer, the entertainment titans not just adapting each other’s material but also adopting each other’s storytelling and visual styles.

Yet, the mating of games and movies remains a rocky endeavor that has come to inspire distrust and derision in the minds of consumers who’ve learned the hard way that video games based on movies most often are mediocre at best. Movies based on video games have a worse track record.

in recent months, gaming companies and Hollywood types have begun forging creative partnerships of a different kind. Superstar directors Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and John Woo, as well as actor Vin Diesel, have signed deals with game developers and publishers in an attempt to find new and, one hopes, more successful ways to blend movies and games.

Some of the worst video games sprouted from licensing partnerships with Hollywood. Back in 1982, for example, the video game adaptation of “E.T.” was so bad that it’s often blamed, at least in part, for the downfall of the Atari system and the gaming biz crash of 1983.

Ouch! 😀

“You don’t have to make them good because people are buying them because they recognize the name,” says Michael Pachter, who studies the games industry as an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

Boxofficemojo’s Gray is equally cynical when it comes to movies adapted from games.

“Unfortunately, it’s not about the quality of the movie, it’s about the bottom line,” he says. “You base a movie on a popular video game and you have a built-in audience.”

Bad reviews or not, plenty of “Dead or Alive” fans are sure to throw their money at the film adaptation simply because they love the game franchise.

But game makers say that time pressures are frequently to blame for quality problems. A good game can take up to two years, or more, to make. By the time a movie has been greenlighted, they have to rush to release the game at the same time as the movie.

It comes down to this, says Boxofficemojo’s Brandon Gray: “A video game and a movie are two different things. Video games may have the trappings of a story but they’re ultimately about playing, about hand-eye coordination.”

Wes Nihei, editor in chief for GamePro magazine, agrees to a certain point. “You can’t get away from the fact that one’s interactive and one’s passive and at some point the twain shall not meet.”

Spielberg, for example, has signed an agreement to bring his storytelling expertise to EA, where he will create three original games not based on films.

Action star Diesel has dipped his fingers in the biz as well by creating Tigon Studios, his own games production company dedicated to mixing the best film and gaming have to offer. Tigon has joined forces with Midway to create “The Wheelman,” a game that stars a digitized Diesel as a badass driver who comes out of retirement to save a woman from his past. MTV Films and Paramount Pictures plan to develop a major motion picture in conjunction with the game.

Here’s a thought: if the tools to make a movie and the tools to make a game were the same tools, this divergence and difficulty and inconsistency and parallel creation wouldn’t be so inevitable. And that is not a crazy thought. Game engine / movie technology companies working on this? For animated films, this is closer to reality. But I don’t think rendered video is really that far behind. Compare visual quality and resolution in Gears of War to that in Wizardry and Wing Commander and the original Warcraft, and then turn and look 10 years into the future…

It seems fairly obvious that the people who are going to solve this movie / game puzzle first and best are the ones who also have a foot in both worlds. Of the people named in the article, Vin Diesel is most interesting to me, since I know he actually does know and play games. Maybe Jackson and Spielberg do, too – we can hope.

And another thought for all of us who are gamers: it’s pretty shameless for them to think they don’t have to make a good game cause we’ll by it anyway because we liked the movie. That’s insulting to our intelligence, actually. Bad news is, it’s based on their experience. It’s up to us and our wallets to change that assumption, isn’t it?

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