State of play
Hollywood’s turned novels, comic books and even an amusement park ride into blockbusters. So why do movies based on games usually not make the cut?
Ever heard of someone called Uwe Boll? If you're not a gamer, there's little chance you have. If you are a gamer, there's every chance that at some point, you had a strong urge to skewer the guy on your Longsword like Altair in Assassin's Creed.
Boll is an independent German filmmaker who has made a career of basing his movies on popular video games (remember Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and Bloodrayne?). The trouble is, critics have near-universally trashed almost all of his movies, with five of his films appearing on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com)'s Bottom 100 list.
Boll has been accused of giving movies inspired from video games a bad name, so much so that no good director is now willing to make one. In fact, barring some biggies like Tomb Raider, which starred Angelina Jolie and grossed over $300 million worldwide, and Resident Evil, a sci-fi horror flick that spawned three sequels, no video game movies have really managed to make a mark.
So as May 28 approaches, gamers are waiting with bated breath for the release of a flick based on a legendary video game - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the swashbuckling Prince and Ben Kingsley as the evil Vizier. Hollywood is adept at making blockbusters based on books, but doesn't seem to have mastered movies based on video games. Is there a problem?
"Video games are made for gameplay, not narrative story telling, and that's my basic problem with the movies that take inspiration from them," grumbles Amit Kapoor, a 26-year-old gamer based in Delhi. "When a game developer is putting their game together, their first priority is gameplay - how well does this play, how enjoyable, creative and easy is this game to operate and what the user experience will be like. Their priority is not to tell a 90 minute story."
Kapoor adds that the narrative does play a part in any good game but it's only a side element in the overall experience. "And really, when you break it down, there is about 10 minutes of narrative story in any given game."
But does the inspiration for any movie need to have a fleshed out narrative? The fountainhead of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, for instance, was an attraction at Disneyland that opened in 1967. "You just need a premise for a movie," says film critic Rajeev Masand. "As long as the premise is familiar, the filmmaker doesn't have to stick to the storyline at all, he or she can go completely bonkers with it."
It is this premise, thinks Kapoor, that most studios fail to grasp. "They fail to distinguish between a great premise and a great story," he says. "Take Bioshock, for instance (the 2008 blockbuster game set in Rapture, a fictional dystopian city in 1960 that is submerged in the ocean). The premise is fantastic, but the actual amount of narrative in the game is minimal. It's not like a novel, which already has massive amounts of narrative that can be adapted. Making a video game movie is basically starting from scratch with nothing but an idea for a story rather than a story itself."
Video gamers also have a grouse with filmmakers 'not respecting the source material', that is, the nuances of their favourite games. Case in point, Max Payne, based on the eponymous game that starred Mark Wahlberg.
"The movie sucked SO badly!" says Chirag Munje, a big fan. "It was absolutely nothing like the game, save for the name of the character!" Indeed, the sentiment was echoed so strongly that the CEO of 3D Realms, the company that made the game, made a public statement against the film.
"Part of what makes a game so exciting is all the over-the-top-action, adventure and bloodshed. You can't show this in a movie, so you have to compromise somewhere," says Mumbai-based gaming enthusiast Hardik Shah. "So the movie and the game are two completely disconnected experiences."
In Delhi's GK-I locality, 26-year-old Ritesh Menon faces a 32-inch high-definition LCD screen that he uses to play games. Menon has more than 200 video game titles and is a die-hard Prince fanatic. "I own every Prince of Persia game ever released," he declares. "I have practically grown up with the guy!"
This is why he is not worked up about the movie. In the film, Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, a rebellious prince caught up in a life-and-death struggle to prevent assorted villains from stealing the Dagger of Time, an ancient sacred artifact that can reverse history. Helping him in his quest is the feisty Princess Tamina. Together, they battle foes led by the Vizier, Dastan's unpredictable uncle.
"None of this rings a bell because this plotline has nothing to do with the game," says Menon. "The makers are cashing in on the Prince's popularity. I think it's going to be just like any action movie with a few elements from the game scattered far and few between."
"There are two reasons why video games are being converted into movies," says Masand. "First, there is already an inbuilt audience, so studios can cut down drastically on promotional costs." The second is that there is a desperate hunger for new sources of inspiration. "Hollywood is not that great at coming up with original scripts," Masand says. "Now that they have tapped books and TV shows, video games are the next big thing."
The target audience for such movies is the youth, adds Masand. "Here's how it works: You make an action flick, cast a young heartthrob, pad it with exotic elements like a Persian princess, an Egyptian setting and heart-pounding sequences. Base it on a game like Prince and see the cash registers go crazy!"
Globally, the gaming industry is worth a staggering $41 billion. As games themselves continue to push the envelope in terms of realistic graphics, cinematic action and Hollywood-style orchestrated soundtracks, it is a safe bet that they will continue to inspire more and more filmmakers. But will they work? Time only knows.
Games we want to see as movies
Assassin's Creed II : This is already so cinematic that we wouldn't be surprised if they just showed the game on a big screen. Set in Renaissance Italy, you play Ezio Auditore de Firenze, who befriends da Vinci, takes on Florence's powerful families and ventures through Venice where he learns to become an assassin.
Grand Theft Auto: Set in a fictional version of the United States, in a number of different time periods, the game allows players to take on the role of a criminal in a big city, typically someone who rises through the ranks of organised crime. A heavy dose of action, adventure, drugs, sex and booze gives this game the potential to be an adrenaline-pumping flick!
Alan Wake: This bestselling writer has been suffering from writer's block for two years. His wife Alice brings him to the town of Bright Falls to recover his creative flow. When she vanishes, Wake finds himself trapped in a nightmare. Word by word, a thriller he can't remember writing is coming true before his eyes. Now that's a plot!
5 Video game to movie duds
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
The film version of the PC game starred WWE star The Rock. Half the movie was shot from the perspective of typical first-person shooter games with The Rock's character shooting everything in sight. The other half might not have existed at all.
STREET FIGHTER (1994)
Director: Steven E de Souza
There's little plot you can get out of a game which basically consisted of wacky looking characters bashing each other up. So all the movie comprised was a mishmash of nonsensical combat scenes - not to mention too many characters and irrelevant back stories.
Director: Xavier Gens
It was the hype that probably did this movie in. The critically acclaimed game was reduced to an illogical plot, wooden acting and a horrendous, screechy background score that was as far away from the original as it could be.
Director: Uwe Boll
We'll let the reviews do the talking: "Uwe Boll is such a bad director that it must be intentional." "This is a movie that begs you not to watch it." "How did anyone let Boll three feet within the range of a camera?", and more!
HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)
Director: Uwe Boll
Based on a classic game, House of the Dead managed to mess up the plot by adding rave parties, unwanted skin show and some un-scary undead.