Wednesday 9 June 2010

History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men

A CNN article asks Why do video games make such bad movies?, citing turkeys like Mortal Kombat and The Wizard. It’s easy to point at films like those, or Super Mario Bros., or Street Fighter. Or Far Cry. Or the Pokémon films. Or anything Uwe Boll’s directed. Easy to point at those (or Doom) and say “hah, video games make bad movies” (or Double Dragon), but that’s ignoring the really great game adaptations, such as:

  • Lara Croft Tomb Raider. It’s a film with Angelina Jolie in it, and is thus empirically brilliant.
  • Star Wars. Building on the success of LucasArts, George Lucas cunningly wove elements of several games into a film, such as the epic space fights of the X-Wing series. The lead character, gaining Jedi powers through the film, was based on Kyle Katarn from the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight first-person shooters.
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Widely acknowledged as the greatest Atari 2600 game ever, it was always going to be a tall order to try and translate into a movie. Taken on its own merit it’s actually not a bad film, but expectation was so high that there was massive over-production resulting in The Great Film Crash of ’83. Several towns in New Mexico are constructed entirely of betamax tapes of E.T.
  • Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson hardly concealed his sources, just dropping the “Online” bit of LotRO to get his film name. Widely criticised for the cinematic release dropping interminably long journeys, after which the characters exchange a few words of expositionary dialogue and perform a menial task before returning on exactly the same journey in reverse, Jackson corrected this with the Director’s True To Game Cut 476 disc box set including classic scenes like The Fellowship Go From The Shire To Rivendell (Discs 24 – 31:); Elrond Tells The Fellowship They Need To Speak To Someone In Hobbiton (Disc 32) and The Fellowship Go From Rivendell Back to The Shire (Discs 33 – 48, thanks to Frodo getting repeatedly dismounted by wandering mobs).
  • Godzilla. Ishiro Honda was inspired by the arcade game Rampage to create his monster opus. Though forced to leave out much of the depth of the source game, such as George, Ralph and the complex political subtext about nuclear weapons, Godzilla was nevertheless successful enough to warrant a couple of sequels.
  • Citizen Kane. Welles did his best to hide it, but there can be no doubt that Citizen Kane is entirely based on Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. Cunningly changing the lead character from A Big Truck to a media mogul has thrown most people off the scent, but the basic themes are all there: the manipulation of media and other people explored in a medium of incorporeal scenery, the ruthless pursuit of power portrayed as a race against opponents that don’t move; most notably the idea of mysterious, enigmatic key phrase at the heart of everything, though in order to conceal his sources there can be little doubting that the change to  “Rosebud” in the film is much less powerful than the original “YOU’RE WINNER”.

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