MovieBob - Intermission
Five Great Movies About Videogames

Bob Chipman | 26 Feb 2010 12:00
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The conventional wisdom is that videogame movies - that is to say, movies based on videogames - suck. Conventional wisdom is, thus far, correct about that, although I'll disagree that it's an incurable condition. I maintain that it's mostly a combination of picking the wrong approach ("How about instead of the Mushroom Kingdom it's an urban police-state, and Bowser is just some guy?") or the wrong game ("Huh. This Resident Evil movie is just a weaksauce George Romero knockoff. I wonder how that happened?")

I blame the second one much moreso - some games, particularly most of the big sales goliaths of the post-PlayStation era, just don't make for good narrative foundations. I reviewed Halo Legends this week and, well, let's just say I'm far from shocked that the two best episodes are based around either subverting or mocking the source material.

Oddly enough, though, movies about videogames have, as a genre, fared much better. It's even produced a few bonafide classics, which is more than can be said for the "based on" side of things. Why that is, I dunno, but it makes for a nice list, so, without further ado...

(Oh, and anyone who wants to know "why Avalon isn't on here" had best have A) actually seen it and B) have a rationale for its inclusion beyond "Mamoru Oshii did it.")

#5. The Wizard

Alright, fine, so this is mainly here for sentimental reasons. It's an absurdly silly, emotionally manipulative film showcasing all the most insipid cliches of late-80s family fare. And yet, as one of the few films of its time to try and put gamer culture - albeit a fanciful, Rocky-inspired-sports-movie version of it - onscreen, it can't help being endearing. The plot is a pre-teen reworking of Rain Man: A kid (Fred Savage) breaks his psychologically-impaired younger brother - a videogame prodigy - out of a mental institution and hits the road. The plan: Enter "The Wizard" in the world's biggest gaming competition to prove that he's "normal." Yes, even back then we knew it was just a giant infomercial for Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. 3 in particular (you think pre-order bonuses are a big deal, kids? Back in the day, big games were advertised by entire films!) but y'know what? In a world where gaming is blamed for everything from school shootings to obesity, here's a movie where videogames give purpose to the lost, glory to competitors and even mend broken families. That's got to be worth something, doesn't it?

#4. Wargames

Here's a movie where not only videogames but also computer hacking are able to - literally - save the world though, of course, not until after they almost destroy it. Young Matthew Broderick is a proto-hacker who likes to hack game developers' databases and "beta-test" their upcoming product uninvited. Small problem: His most recent conquest is actually an artificial intelligence supercomputer that the Army has been letting maintain America's nuclear arsenal, and the "game" of Global Thermonuclear War he thought he was playing has made the machine think it's actually at war with Russia... and it's getting ready to counterattack. Tick-tock. One of the earliest cyber-age nerdsploitation movies, and also one of the all-time great Cold War technothrillers.

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