The Needles

The Needles
The Ugly Truth About Videogame Movies

Andy Chalk | 24 Feb 2009 17:00
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It shouldn't be so complicated. In fact, I don't think it is: The problem isn't just that it's hard to make a good videogame movie but that it's apparently harder than hell to make a decent movie of any sort these days. Bombastic CGI and action sequences taken to ridiculous excess have turned the average big-weekend blockbuster into a sound-and-fury spectacle with about as much redeeming value as a music video that just refuses to end. Is it reasonable to expect that movies spun from our particular subculture of choice would somehow be immune to that sort of environment?

And let's face it: Storytelling in movies and games is fundamentally different and that's a fact that has to be accounted for somewhere in the process. Hideo Kojima notwithstanding, videogames typically provide about 15 minutes worth of cheesy, awkward exposition for scriptwriters to work with. No matter how awesome it may sound, sooner or later most movie audiences that don't consist of me (and a few of my friends) are going to get tired of watching guys shoot each other and want to know what the hell's going on. Yet studios keep aiming for that elusive sweet spot at which gamers don't feel betrayed and non-gamers don't feel lost, a spot I don't think even exists; sooner or later you have to pick your audience and pander to them accordingly. It's harsh, but that's life. You really can't please all the people all the time.

But just as important to the equation, and thus far just as absent, is the obligation gamers have to recognize this fact and adjust our expectations accordingly. Sure, a lot of this stuff is outright garbage, but how close did we really expect Doom to stick to the script? Nobody's going to nominate Karl Urban for an Oscar but Doom should probably get more credit than it does for serving up a passable action flick based on one of the most famously thin game concepts to ever land on a PC. Is it how I would've done it? Definitely not, and I'm certainly not above thinking that my ideas, ephemeral and vague though they are, are better. But if I was really that smart I'd be writing movie scripts instead of bitching about them.

It's hard to argue that movies based on videogames haven't been more or less universally atrocious from the moment the genre came into existence, but maybe they haven't sucked quite as badly as we think. It's a twist on the Deus Ex effect: Our demands are so unreasonably high that they've become impossible to satisfy. And if that's true, can we honestly say that these movies suck? Well, yes, they do. But maybe a little bit of that is our own fault.

Andy Chalk would have found a way to work Mike the Cowboy in there somewhere.

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