Lights, camera, insert coin – why movies of video games don’t work

Here’s a difficult question for you: name one movie which was based on a video game franchise that was actually any good.

Even the best ones, like Jake Gyllenhall’s Prince of Persia or Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider only manage to be adequate, and when these adaptations suck, they suck hard – think Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and pretty much anything directed by Uwe Boll.

I still lie awake at night hoping this was just a horrible nightmare…

Now, the reason for these tie-ins is not a mystery – it’s usually got something to do with money. These kinds of movies are always going to be popular with a certain type of nerd, and it doesn’t take a lot to make them want to drool over a version of Lara Croft that looks like a real person. Especially if it’s Angelina Jolie. So the film studio – and the developer of the games – usually makes a ton of cash.

So why are these efforts usually panned by critics and audiences alike? Well, firstly it’s an issue of interactivity – unless you count fans of Metal Gear Solid‘s 40-minute cutscenes, gamers don’t like to be out of control for very long, and there’s something jarring about watching the action and not being involved in it. And condensing a story that’s usually drawn out over a period of six hours into a two-hour movie does a lot to change the tone; it takes away the tense atmosphere of Silent Hill or the mystery of games like Heavy Rain and LA Noire, which work because they have more time to suck you in.

And there’s another reason that movie adaptations are no longer useful; the gap between film and game has become too damn close. In the past it was a different story because the gap in technologies was so wide. There was something gratifying about seeing a real-life version of your favourite virtual characters bouncing around on screen because the result usually looked so much better than what was on screen. And let’s face it, it was nice hearing Mario say something other than his name for once – even if he was being played by Bob Hoskins.

Games like Uncharted 3 are able to deliver a cinematic experience that’s as exciting as most summer blockbusters.

But in the generation of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, developers are making games that get closer and closer to bridging the gap in the uncanny valley and creating an experience that’s truly cinematic – like the critically acclaimed Uncharted series, which has been compared to Hollywood blockbusters in terms of the quality of its writing and actors.  They’re even producing what could almost be called stars: Nolan North, the actor who plays Uncharted‘s protagonist Nathan Drake, is without doubt the most famous face in gaming today.

So when the news of an Uncharted adaptation comes out, and names like Mark Wahlberg and Nathan Fillion are thrown around in discussions of who should play the lead, it almost feels redundant – they already found the perfect Nathan Drake, and he’s the one from the games. Why waste time and money trying to make something new with an actor who’ll never live up to the original?

Not all video games are perfect, of course – for every Heavy Rainthere’s a Duke Nukem Forever. But with the way things are going it won’t be long before we’re comparing the Hideo Kojimas and Tim Schafers of this world to the Stanley Kubricks and the David Cronenbergs, and middle men like Uwe Boll will be as obsolete as the SNES that’s sitting in your attic.

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