There have been 29 major movie adaptations of video games that have been released internationally. Of those the highest rated (according to Rotten Tomatoes) was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within with 43%, most of the rest don’t make it past 25%. Reviews like this should stall any sort of development for further film adaptations; apparently not. There are at least 8 more film adaptation in development (which includes a film version of Angry Birds….. great).
The first question would be why are these films still getting the green light? Well the answer is pretty simple really. Studios love anything with a built in fan base. Whether it’s a popular book series or a best-selling comic book, the general attitude is why spend extra time and money drumming up attention for an original story when half the work can be done by taking something that has thousands of fans already. That’s why there have been 80 Twilight films. You also have to take money into consideration; a movie studio is always looking to put as little money in as possible so that the box office yield is bigger. The adaptation of Hitman cost just $24 million to produce and made close to a $100 million in cinemas; even with a 14% average on Rotten tomatoes.
The second question is; why aren’t they any good? By this point you would have thought there would have been at least one or two really good videogame adaptations even just through law of averages. On the face of it it does seem odd that after all this time there hasn’t been one really great game adaptation. Some have had their moments (Prince Of Persia had potential and Doom had one really great scene) but there has never been an all-round great adaptation. The quality of games at the moment certainly gives promise for future potential, especially considering the growing involvement of film-makers like Steven Spielberg. The top games have: A strong central character, a plucky sidekick, and a great set-up. And yet every adaptation so far has been lacking something.
I think the main problem is structure. The general structure for a screenplay is 3 acts. A general guideline structure for a screenplay is: Act 1 – Set-up, Act 2 – Confrontation, Act 3 – Resolution. Video games are getting more cinematic, but they still have a structure that is a lot looser. I mean Tekken was never going to be a great film unless you give a writer of Aaron Sorkin skill a year to write it. And even then you have no guarantees if it’s going to be any good or not. The emphasis with video games is always going to be level design, getting from the beginning of the game to the end in the most exciting way possible. In a screenplay you have a plot point or an exciting incident; in a video game you have a boss level.
Even cinematic games like Uncharted can only sustain a cinematic feel for so long before having a level where you have to find a key for a door that leads to a room with a trophy that you don’t need. Plus the fact of the matter is the speed studios like to get movies out and seen by the general public means there’s just no time for a sufficiently long development process. Studios will now announce a release date before having a script or director, and with a tactic like that there’s no way a decent video game adaptation can get made.
But Hey. Fingers crossed for the angry birds film!