5 Video Games That Hollywood Should Never Film
Despite history's best attempts at dissuading us, we lust for movies based on our favorite video games. We want a visual representation of the rush of gaming, of crashing helicopters in Grand Theft Auto, of plodding through marshes in The Witcher, of grinding identical enemies and developing crippling social paranoia in EverQuest. But watching Resident Evil and Tomb Raider is inevitably frustrating because they only capture elements of what we love: the action, the aesthetic, a character likeness here or there.
The real problem may not be Hollywood, but that certain aspects of games just don't translate. As it turns out, those aspects are pretty damn important. So let's cut the daydream about how we, the gamer elite, with our complete lack of applicable marketing or filmmaking experience, could make a good game movie. Instead, let's focus on why some properties are better left well enough alone.
Fallout screams "Film me!" I've thought about it, you've thought about it, my buddy who wrote 10 pages of a fucking sweet script in college thought about it. Aesthetically, we're right. The combination of Americana, apocalyptic landscapes, and crazy Red Scare tech is the kind of thing that keeps Neill Blomkamp up at night with a half-chub. It would combine the thrills of Mad Max with the creepy night giggling of The Hills Have Eyes.
The characters are there, too. Imagine Tom Hardy standing in the Brotherhood of Steel airship, shouting in detail about how goddamn much he hates robots. Picture Anthony Hopkins smoking a cigar atop Tenpenny Tower, or Marion Cotillard as Magnolia, the smoky lounge rat who just wouldn't sleep with me, my wife is dead now, can't you see I'm hurting?
"I don't want to be too forward, miss, but my wife is, like, suuuuper dead."
But what's not there, unfortunately, is a solid premise of conflict. Half of the appeal of Fallout is the ability to be awful. You can kill innocents, steal stuff, blow up a village, or do any other chaotic act befitting a post-apocalyptic shithole. And then you can leave your house and walk out into the world, all the while knowing that when that random farm pathetically asked for your help against attacking raiders, you just kept on watching those dumb radscorpions walk right into your frag mines.
Haha! Stupid bug! Hah- OH GOD, THERE'S FOUR OF THEM.
Part of the issue longtime fans have with the newer games is their increasing sense of goodness. In Fallout 4 especially, being evil is kinda half-assed. You can nuke Boston, sure, but you also care about your wife and son, whereas in Fallout 3 you can give a giant middle finger to your childhood friend and bully alike. It doesn't hurt that you feel like you're one dialogue option away from being beaten to death at all times in Fallout 3. In the original Fallout, you can even kill kids, cementing yourself forever as evil incarnate.
That moral ambiguity does not a movie make. You need someone to root for. Even the aesthetics of Fallout rely on this, as they are most effective when juxtaposed with sinister and morally complex choices. The backdrop they create is interpreted by the player, who can either uphold those 1950s ideals or send them up in radioactive smoke. Also in Fallout's favor is that you have hours of gaming to come to terms with the fact that you're a shitty person. Any good deed in a Fallout movie would be countered with the logic of "Yeah, that's nice, but 10 minutes ago you killed an entire family and stole the father's pants, sooooo ..."
No pants? This massacre was for nothing, then.
It's not just the gray-area good guy, though. It's that Fallout has always presented the "bad guy" just as loosely. See, in movies, there has to be a defined hero and a defined villain, but Fallout always leaves you with a sense of "Shit, did I make the right choice here? These people I've allied with kind of seem like dicks." Every faction can seem "good" or "bad" from a certain perspective, but in a movie, you need to know within the first 15 minutes who we're fighting against. Defeating the bad guy becomes the main character's most driving motivation. In a game, that works brilliantly, because you can play through it multiple times to see how different alliances pan out. But in a movie, it's a one-shot deal.
Moral ambiguity is not a new idea in cinema -- see Game of Thrones -- but those stories work because there is a beacon of good in the darkness. It's required, but in Fallout, good is entirely optional.
Grand Theft Auto
Speaking of moral ambiguity, let's talk about the OG: Grand Theft Auto. Before dumb nerds drag out Wasteland for the Apple II, I'll clarify. GTA brought morally ambiguous gaming into the mainstream in a way that previous attempts did not. Mortal Kombat was cheesy and Night Trap was accidentally hilarious. Before GTA, being morally ambiguous in a game was usually limited to using the one ninja move that looked the most like you were kicking the enemy in the dick.
But GTA, though ridiculous in its own ways, was legit. This was especially true beginning with the third game. It told an interesting story with interesting characters, cribbing inspiration and plot devices from iconic gangster cinema. Its radio stations, signage, and dialogue were filled with social satire and humor. In that way, Grand Theft Auto was the first mainstream game actually for adults. Not a basic story with blood and gore, not a shitty porn game, but a serious game for mature gamers. It delivered shock value with actual context, rather than a stray boob here or there.
In that way, GTA revolutionized gaming. And in that way, it's just another movie.
"Angry, gun-loving white dude in metropolitan area" isn't exactly uncharted land.
When I run "Goodfellas" through Spanish Babelfish, I get "Uno de los nuestros." When I put that back in, I get "one of ours," which is a pretty good indicator for how a Grand Theft Auto movie would turn out. It is the product of films that came before it, which makes an adaptation pointless. It took the turkey and made a casserole out of it. Filming a GTA movie would be picking the turkey back out of that dish and ruining Thanksgiving.
The reason GTA succeeds as a game is because it lets a player experience an already established genre. Suddenly you aren't the hero. You don't have to save a city that's beset by all the naughty things that you technically shouldn't like. You're a drug dealing, murdering, whoring son of a bitch who haunts the dreams of Joe Lieberman. In a GTA movie, you're just watching that guy, like you watched Joe Pesci or Al Pacino.
1974 Al Pacino, mind you. Definitely not 2014 Al Pacino.
And to be frank, the GTA stories are great, but not exactly paragons of originality. The missions that the colorful characters are tasked with usually amount to "DRIVE, MOTHERFUCKER. DRIVE!" To make a good movie and not be compared to anything with the words "fast" and "furious" in the title, they need something more compelling, something more original. Plus in a movie, you can't have a 30-minute subplot about repeatedly rolling a station wagon down a mountain, which makes it immediately less desirable.
I guess it all boils down to this: GTA works as a game because (especially when it first became popular) it was original within that medium. There weren't many "antihero" games, and it felt like a platform for your inner destructive child, while you giggled at all the swearing. But that's Movie 101. Turn any GTA storyline into a movie, and it instantly sinks into the sea of every Goodfellas, Casino, Pulp Fiction, Boyz N The Hood, and a thousand other titles where the "shocking" part is "The criminal is actually the good guy!" The immediate argument here would be: "But those are all great movies!" And you'd be right, if the GTA version came out in the late '80s or early '90s. In modern movies, that idea has become a trope. In the video game world, it's original. In the movie world, it would become a Jell-O mold filled with generic, forgettable lime.
Like all of the entries here, Mass Effect has ingredients that get studios salivating. There's a shit-ton of lore, memorable characters, great writing, audience-friendly space antics, and kinky human-on-alien sex scenes. Those spicy ingredients, especially the interspecies boning, are common threads across all games from BioWare, a company that's devoted to giving you the hope that one day, a hot blue creature will say "I love you" back.
I heard that if you pick the right dialogue options, she goes with you to prom.
The chilis in the BioWare salsa is player choice. More than any of their previous titles, Mass Effect took branching narrative to the next level, so much that it spread across games. By the time you reached the no-possible-way-it-can-be-satisfying ending, you had created an entirely unique experience. The love fans have for Mass Effect is rooted in that: their main character, their party, their alien sex, their alien break-ups, their path through the game's universe.
Inevitably, a movie would be disappointing because that experience is impossible to replicate. You can hit all of the major points of the series in explosive fashion, but you're still telling one story about one dude who does things that the player might have done. And unless audiences could edit together their own narrative from what would end up being a production with a $500 bajillion budget, it wouldn't be the Mass Effect movie that they always dreamed of. It'd end up being Darren Aronofsky's save file.
His moody, metaphor-filled save file.
That hasn't stopped Hollywood from trying, though. A Mass Effect movie has been trapped in development hell for some time, with the first screenwriter attesting to its unadaptability. He said, "There's just so much material," which is a really nice way of saying, "God himself couldn't write this stupid thing."
The Legend of Zelda
The desire for a Zelda adaptation is so strong that conspiracies surrounding it have ended up in outlets like Entertainment Weekly. Between those Netflix rumors and a famous IGN April Fools' joke, the film flame has burned oh so brightly. Every few years, someone whispers, "A Legend of Zelda movie might be in the works ..." and the internet responds with a collective and optimistic "REALLY?!?"
Hollywood will inevitably release a Legend of Zelda movie, starring a former YouTube celebrity as Link, a former pop singer as Zelda, and Kevin Hart as Navi. But, like most non-movie properties this popular, a fan film has already been made about it. 2009 saw the release of The Hero of Time, a sincere but unfortunate effort at translating the series to screen. While the elements of Ocarina of Time were there, it felt more like watching a low-budget Lord of the Rings, except Frodo was wearing a green hat. Also, Frodo bullied you in ninth grade.
"Gimme your lunch rupees, nerd, or I'll toss your bomb bag on the roof."
And that similarity is important, because production values were not the problem with The Hero of Time (though I'm not pretending it helped). A proper production would carry over its similar narrative difficulties, namely that there isn't much of one.
Zelda stories are always simple, because Zelda is not about the story. Zelda is about the game itself: solving puzzles, getting new weapons, and unlocking new parts of the world. Zelda is about the feeling that comes when you finally realize that you have to aim the arrow at the eye before you can even think about using your sword. It's about the sigh of relief when you light the torches in the correct pattern and that fucking door finally opens. It's about learning that you have to time a jump juuuuust right, and then using that method to murder an entire race of lizard men.
I've spent three minutes practicing this technique. Time to kill you and everyone you've ever known.
Sure, there are memorable characters, especially in the sprawling Majora's Mask. And the world is a wonderful blend of deserts, mountains, forests, and kingdoms, a blend that a movie would probably give up on before shooting the whole thing in Vancouver. But the series' soul lies at the bottom of Misery Mire, locked between two crystal switches.
No one wants to watch Link HYAH around and solve puzzles. Even in the overworld, Link flies solo, struggling against an evil that's usually far away until the end of his quest. Add in epic armies and political meandering and you get Lord of the Rings. And at that point, why not just watch Lord of the Rings instead of Sugar Ray Frodo?
Link would end up stealing the ring and killing Gollum with a boomerang.
Like Fallout, admitting that BioShock is better as a game is a very sad admission. Indeed, it borrows much of Fallout's aesthetic and much of its dark humor and kind of refines it into a single dystopian location. The idea of Rapture or Columbia on screen is intoxicating. All of the games one-up Fallout with more linear narratives, likable protagonists, and hateable antagonists. Infinite would probably make a fantastic film, especially if helmed by the right person. And if Ian McShane played Father Comstock, I'd start going to church.
Ian McShane could play a cloud, and I'd still consider the power of prayer.
But many diehard fans prefer the original game, with its slower-paced gameplay and orgy of Ayn Rand references. It features what may be the greatest plot twist in gaming, a plot twist that is also inherently unfilmable. After spending half a game thinking that you're romping through an underwater city, doing what's best and bludgeoning mutated baby boomers, it turns out that you never had any control at all. It turns out that Atlas, the Irish tutorial guide of a man, has been bamboozling you. He's the real villain, and you're just a pawn.
Would you kindly have the way you view managing your protagonist changed forever?
When your character is revealed to be Atlas' puppet, it's really about you, the player. Atlas and his pleas that you kindly do things serve as an extension of the developer's guiding hand, pushing you through the levels and story they created. Your objectives were never goals, they were instructions. BioShock subverts what a game is and bridges the gap between game and reality. And then you fight Atlas when he's all juiced up on serums and can throw fireballs, effectively crashing you back down into the territory of Generic Adventure Game #42.
We hope you liked our great new gaming experience. Now, please enjoy every boss fight from the last decade of the medium.
How can you replicate that kind of fourth wall explosion in a film? Unless the curtain comes up Black Mirror-style and it turns out I'm actually in a movie where I'm watching BioShock while others watch me watch BioShock, I'm not seeing it. The twist could be there, but it would be about the character, not the audience. And then it's just M. Night Shyamalan's Waterworld. And no one wants that.
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