5 Desperate Pop Culture Crossovers That It's Time To Retire
"Man, that was great. But, and try to stay with me here, how great would it be....over there?"
Such is the creative process for many people that want to turn their favorite movie/comic/game/TV show into someone else's favorite comic/TV show/movie/game. And too often, they're left shrieking in frustration as they try to jam a rectangle into a circular hole. Then, against all better instincts, they straighten their tie and try that same crossover again the next day. I'm not saying that we should completely give up on trying to make people happy by cramming the thing they love into another medium. I just think that, in the case of these five things, maybe we should take a break and consider that some of these puzzle pieces are a little too warped to fit the picture we have in mind.
We Don't Need Any More Video Games Based On Popular Fantasy
Video games that are spawned from popular fantasy series should be slam dunks. Virtual swords, virtual fireballs and virtual dragons should lead to very real thumb cramps. Harry Potter should be the greatest RPG series of the last decade. I should be level grinding my team of McGonagall, Hagrid, and Neville in a field somewhere to get them ready for a boss battle with Bellatrix Lestrange right now. And on the side of Lord of the Rings, I should be leading Samwise Gamgee through a Mordor that seems so real that you can practically smell the Orc urine. I should've been found dead of malnutrition by now, my vacant eyes watching a screen that says "Restart Battle of Helm's Deep?"
He died doing what he loved: Getting needlessly frustrated by entertainment.
And by god, I got close. The Lord of the Rings Online is one of the only MMO games that I've ever played, and as it tossed me into a world where, like the books, every third word was a reference to another character or place, with a learning curve that I can only describe as "Do it yourself, fuckface," I fell in love. My college classes disappeared. The girl I was dating went...somewhere. It was as if I was jumping into a pool of liquefied Tolkien, and I could splash around until I was forced to repeat a course.
Why It Doesn't Work For Anyone Else
When you're basing your game on another fantasy storyline and you don't want someone leaping in your face to say "Actually, ULMO is Water Lord of the Valar, you tempestuous ass," you have to find a way to fit into the narrative. And this is tricky, because if you try to create too much of your own stuff, you might as well be making Knights of Magic Shit: Vague Fantasy Series #14. And if you try too hard to fit into the established story, the creation of goals for the gamer to accomplish is a stricter process. This story already has a beginning, a middle and an end. And now you're trying to create a migenddle, which is a word invented by someone way dumber than me, I promise.
It happened with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which was a great game until you went to do any of the Lord of the Ring-sy stuff, like face down Sauron. But doesn't Sauron die at the end of the book/film series? So in this game, do you kind of just...let him go? Yeah, sort of. There's a lot of stuff wrong with making your final battle with the Dark Lord hinge on your ability to click "A" really fast. But even more feels wrong with the fact that, because Shadow of Morder can't step on any Hobbit toes, you're stuck with a non-finish. You didn't land the knockout blow. You just poked him in the eye, so he said "You dang ol' jerk!" and locked himself in his tower.
Your quick time event skills! They're just...too powerful.
And while we talk a lot about video games surpassing movies in terms of how fantastical they can get, making a game about a movie means that you have to at least keep up with the bare minimum of the excitement that you saw onscreen. This is something that no Harry Potter game has even attempted to accomplish. Harry Potter games have been fun in the same way that a litter box is a salad. Marvel as you take Harry Potter through seven years of Hogwarts, seven years that apparently solely consisted of slowly levitating boxes in order to solve door-opening puzzles. Say what you will about the Dursleys, but at least they never subjected Harry to a near decade of being the chief organizer of wizard storage.
"No, trust me, Harry. ALL wizards have to take General Hogwarts Maintenance and Clean Up."
Non Superhero Movie Tie-In Comics Are A Really Mixed Bag
Comic book logic, like a dog playing basketball or a good Val Kilmer movie, is a wondrous thing. Characters can die and come back later with seemingly no questions asked. Entire timelines can be rebooted with little to no warning. Iron Fist can be a passable idea for a character. It's why superheroes have consistently worked so well in comics, as you can apply whatever logic you want to a guy that can shoot laser beams and is allergic to green geology. It's also why stuff like the Alien franchise and Star Wars have thrived there, too. The rules of their universes are loose enough that if my comic book says "And now, half robot clones!", I just have to shout in agreement and charge in with it.
Why It Doesn't Work For Anyone Else
Not every action franchise needs a comic book tie-in, though, especially franchises that are built around one out-of-the-ordinary thing, surrounded by very ordinary things. For more than twenty years, the logo for Jurassic Park has been slapped onto colorful pieces of paper, and while it's not in my personality to demean anything with the premise of "Look at all of these damn dinosaurs," it is clumsy when it tries to pull the comic trope of "They're actually alive!" Robert "Clever girl" Muldoon had his intestines turned into jungle decor in Jurassic Park, but he seems downright chipper about the whole experience later:
"No worries, Math Nerd. If any dinosaurs attack us, I'll simply defy my own mortality again."
Peter Ludlow, the flimsy businessman from The Lost World also survived, despite being attacked by a T-Rex and a baby T-Rex, which is 1.15 T-Rexes if you do your math correctly. This assault left him as a wheelchair-bound James Bond villain, but totally not dead, since Tyrannosaurus attacks aint what they used to be, am I right?
That's a face that has "Classic, Timeless Jurassic Park Character" written all over it.
The remakes of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre had a tie-in series as well. This satisfied the wishes of everyone who saw those movies and felt that the only thing stopping them from critical success wasn't the absence of a decent story or character, but the absence of a motherfucking hook hand. Now, Leatherface could finally fit in with every comic character invented in the 90s that was given the art direction of "Weapons."
Putting A Rapper On Your Country Song Is A Hell Of A Gamble
I won't say that mixing rap and country music is impossible. The Justified opening song appeals to me way too much for me to make those claims.
However, I will say that it's playing with a potentially very awkward fire. That Justified theme has the benefit of being attached to a show that I love, and also being thirty seconds long in its TV incarnation. There are way too many country/rap songs that don't have critically acclaimed drama shows to grip onto. Waaaay too many. And that honestly might be why they all sound like someone's desperate belly flop onto a pile of demographics.
Why It Doesn't Work For Anyone Else
Take Nelly's "Over And Over Again," which featured Tim McGraw. It sounds like something you'd prank your friends with, right before breaking out a, "Naw, I'm just fuckin' with you" and putting on "Flap Your Wings." A little over a minute into a pretty standard Nelly song about sad stuff, Tim comes in with "I CAN'T GO ON NOT LOVING YOOUUUUUUU," an unrequested bonus that has been edited to sound like it's coming from a haunted record player in another room.
If that doesn't scratch your itch for Nelly/country collaborations, allow me to present the work he did with Florida Georgia Line, a team-up so transparent that the music video starts with Nelly calling the band to tell them that they need more Nelly.
And that's the problem with all of these. No matter how much producing time gets put into them, they all feel like a guy burst into another guy's office to tell him that he was stupid for not seeing this money-making opportunity sooner. "Don't you get it? If we can get it to play on 102 JAMZ AND 104.1 NEW COUNTRY, we'll be rich, you fool. I once was blind, but now I see."
The undisputed champion of these still remains Pitbull showing up on Jerrod Niemann's "Drink To That All Night." Jerrod's Nashville robot meets a Pitbull that can't be bothered to even stick to the original point of the fucking song, and, depending on your attitude, it all either sounds like a party or what you'd hear if you had a stroke behind Cracker Barrel.
We Don't Need To Learn The Origins Of Movie Characters On TV
Movies give you two hour snapshots of characters which inevitably form a story about the most important event of their lives. This approach allows very little room for explanation or copious backstory, leaving a lot of fans to constantly wonder, shouting out their windows into the suburban night "BUT HOW?!?" Recently, a few TV shows have picked up that slack, and have attempted to show us just how it was before that defined character became defined. This means that we have to sit through several seasons of nothingness, eagerly awaiting those sparse tidbits that remind us of why we liked the concept in the first place.
When it comes to tales of "We're gonna take a painstakingly long time to show you how that shit became THE shit," Bates Motel is the only show that's gotten better with age. What started as a show about a weird kid and a town that seemed to change from "quiet, rural village" to "den of intense villainy," transformed into a story about a boy's descent into madness. And if the show doesn't end with the actress who plays his mother, Vera Farmiga, winning every acting award that already exists and some that need to be made up on the spot, I'm going to passionately debate someone on Twitter about it. Mark my words.
And the Grammy for Best Creepy Undertones In Every Single Expression goes to...
Why It Doesn't Work For Anyone Else
If you refrain from thinking about the future of Bruce Wayne in any way, Gotham isn't a terrible show. I'd be into a police show where all of the criminals have some kind of exaggerated attribute or odd taste in jackets. Sadly, Gotham makes Bruce impossible to forget, because it's constantly reminding you that this show is on the road to Batman, but you're just going to have to deal with it not being Batman time yet. And that's the worst wait of all.
Every "waiting for Batman" year is like seven regular years.
Thus, you start to get the feeling that by the time Bruce does get into the suit, there won't be a bunch of stories left for him. The Joker is threatening Gotham? Good luck stopping him, Batman. Hopefully, you manage to nab him, like the cop that already did nab him, multiple times, years ago. Smallville never had that problem because it started when Clark Kent was already at punching age. Though, it did feel like it was constantly circling the same end result, waiting for someone at a network to say "There have been ten seasons of this? Christ. Get on with it already."
"It took a whole decade to get here? What have we been paying you for?"
Another big thing to grapple with is the fact that you want to tell different types of stories than the original movies told. TV has a lower budget than movies, usually, so it doesn't make sense to frame your show around explosions and ass kicking when it's just going to be outdone by films in terms of spectacle. No one told the Taken prequel series this, though, so it constantly elicits the reaction of "Oh, that's cute. He ran around with a gun. But remember when Liam Neeson basically fought a whole country's worth of terrorists? No, by all means, keep going with your little shoot-em-up. It's adorable."
Let's Not Get Cocky About Video Game Movie Universes
In the grand scheme of movies based on video games, the Resident Evil series is the gold standard. When compared to movies of good or even average quality, they're unremarkable, as every genre that they fit into (zombie, action, Milla Jovovich) is being done better elsewhere. They're simply live action Resident Evil cut scenes that have been extended to movie length, and though that sounds like creativity trying to dig itself out of its own grave, it's not the worst thing. You never get the feeling that it's trying to prove its worth as art to you. It's a series where CGI monsters swing axes in slow motion, and I'm sure that we'll always have a place in the world for that.
Oh, random axe dude. You'll forever be in our hearts.
Why It Doesn't Work For Anyone Else
The wave of video game movies feels like something that should've peaked around 2005, with The Rock grunting his way through DOOM and Uwe Boll seemingly basing his scripts off of what he skimmed on the back covers of Xbox releases. But 2016 actually saw the release of more video game movies than any year before it in America, and two of them (Assassin's Creed and Warcraft) revealed something troubling: the people making these films have formed a plan, and it's not a good one.
Taking a page from the superhero genre, both films are not completely satisfying tales. Instead, they present numerous ways that sequels could erupt should the films be overwhelmingly successful (they weren't ... at least not in the US). If this is a trend, we don't just have to deal with bad video game movies that stand alone in their supreme awfulness. And hell, video game movies have been setting up sequels since every protagonist struck stereotypical martial arts poses at the end of Mortal Kombat. But these are attempts to set up whole universes, where any likable character could potentially star in their own equally heinous spinoff.
"Audiences liked the lady on the left. She will get five prequel films and Executive Producer credit."
History has shown that making video game movies is tough, and that we haven't even nailed down the formula of making a single one truly work. Even when I talk about Resident Evil, it sounds like I'm apologizing for my spouse throwing up at a party. "No, but she's great. I swear." And I don't know how long it would take to find that formula. That said, I know that the formula isn't "Make a video game movie that is just the first piece of a big, stupid video game movie flowchart." If I haven't even gotten to first base, I'm not gonna try to steal third.
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