Video Game Movies – Finding the Balance

Back in December I went to see the Assassin’s Creed movie on opening day. I enjoyed the movie, and so did the people I saw it with. The following day I was reading up on the general discussion of the movie amongst fans of the game series and critical reviews of it. I was noticing a pattern while reading all of this: the fans of the game who saw the movie were liking it. Meanwhile, the reviews by critics and your general movie-goers were not liking it.

This got me to thinking about the old belief that video game movies typically are not well received. Movies that are based around video games, or centered around the universe of a game series, have been around since some time in the 1980’s. So why is it, after almost 30 years, are movie adaptations of video games still being laughed at?

Well let’s be honest here, aside from the Resident Evil and possibly the Tomb Raider franchises, most movies based on games have sucked. I’d argue that you could throw the Hitman movies in there as being some of the better versions, but even they do have their faults. Excluding the Hitman movies, the last movie based on a game I saw was Uwe Boll’s interpretation of Far Cry back in 2008. I’d rather not be reminded of that movie but it is the epitome of questionable game based movies.

The question still remains though as to how can these movies not continue to suck going forward? I discussed this briefly on an episode of the podcast a few months ago as to how I feel like this can happen. In short, I believe that these types of movies need to focus on being balanced between bringing in a general audience and being a service to the fans. Of course, you could always just make a movie that pleases the fans but that would make a few people happy. However, just like anything else the movie industry is still a business and monetary goals need to be met and focusing on making a movie that pleases only a small group of people is not a smart business plan.

Let me use the Assassin’s Creed movie as an example. I felt that it was geared more towards pleasing the already existing fans of the series. Yet, at the same time I also felt it did a decent job of explaining the pre-existing lore of the franchise so if your average movie-goer decided to check out the movie because they heard their video gaming friends talking about it, the overarching storyline would make sense to them. While I have a few other nitpicks with the movie, I think this is the direction that movies based around video games should take.
I also feel that these movies shouldn’t just be the retelling of a story that is already present in the games’ universe. If a game franchise has been around for a decent amount of time, there will be an extensive backstory and lore that the writers and developers have already created and set in stone. I would much rather see a movie that expands upon that instead of seeing one that just recounts what happened in say, the first game of a series. Essentially make it an extension of the game’s universe and build upon that.

The whole problem with that idea is it’s not too friendly about bringing in a general audience. Unless done carefully, taking these pre-established stories and building upon them can confuse those who are not familiar with the game already. This is where finding that balance between catering to the fans and general public is necessary. As I mentioned earlier, the Assassin’s Creed movie did a good job at this. While they didn’t go into a whole lot of detail, they did explain why the Templars are fighting the Assassin’s and why finding the Apple of Eden was so important. The previous Hitman movies have also done a decent job at explaining some of the intricacies of Agent 47.

That’s not the only way I believe we can finally get rid of the stereotype of video game movies usually being terrible. We can also just simply ask for better writing and storytelling for these movies. Granted, it is difficult to find really good writers and directors that want to do these kinds of movies. Most of them are probably working on other projects in hopes that those are the next blockbuster hits. However, we don’t always have to look for the big names to work on these movies. Sure, it definitely helps but it isn’t necessary either. Find someone who maybe really wants to make a movie based on a game series, and if they are already well familiarized with the source material, then that is even better!

Often, when I see complaints about a video game movie they are based around the fact that they felt the story was poorly written. It is for those reasons that I believe we haven’t seen a true Halo movie released in theaters already. If we can somehow fix this and find that necessary balance between a movie being made to bring in the general public and act as a so called fan service to the fans of the game, then I feel that we can shed the adage of video game based movies always being terrible. Looking at some movies of this type that have recently been released, I think we’re already starting to see that.

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