Written by: Mike Dodd
The world of film has managed to bring to life many of our favorite video game with mixed results over the years. There have been some ambitious attempts to bring some games to the silver screen and there have also been some absolutely terrible attempts as well. Technology and new filmmakers have entered the field and are eager to bring us that one movie that finally breaks the “video game movie” stigma and gives THAT movie we can all point to and say “Watch this”.
The first movie that comes to mind is that 90’s “Super Mario brothers” movie, which featured Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper. The Mario bros movie was the beginning of a trend in Hollywood that would continue for decades. We will take a look at maybe some lesser known gems and some amazingly terrible ones as well.
We will start with the good examples first and then we’ll move onto the less then stellar ones and even toss in some honorable and dishonorable mentions.
1) Mass Effect: Paragon lost
This is a movie that I don’t think a lot of general people know about since it was released direct to DVD and never received a theatrical release. Mass Effect: Paragon lost is the story of one of the characters who will make an appearance in Mass Effect 3 and that’s James Vega portrayed by Freddie Prinze Jr. The movie fills in the gap of the story of Mass Effect 2 and 3 and how the Collectors threat was dealt with directly by the Alliance military.
The movie is also able to more or less stand on it’s own without the shadow of Commander Shepard being involved in galaxy changing events.
This movie deserves mention in the good category of video game films because it actually does have a visible impact on the Mass effect series canon and it’s characters moving forward. James Vega in the video game itself isn’t terribly well fleshed out but by having this movie does a fair bit to humanize him and his reluctance to accept his own command. One of the more surprising things about is how well Prinze Jr takes to his role and genuinely seems excited to be a part of the property.
Mass effect comes to life in a way that we have never seen before and seeing a different take on how the weapons and powers work is very cool and gets us excited for a potential live action version someday. Bioware is very protective of it’s IP and this shows how much care and effort was put into this particular bit of tie in media.
2) Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
The Microsoft blockbuster franchise “Halo” practically begs for a big screen adaption but yet we have yet to seen that come to fruition traditionally. Halo has seen several web series and direct to DVD series but the one that really stands out is actually a side story set in the “Halo” universe rather a direct adaption of any one game.
Forward Unto Dawn tells the story of Thomas Lasky, a minor character in Halo 4 and his journey to become a member of the UNSC army and the attack of the alien Covenant on his training facility. Dawn has the advantage of fleshing out the world of Halo without having to rely on major characters such as the Master Chief or settings such as the Halo rings itself to set itself apart from the rest of the in universe material. Forward Unto Dawn does a fantastic job of humanizing a universe that filled with the fantastic and the strange and it works as a great piece of the greater whole story of “Halo”.
Props, set design and attention to detail to the series canon are exceptional for a web series that was eventually cut into a single 90 minute film. Halo is a game world and universe that can feel as large as Star Wars and Star Trek and just as nuanced and that’s what Forward unto dawn gives it’s audiences. We don’t necessarily need Spartans or ODST troopers fighting brutes in the streets of New Bombasa but what we get a civilian in training to become a solider but also seeing the larger picture behind it.
Eventually in the film’s climax we do get the action and set pieces that we have been craving and it’s delivered in a fantastic function that doesn’t feel cheap by it’s small budget. We finally get to see the Master Chief fighting in his mjolnir armor against Covenant aliens such as Elites and Jackals and even a chase scene with a full prop Warthog and a hunter. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn never feels small in its story because it helps establish the events that later go on to define the Halo universe.
3) Mortal Kombat
This movie was pretty obvious as the top pick because it’s fairly close to the feel of the Mortal Kombat franchise and not taking super extreme liberties with it’s source material. There are some small issues with the film such as Scorpion and Subzero becoming basically goons but Mortal Kombat was never their story, it was Liu Kang’s journey to save Earth realm.
Mortal Kombat demonstrated that a game movie could be done with care if the story was strong enough and the characters likable enough as well. Mortal Kombat being based on a fighting game should have been something that worked against it but rather it seemed to work because it established a setting and motivation for the characters. Great lead performances by actors Robin Shou and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Liu Kang and Shang Tsung helped put together a likeable set of protagonist and antagonist. Supporting characters such as Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade and thunder god, Raiden also made a story that was fun to watch and get involved in as the game came to life on the screen. Special mention is needed for Highlander actor, Christopher Lambert as Raiden who is actually quite funny but also has a great screen presence and helps the audience and characters understand things.
Great martial arts action, a soundtrack suited the film both with score and licensed music and Mortal Kombat was already well on it’s way to becoming a cultural phenomena. The film’s success was felt in traditional media at the time and lead to more spin off media such as TV series both live action and animated and of course, more video games. This movie is often cited as an example of how to properly make a video game movie. This movie had the look from the actors, the costumes, the locations and it was easy enough for fans and newcomers to appreciate what was being shown to them.
Pokemon: The First Movie
When this animated feature hit theaters in the 90’s POKE-mania was everywhere and it was hard to escape the phrase “Gotta catch em’all”. The highly successful television series was everywhere and kids wanted to experience something on the big screen.
The story of Ash Ketchum and his friends and Pikachu takes on a grander stage as Ash battles the legendary Pokemon MewTwo and his cloned army on a mysterious island. The story here isn’t particularly powerful but its what comes OUT of the story that really sets this movie apart as one of the best. The climatic battle between the good and cloned Pokemon and Mew and MewTwo comes to a head and Ash is caught in the middle and well…dies. Ash is resurrected from the tears of the Pokemon who stop fighting and it is hard to recall a dry eye in the theater.
This movie made Pokemon something special and made it spectacle for the fans but does it hold up? Not really but for a little while, it is fun to be 10 years old again and imagine sitting in that theater with your Gameboy clutched in hand and cheering on Ash and Pikachu.
You also got an exclusive pokemon trading card for Mew when you went on opening weekend. More movies should give away stuff on opening weekend for the die hard fans.
As was stated earlier, not every video game movie that is made is good and in fact most are poor adaption’s of the source material or stray too far from the mark to please fans or casual viewers. Studios could potentially see an easy way to get a film made because it has a built in fan base and a story already to go but they usually underestimate what it takes to make it truly successful and stand alone as a film. These next few films if they can be called that are an exercise in pain and suffering.
1) Double Dragon
The story of brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee and their quest to rescue Marion is a classic and it didn’t need to be deep, it was an arcade game beat em’ up. The movie attempts to deepen the mythos of the Double Dragon franchise and it’s results are a mix of stupid and mind numbingly inept as a movie. This movie masterpiece is brought to you by a visionary director who also brought you “The Cheetah girls in concert”. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
We get a post apocalyptic world of 2007 and it is run by crime and few stand up to authority. Our heroes are the brother from “Party of five” and the guy from “Iron chef America” and our villain is an odd looking Robert Patrick aka Terminator 2’s T-1000. The story involves recovering an ancient amulet that gives powers to those who wield it and the brothers aim to protect it from Robert Patrick and his henchmen. Somewhere along the way it degenerates in weird visuals that don’t fit what the franchise was known for and Aylssa Miliano is there in a punk outfit because…reasons. The humor doesn’t fit with the tone of the movie and with only one of the two leads is a credible martial artist, it falls flat more often then not.
What could have been a great martial arts action flick turns into something that borrows a lot from the weaker end of Saturday morning cartoons and not in a good way. It is a hard movie to watch and not even in a so bad it’s good. In an odd twist of fate, one of the writers of this cinematic trash story is Batman: The animated series Paul Dini.
This should have been an easy homerun for a movie, a lone marine on Mars fighting the forces of Hell. You have guns, monsters and a cool concept and even if it was marketed towards teenagers, it should have a legacy and fan base that should be easy to please…but…no.
This movie borrows a lot of its visual appeal from Doom 3 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing but then it changes up and veers into stupid when it comes to story. Doom makes its story hang heavily on genetics and unlocking potential and it comes down to a gene that makes you “evil” more or less. Karl Urban plays a character named “John Grimm” aka Reaper and he more or less sleeps through this role which is unfortunate but how much personality did “The Doom guy” really have. The Rock also stars as “Sarge” and Rock hams it up something ridiculous especially in the final fight scene against Urban. The loss of the Hell setting which is essential to the “Doom” experience kept back a lot of the potential coolness factor.
There is one bright spot in the “Doom” movie and that is the first person shooter sequence, which is some nice fan service to the community. However two minutes of fan service is not enough to save the movie from itself. We were lacking the monsters like the cyberdemon, the Imp and more and it felt like the soul was lacking from this film. If you want a different kind of “Doom” experience then perhaps you should check out the “Doom” novelizations by Dafydd Ab Hugh and Brad Linaweaver.
Thankfully Urban would redeem himself with “Dredd” in terms of badassery.
3) Street fighter: The Legend of Chun Li
The live action cinema has not been kind to the Street fighter franchise outside of its web series incarnations. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li takes one of the most memorable characters from the fighting franchise and drops her into one boring, confusing and ultimately insulting video game movies ever made. Chun Li is portrayed by Smallville actress, Kristin Kruek, and it is bad from frame one ‘til the end of the credits.
The movie takes the revenge tale of Chun Li avenging her father’s death and her relationship with Interpol and veers off the established canon from the games. A lot of characters seem very off from their game counterparts and namely M.Bison who is portrayed by actor Neal McDonough and now is Irish…I don’t seem to recall Shadaloo’s leader having that trait. Fan favorite Street fighter alpha character Charlie Nash is portrayed by American Pie’s Chris Klein and it is just as bad you can expect. Nash comes off not as the badass friend of Guile that he is supposed to be but rather like a comedic foil from a Beverly Hills cop movie and he’s terrifying stupid. The movie suffers in its story and characters by how dumb people seem or just how the stakes don’t seem to matter and never is a sense of urgency felt.
The movie’s plot is simple, and paint by the numbers. It is sad when the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme “Street Fighter” is a better movie in comparison. The 1994 movie at least had some fun fight scenes and more signature moves then Legend of Chun Li. Bring a change of pants for when you see the “spinning bird kick” scene…it is ridiculous on a new level.
Resident Evil FRANCHISE
Director Paul WS Anderson made an impact with “Mortal Kombat” and was often cited as an example of a good video game director and then something happened.
The Resident evil series of films features Milla Jovovich as Alice and her battle against the evil Umbrella corporation and the sinister T virus. It has some connections to the games such as characters and some similar scenarios but they are for the most part. A unique universe unto itself. The movies try to have callbacks to the games such as Resident Evil: Apocalypse which shares elements with Resident evil 2 and Nemesis, but then they go off into a random direction not similar to the games at all. Resident evil is a story primarily about an evil corporations genetic experimentation going horribly wrong and a few brave people fighting back such as Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine or Leon Kennedy but not so in the films. The films have Alice who is supremely powerful in ALL her abilities and uses what seems like “the force” or other abilities that make her nigh invincible.
The story of ordinary people is lost and instead is replaced by this Alice character’s wire fu and gun fu moves as she mows down armies of the undead in tight revealing outfits while offering nothing new to the Resident evil mythos. It is style over substance when it comes to the films in the entirety of the Resident evil film franchise. The only movie that doesn’t stray too far into insanity is the first, which has a loose connection to the first game and Spencer estate.
This year promises to have a few more video game to film adaptations such as Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank and the highly anticipated Assassins creed with Michael Fassbender. Could this be the year that we finally get that movie that shirks off years of mediocre or just bad video game movies?
We shall wait and see.