Ever since the Super Mario Bros. movie, we’ve seen a parade of terrible film-adaptations of beloved game franchises.
The American hero Guile, played by French-as-hell Jean-Claude Van Damme led the charge in this clunky disaster. The second-best thing to come out of it was the psychotic idea of a game based on a movie based on a game. The best thing was that it happened to be the talented Raul Julia’s last film. And this dialogue.
The recent Assassins’s Creed film wasn’t much better but at least it produced authentic parkour and combat scenes. This made a heck of a lot more sense than Street Fighter’s obsession with gunplay and curious lack of actual one-on-one fights.
Vastly different mediums
Films are already different enough from the novels they frequently adapt from. Video games however, are in a world of their own. Sure, some games have become more cinematic over the years but the amount and type of story telling varies widely.
I believe games are at their best when they use environmental storytelling: a lá Bioshock, or story telling through gameplay mechanics (Undertale).
Street Fighter and Mario games live and die on their moment-to-moment gameplay. The story is inconsequential. The Street Fighter movie could have used the martial-arts film genre to better translate what people appreciated about the game. Van Damme did well in Bloodsport, just do that again!
The problem with film is that some semblance of story must exist. Bloodsport had a thin plot stringing the fight scenes together. Even Crank has a plot. This slavery to the medium is what bogs down game movies.
The Mario movie focused on the least enjoyable parts of the game. The idea that Italian plumbers were saving a princess from a dragon is a wacky premise that only works because gameplay is king, and Mario games feel amazing. The game’s story could have been about a Plutonian ass-doctor saving an asteroid from the Sun, as long as the platforming and level design was the star of the show.
Games are usually very long experiences. An experienced player can complete an early Mario game in a few hours, but that doesn’t account for the time it took to reach the required level of skill.
Only the shortest indie titles can match the brevity of a film, but most games are also designed to be replayed.
Films sit on the opposite side of the spectrum, among the shortest media experiences. One episode of a television series may be shorter, but the stories they tell are usually a part of a longer arc that could take place over dozens of hours. In that way, games are much closer to series and novels in terms of time spent.
Films do not have the luxury of time. Every scene should be important and contribute to the themes, plot, and characterization. A film can only competently handle a small amount of characters and ideas before struggling to develop them in a meaningful manner.
Either stick to novels or series to tell the drawn out stories of a game, or choose a very small aspect of a game and tell it in the form of a movie-ass-movie.
Movies are great, don’t try to be something you’re not.