Movie adaptations of video games are like an Indian restauranteur’s dream of ‘Can we make dosas out of this?’
When it comes to video games to movie adaptations, movie studio houses have found some ‘adaptive success’ when they throw the dice once in a while for a big gamble.
It was the year 1986 when the first movie based on a video game was released – (read. Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen!), which was followed by the forgettable 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. movie. Thirty-six years later, while we are in 2022- hundreds of video game adaptations have been made throughout the world out of which only a handful have witnessed box office success and even fewer have gotten a nod from the critical world.
Of course, these movies are not made for critical acclaim but for their box-office success through the sale of merchandise, social media popularity, and an awful display of spare cash to burn (read Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Monster Hunter, Uncharted)
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These movies are often made to cater to a larger audience than the original game had intended to reach (Mortal Kombat). At times the whitewashing of characters and wrong casting has had an unpleasant aftertaste in the minds of audiences across the globe. (read Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Street Fighter, Uncharted, DOA: Dead or Alive, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life).
An animated film “Super Mario Bros.” is set to release this year-end, curiously Mario who is an Italian plumber, conjured up by a Japanese company will, here be voiced by an American actor of Norwegian descent! Go figure…
Gaming is a long-form of entertainment, that engages the player with stories & sequels that span over years to an end sometimes. When such significantly large stories are cut up, shaped, and delivered in a single package- the output may feel like a parody of sorts, which is unlikely what it was intended to be.
Traveling through the sea of entertainment, there exists a formula to balance critical acclaim and box-office winnings. But Hollywood seems to be drifting farther away from this very balance.
We can see them course-correct occasionally especially when the fans’ uproar makes them rethink, deliberate and decide to bring in changes. Sometimes these changes prove to be a better version for the former – case in point – the design changes made to ‘Sonic The Hedgehog‘ after the initial trailer release.
Recently, studios have taken to learning from their mistakes and listening to what their target audiences have to say. The cheesy lines of the ’90s, cheap VFX, and the exaggerated acting have sensibly reduced; but the weak plotlines, underdeveloped characters, and unfunny jokes continue to exist. They have been proved to be unavoidable and are caused by a variety of reasons including but not limited to the “what they think the fans want“ and production house pressures.
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A much recent nugget of gold - ‘Werewolves Within (2021)’ surfaced and has positively shocked both the worlds. It was made on a shoestring budget, with no notable cast, with genuine comedy, shock thrills, and a strong story while having the premise borrowed from the game; it has won many hearts.
We can see that when the stories from the video games are rolled out in a longer format with proper character development, then a loyal audience is found. The Pokémon TV series has had more than 1193 episodes released and it still continues to be one of the most-watched series. Many television series, both live-action and animated which were earlier popular amongst the younger audience, have now piqued the interests of older audiences as their stories become more relatable and realistic as their budgets expand. Series such as ‘The Witcher, Halo, Dota: Dragon’s Blood, Arcane, and Castlevania’ have found success due to the existence of the parallel world of OTT platforms.
Digital Gaming Realities in Films
Movies about games and the gaming world have piqued the interests of moviegoers over a period of time. People are fascinated not only by their experience of playing a video game where they are transported to another world of controlled chaos but they are also fascinated by how others respond and live in such environments.
When the movie Tron was released in the year 1982, the world on the other side of the screen was opened up to the general audience which gave birth to the new idea- many movies with plots centered on video games. All the way from eyeball hurting 3D gimmicks in ‘Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)’, to Bollywood’s heavily publicized ‘Ra. One (2011)’, the adorable ‘Wreck-It Ralph (2012)’, the updated ‘Jumanji Series’, and the most recent blockbuster ‘Free Guy (2021)’- these movies have made their due mark.
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The movie ‘Free Guy’, requires a special mention, as the self-aware “Guy” opens up this world on the other side of the screen to us. We get to see how the world works and how our ‘Avatars’ interact in a ‘Free City” with no repercussions morally or legally. The multiple gaming references such as game streaming, Grand Theft Auto, portals, health packs, lives, character skins, and NPCs struck a chord with the audience.
The movie throws light on the environment in the game development world as well. This is done by having the characters comment on the need for a new game version to be backward compatible . They also talk about the need to release a sequel and the laws of an unregulated free world as a whole where people can do whatever they choose.
The movie ‘Ready Player One’ which was released in the year 2018, takes us all into a virtual world as the characters themselves are immersed in their VR headsets. The brainchild of director Steven Spielberg, took the audience back to a world of pop culture references from the 80s. The movie went on to get nominations for Best Visual Effects at the 91st Academy Awards, 24th Critics’ Choice Awards, and 72nd British Academy Film Awards.
As video games evolve- with better consoles, and animation techniques, we might even start to question the need for movie adaptation. When the cutscenes and the gaming experience as a whole feel more real; the need to boost the already visual medium would become less.
The gamer is taken to another world where the characters are almost as good as in real life if not better. The gamers now take others as well through the journey with the help of various streaming platforms.
We see actors blur the lines by not just providing their voices but their virtual presence as well. Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077 and Giancarlo Esposito in Far Cry 6 are some of the best examples. Following his success on ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The Mandalorian’ series, Giancarlo Esposito brought his eccentric performative capabilities to the virtual world, for which he was nominated for the best performance award (2021).
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As the half-year nears, Hollywood gears up to release more new movies based on the video games, it is ironic that video games that bridge the peaks of technology and creativity are used as fuel the movie business where creativity seems to have taken a step back.
This seems to strengthen the need for video games that entertain different niches of the gaming community. Individuals who play to explore unknown terrains, play to live a life that they cannot in the real world.
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