Ever since the horror that was Super Mario Bros. (1993), video games have increasingly become the target of filmmakers, who want to chime in on a games reputation and produce a poorly-made movie adaptation of that game.
Famously, however, this is almost never a good move, as the movies that result are almost always terrible. Films such as Mortal Kombat (1995), Wing Commander (1999) and Alone in the Dark (2005) to name but a few, have all been awful, awful films, despite being based on games that were generally well-received.
And since the recent announcement of Hitman: Agent 47 (the second attempt at a film adaptation of the series), most people have already dismissed the film as another poor attempt. The trailer was cheesy and uninspired, with its slow motion sequence feeling completely bland.
So why is it that all video-game movies seem to be inherently bad? Part of this reason is obvious. Money. Nobody in their right mind thinks that an obese Italian plumber deserves his own film, just like no-one sees an obvious narrative in the board game Monopoly (yes, that’s actually happening).
Such films occur purely because some worthless scumbag of a producer sees that the franchise already has a sturdy fanbase onto whom the no-doubt dismal film can be subjected. Thus, the artistry of these films takes a backseat role. Actually, it’s less backseat, and more bundled in the trunk with duct tape on its mouth.
But the more crucial problem that these films face is that film as a medium is fundamentally different from video games.
Film, on the one hand, is a linear narrative, based on the classical three-act structure. This is the same way stories have been shaped for hundreds, if not thousands of years. This makes it easy for books to be adapted into films, as both mediums share a similar pattern.
Video games, on the other hand, are an interactive medium. The player must complete certain goals in order to win the game. These goals are often monotonous, but due to the challenge aspect of the game (the hordes of bad-guys), the player remains engrossed by the task at hand.
This attempt to transfer between two separate mediums is what causes most video games to fail (critically, if not commercially). The filmmakers are forced to squeeze a conventional narrative out of an unconventional medium.
Perhaps the most crucial failure of video-game movies is their inability to please the fans of the original game (presumably the film’s target audience).
This is likely due to the fact that the conversion to the big-screen takes away the whole point of playing a video game. Games are addictive due to their interactive nature: players complete tasks and are rewarded by progressing onto bigger and better challenges.
Film adaptations, however, naturally lose this interactivity. But because the game’s story is so tied up in this kind of interactive enjoyment, it tends to lose its appeal when this element is removed.
Hitman is no different. The whole reason the game is so popular is that it allows the player to step into the shoes of a ruthless assassin. We are challenged with trying to eliminate our target by any means necessary, forcing us to use our creativity and the game’s environment to take out each target.
Without such a test of our gaming intuition, the story is simply a series of vicious murders by an uninteresting killer. While I’m sure the new film will strive to deliver a compelling story for the titular character, when taken out of the video game medium, Hitman is nothing more than another unmemorable popcorn flick.
Still, the future of video game movies is not all doom and gloom. We are hearing a lot of talk about potential upcoming projects, based on games with rich storylines that are ripe for adapting.
Both Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect have incredibly fleshed-out worlds and storylines, which could easily support a feature film (or even series). If there is any hope for the video game movie, it lies with them.