Should Hollywood Even Bother with Video Game Movies Anymore?

It should come as no surprise to anybody who has been watching movies for the past thirty years that Hollywood is uniquely terrible at adapting video games into major motion pictures.  Try as they might to crack the elusive code to translate these characters and stories to a different medium, they have never once succeeded at making it satisfactorily happen.

Sure, they’ve had some not-terrible features and almost decent flicks in the ensuring decades, but they create a very low bar to clear and even then have been few and far between.  The best movie released in this vein to date has been Mortal Kombat: a fun-enough film that is really only notable because its set and costume designs were spot-on for the series.  The plot, though, was terrible even by Mortal Kombat standards, the actors (including incredibly White actor Christopher Lambert plahing incredibly Japanese thunder god Raiden and  the fight scenes were only ever decent (with some being downright boring).

On the whole, the Resident Evil series has been pretty fun to watch start to finish.  The first two entries in the series were decent-enough action-horror movies with strong production values and a decent enough everything else.  The real problems arise in just how toothless the script is and just how much of the games they try to shoehorn into the movie, even to its detriment.  And while the first two were fine enough on their own, its multitudinous sequels and needlessly sprawling narrative only grows thinner and less consequential as the franchise goes on.

Silent Hill is in a similar situation.  It features incredibly strong set design and a generally solid cast (even the kid, which is a pleasantly surprising turn).  It also cherry-picked monsters, plot points and characters from multiple games, making a best-of pastiche of the larger franchise.  Here, too, however, it falls apart on the basic level of execution: with listless direction and a script more filled with Easter eggs than either plot or characterization.

Neither Tomb Raider franchise managed to accomplish what they set out to create.  Assassins Creed was dead on arrival.  Warcraft proved to be surprisingly dull to sit through.  And don’t even get me started on Super Mario Bros!

Even Rampage is only getting a mixed response from critics: with some praising it as “fun but disposable” while others lamenting that it is only just that.  In fact, to date, there’s really only been on unreservedly great adaptation of a videogame into another medium: Castlevania.  Based on an unproduced script and featuring an incredible sense of design aesthetics, characterization and pacing, it delivered the first part of a sprawling, epic story that promises to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience to fans and initiates alike.

The real issue — more than any of the other window-dressing that studios have either devoted the lion’s share of their efforts on or struggled with from conception — is time.  There is only so much of it in a movie.  And only so much of it can be cut out of a 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 hour experience before you lose what core bit of it was so central to its success in the first place.

Castlevania solved this problem by side-stepping it entirely.  Rather than making a movie out of the property, they made a TV series: a medium that doesn’t have the same strict time constraints that movies do.  It was able to spread out and develop all of its disparate pieces over the course of several hours, leaving it on a cliffhanger to be resumed in a future season, itself to take up any number of hours.

This begs the question, if you can’t cut games down to movie length, should studios even bother in the first place.  TV series have far lower costs and risks associated with them, allowing for adaptations to occur for a fraction of the budget that they do now.  It also solves the issue of length, as its longer, more expansive run-time allows for less to be cut out of the stories.  As a result, more time can be spent fleshing out characters or developing plot, all while delivering an experience closer to what fans of these franchises have been enjoying for decades.

So should studios even bother with the big screen anymore?  Their record hardly supports that and there are plenty of outlets for exceptional TV programs these days.  Maybe it’s time for a Tomb Raider or Uncharted Netflix series, rather than theatrically released films.

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