John Scalzi, a science-fiction author whose works (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Android’s Dream) I’ve been enjoying over the past several months, has a column over at AMC’s SciFi Scanner section. Today’s entry is entitled “Doom for Dummies or How Hollywood Makes Video Game Movies“. ((I don’t want to spoil the column for you, but if the title were a question (a la, “How babby is formed?”) the answer would be “badly”.))
Now, there’s been some debate recently about whether slavishly reproducing the original source for movies adapted from other media is good or bad. Movies like Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and, more recently, Watchmen, tend to hew very close to their source, whereas films like The Lawnmower Man and Blade Runner bear very little resemblence to the works from which they are derived. Video games tend to fall into the latter category, as what’s ultimately delivered to theaters (or straight to the shelves at Blockbuster) often shares little more in common with the game than the name. For a fine example of this, see In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. ((Actually, don’t. Really. Skip it. You’re better off not knowing.))
Now, having recently seen Watchmen, which is a movie adapted from a comic book mini-series, I’m of the opinion that sticking as close as is reasonably possible to the source material can result in a pretty good film. On that basis, and that basis alone, I am recommending that filmmakers attempt more faithful recreations of video games when adapting them to the screen. There are some elements that simply won’t transfer well—such as the character’s health bar and the fireworks display any time he or she levels up, or the constant chugging of mana and health potions—but I think there’s one common video game element that filmmakers consistently overlook when adapting from console to screen, an element that is well within a director’s ability to recreate faithfully, a nod to fans that is both simple to accomplish and will be instantly associated with the source material.
I’m talking, of course, about crappy camera angles.
If Lara Croft were, in the midst of a potentially deadly encounter with one of the many dangerous creatures one comes across while raiding tombs, suddenly obscured from view for several seconds because the camera swooped behind an outcropping of rock for some damn reason, anyone in the audience who had actually played the game would instantly identify with the moment.
If Max Payne were to duck down an alleyway and disappear because the camera didn’t follow him, only to be brutally attacked by a hidden, hellborn beast that the audience couldn’t see because why the hell isn’t the camera moving? I can’t see what the hell is happening! the audience would know beyond a doubt that the original source material had been treated with kid gloves. “Yes!” they would cry. “Yes! At last, here is a filmmaker who understands the video game experience!”
The only way to further immerse the audience into the events unraveling on the screen would be to give them controllers to throw at it.