HOW-TO: Make Video Game Movies Better


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“. 1I 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. 2Actually, 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.

Cave Chao Lan Reservoir Khao Sok National Park. Photo by René Ehrhardt. Released under a Creative Commons license.
Lara Croft battles a giant, fire-breathing salamander in the latest Tomb Raider film.

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.

1 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”.
2 Actually, don’t. Really. Skip it. You’re better off not knowing.




8 responses to “HOW-TO: Make Video Game Movies Better”

  1. Slowhand Avatar

    Hey!! I liked In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale!!

    1. Kris Avatar

      @Slowhand — So you’re the guy! Did Uwe Boll send you a Thank You card?

  2. Gwelch Avatar

    Actually this article has merit. Only in the case that had he watched all game to movie transrations.(Yes that is intended.) Such classics as Mortal Kombat Annialation, Double Dragon, Mario Bros, Street Fighter the movie, Blood rayne etc…. Most these movies, and more all share two things in common.

    1. All have crappy camera angles living up to the posts arugment.

    2. All Directed by an individual that couldn’t direct his way out of a wet paper bag, with a hack saw.

    1. Kris Avatar

      @Gwelch — Merit? On this site? I guess there’s a first time for everything, whether intentional or not. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Greg Avatar

    I still think that the only good game movie ever made was “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, which wasn’t really strongly based on a game.

    1. Kris Avatar

      @Greg — I can’t back you up on that one, I’m afraid. I thought Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a muddled, incomprehensible (but very pretty) mess.

  4. Rachel Ross Avatar

    Clue the movie was based on a game and it was awesome! Maybe we need more movies based on board games. But when I think how long Twilight Imperium the movie would be…

    1. Kris Avatar

      @Rachel — How about “Wealth of Nations: The Movie”? Y’know, there’s a “Candyland” cartoon already…

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