What’s In a Game? by Daniel Bergamini
A never ending debate among film and video game fans alike is whether or not a film based on a video game could ever be great. As it stands now, no such film has come remotely close to that goal. And unfortunately, films like the recently released Resident Evil: Retribution do nothing to help prove naysayers wrong.
The five Resident Evil films are among the dozens of awful to mediocre video-game adaptations of awful to good video games. It is rare for a truly great game to be adapted, as many studios are wary of the idea and want to protect their brand. Others, however, see no point in this precaution and allow their products to be adapted by anyone for a quick buck- a practice that only further adds to the notion that allowing a film adaptation is a great way to sully your brand.
It is the failure of these films that people point to when arguing that no film based on a video game could ever be great. That argument, however, ignores even the possibility of a great adaptation that simply has yet to grace the big screen.
Many video games have fantastic narratives, they are just told in an unconventional way because of their interactivity. The Mass Effect series is a brilliantly told sci-fi epic, it just happens to be told in a different fashion than, say JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. The interactivity does not mean an effective adaptation to the screen would be impossible. It simply means the interactivity would not be as direct, and would come from making the audience invested in the alternative medium that the story is being told from.
Valve’s immensely popular puzzle series, Portal, is another example of a game that derives much of its enjoyment from its addictive game mechanics. That being said, the snappy dialogue and inventive storytelling could be translated beautifully to a feature film. In fact, commercial director Dan Trachtenberg made an extremely popular unauthorized short-film based on the Portal franchise.
It should be common sense that if a game’s success comes solely from its game mechanics and not its narrative core, it should not be adapted to a film. And yet, we have hilariously bad films based on games like Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and most recently Tekken.
It is therefore imperative for an effective video game adaptation to be based on a game that has strong characters, themes and story opposed to simply being a popular brand.
If a real cinematic talent decided to take the helm of a narratively strong video game, it is very likely a strong film could come out of it. Video games are like any other source material, they must be adapted correctly to make effective cinema. A film that is too faithful to the novel it is based on usually fails, as the two mediums are different. The same is true with video games and cinema.