May 10, 2008

Making Movies

Yeah, yeah, okay, so this is nice:

But you know what would make it even better? Imagine if it was an animated movie with Tim Burton at the helm, infusing the production with a quirky, offbeat sensibility. And we could get a real actor -- Johnny Depp? Just throwing that out there -- to play Manny. Now we're in business.

I'm using sarcasm to make a point and be a dick. Film has become the final destination of any work of fiction; sort of a pop culture meridian. That's great for the author whose book was optioned for a cool seven figures, and great for the studios and everyone working on the project but I have no idea why consumers get at all excited at the prospect of a video game being made into a movie. I don't understand the people who actually want to see a Monkey Island film. The story was told pretty well the first time. Who wants to watch that?

Translating a novel into film makes some sense because there's a visual and a sonic dimension being added, but games are already so cinematic as to render the translation pointless. A video game narrative is the closest thing to movies that any medium's got going. In fact, cutscenes are movies.

In exchange for seeing something we like up on the big screen, we have to cut five-sixths of Planescape: Torment and remove what's interesting about Half-Life. Doom and Super Mario Bros. are going to need a story and so the producers will use the template that came with the scriptwriting software. It's not 1990. Games these days are pretty good with cinematic techniques and they're using talented actors and for the most part they know how to structure a story, so I am moved to ask: what's the point? It's a cynical cash grab and that lack of inspiration is reflected time and time again in the product itself.

It's unfortunate that video game movies have, with depressing consistency, been some of the worst pieces of celluloid trash ever; the province of the special effects guy making his directorial debut. That's bad luck and the movies will get better. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Max Payne look like they'll reach a basic level of filmmaking competency. Although Max Payne is a fan letter to film cliché to begin with; it's going to be very exciting when that's all filtered out, leaving the story of a tough-as-nails cop who plays by his own rules.

It's not even about whether the movies are bad or not. It's about gamers thrilling to the very possibility of a movie adaptation, and apparently assuming the cinematic treatment will somehow unlock the game's heretofore unrealised potential.

What's the reason? Is it that a wider audience will be exposed to Metal Gear Solid and we'll be all I-told-you-so. You see, we weren't engaging in meaningless first-review hyperbole when we claimed this was an "Oscar-worthy story". You made fun of me at the time but didn't that thing with Aeris move you more than you ever thought possible?

Do we want to live vicariously through a game's second life? Are the people photoshopping the Firefly cast onto a movie poster for Mass Effect looking for the satisfaction of having their fannish wish-fulfillment writ large? Are we trying to validate the artistic merits of this medium to a mainstream audience by, ironically, repackaging it in an already established and acceptable format?

The advantages and the reasoning elude me. The aesthetics of the major leagues seem fine but we do some things okay. There's the red carpet and there's gold statues, but right now I'm actually pretty content with video games.

P.S. You almost surely read this post as a response to the recent announcement of a BioShock movie, when in fact I had this idea three weeks ago. I blame the news cycle for detonating my post's time-sensitive originality and making me out to be some lousy op-ed writer who just riffs on the day's headlines. Gore Verbinski, how dare you. This isn't over. You're going to feel what I feel. I swear I'm going to find your BioShock script and I'm gonna leak it. Don't mess with me.


Asif said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Asif said...

I realized my previous post was incoherent, at best. Let's give it another try, now that the fog in my mind has cleared.

Videogames borrow so heavily from the storytelling techniques of films it's embarrassing. It can be chalked up in a lot of ways to the move from 2D to 3D. Without a distinct visual language for games, developers automatically went to film and tried to be cinematic. MGS is a big culprit of this and while most people are so excited by the professional level of cinematography, I'm wondering if I should get some popcorn and a warm blanket while I'm wait for the next opportunity for me to actually play.

The main problem with taking a game and trying to translate it into a movie is that most stories in games are so terrible and unoriginal to begin with. Seriously, they suck. Usually, when someone tells me that a game's story is good I automatically append the words "for a game" to the end of the sentence.

You yourself sort of undermine your point about not needing film to validate games, by saying, "You see, we weren't engaging in meaningless first-review hyperbole when we claimed this was an 'Oscar-worthy story'." Your explicitly comparing a game's story to that of movies in order to validate them.

Also, can we stop dragging out Aeris' dead-ass, beaten-ass corpse every time the emotional impact of games is brought up? It happened more than 10 years ago and this is still the best example that gets pulled out every time. If that doesn't show the sad state of things, I don't know what does.

On a more positive note, GTA IV has a pretty good story... for a game.

Duncan said...

To respond point-by-point now (sorry, I'm kind of in a hurry and will try and give your broader point the time it deserves later):

Games have of course relied on the language of film to tell a story, which is one reason why it's so redundant to turn them into movies. Like you said, we're already watching MGS as it is.

And yeah, I agree that most game stories are bad, but never once has the transition from game to movie picked up the slack in that area. Doom? Resident Evil? Far Cry?

I was using "Oscar-worthy story" sarcastically -- it's a standard hyperbolic review accolade that of course means nothing. It's the kind of the thing that's awarded all the time by reviewers who don't actually have any worthwhile critical faculties. It's one degree of eloquence above "best story ever lol." It showed up most recently in IGN's GTA4 review.

On a similar note, I assure you I have total contempt for Aeris and her procession of mourners. Aeris should never be used as a serious example of anything.

Duncan said...

Maybe not total contempt. That may have been harsh.

Asif said...

Don't worry. I have total contempt for them, but it's a cheery contempt, that makes me want to cure their obvious condition by smacking them in the head with my healing stick. It's basically a 2X4 that I wrote "healing stick" on with a magic marker and not, in fact, a euphemism.

Upon rereading it's fairly obvious you were being sarcastic. As a professional jackass, who practically makes a living being sarcastic, I should have known. I am a fool. I'm man enough to admit it. I mean, just look at the size of my healing stick.

It seems quite obvious that we agree completely. Let's have a round of high-fives. In response to Doom, Resident Evil, and Far Cry not picking up the ample slack left by the games themselves, I'd say just take a look at their IMDB pages. You'll quickly notice the level of talent involved is, to put it kindly, crap. I don't think I have to go into some sort of insane , rambling diatribe about Uwe Boll to get that point across. This picture pretty much sums up how he feels about people who pay to see his movies.

Good news! The director of Doom is currently directing Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li! I can't wait to see her thighs in real life.