David 'RaygunBrown' Rayfield is a bit of a regular here at Kotaku, in that he always has Steam to 'let off', but this time I truly think he's outdone himself. I don't know if I necessarily agree with the piece, but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Are Video Game Movies doomed?
Take it away David!
Paul W.S. Anderson Is The Best Videogame Movie Director There Is And You Should Accept It Amongst the gaming community, there is a strange subset of people that continue to exist. I’m not talking about the Street Fighter III: Third Strike frame-counting experts in Puerto Rico or the guys who spent over two hundred hours honing their Blitzball skills in Final Fantasy X. Nor do I mean the PC elitists who still refer to modern game consoles as ‘kid’s toys’ or even the millions of people in the UK who keep Zumba Fitness in the number one spot on the sales charts. All of these varied but slightly deranged folk could be considered the most rational organisms in existence compared to who I’m talking about.
The insane people who still hold out hope for a completely decent movie based on a videogame. That’s who I mean.
Now don’t get me wrong here. Lord knows that I would be first person to raise his hand and state unequivocally that a large amount of videogames have amazing, surprising, heartbreaking and entertaining stories. The bleak, unforgiving tale of John Marston and his journey into the hell of the old West. The cyclical return of an ancient alien race known as The Reapers and Commander Shepard’s fight against them to save humanity. Directionless loser Vincent Brooks and his terrifying nightly horrors that test his faith in relationships. A young boy named Raz and his funny, heartwarming induction into a summer camp for psychics.
Any of these storylines and countless more like them creates an experience unlike any other in modern entertainment and given the right treatment, could translate easily to the silver screen. Sure, you can argue the themes involved have simply been lifted from movies themselves and it starts to become a case of the snake eating its own tail but let’s face it, today’s movies aren’t fully furnished in the originality department either. Can you imagine it though? Wouldn’t be incredible to witness your favourite videogame characters come to life by famous actors and see how the story plays out in a live-action setting? And all the while be completely true to the game?
Regrettably, this will never happen. And the director of the Resident Evil movies is living proof.
In a recent interview, Paul W.S. Anderson said the following: “Despite what a lot of haters on the internet might say, I love the Resident Evil games. And these movies are made with a huge knowledge and real passion for the games. A lot of video game movies are made by directors who don’t know the video games they are based on from a hole in the head. They don’t do justice to the games, they don’t immerse themselves in the games, they don’t understand what people liked from the games. And that is the wrong approach and clearly those movies don’t work.”
Take a good look at what he means. Beyond the startlingly obvious fact he isn’t aware of the irony in what’s he saying, there’s something else at play here. Something deeper. Anderson says that the reason videogames don’t translate well into movies of any quality is because the directors don’t care for, or play, the games they’re based on.
Firstly, he’s only half right. There has been a long standing trend of directors stating post-release that before or during the production of their film, they had very little interest in the game that the movie is based on. One such example is Mike Newell, director of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, who said in an interview that his only exposure to the original Ubisoft game was by watching his assistant play it. During which time, he “felt nothing”. He was also convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that games cannot convey the same type of emotion as movies.
Another example is David O Russell. Recently removed from directing a movie based on the Uncharted games, he famously stated on several occasions about his ideas about a Sopranos-esque family of antique dealers travelling the globe delivering 'justice' and his appreciation of the 'family dynamic' of the games. With obviously no experience with the games themselves, Russell made it clear he wanted to crush Uncharted's enchanting characters and story under the weight of his director's salary, making up a story to suit his own desires.
With that in mind, let’s return to Anderson’s own words.
"They don’t do justice to the games, they don’t immerse themselves in the games, they don’t understand what people liked from the games."
Let’s say you’re right, Paul. Let’s speculate for a moment that these directors have failed in the past where you are now succeeding. They don’t care about videogames. Their only drive behind producing these films is money and they are not being true to the source material while you are the exact opposite. You repeatedly profess your love and devotion to games and make sure everybody knows time and time again how knowledgeable you are about their intricate stories, characters and legacy. Hmm, something is amiss here. Some further investigation is needed. The easy solution is to compare Anderson’s films to the games they are based on to see if his argument holds any water. Let’s see.
RESIDENT EVIL (1996 game) - As part of a special forces team sent on a rescue mission, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine discover a colossal mansion in the mountains filled with zombies. After a lot of suspense, scares and horrible monsters, you soon realise the leader of your team is part of a corporation-based plot to weaponise a virus which turns everyone infected into the mindless walking dead.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002 film) - Waking up nude in a bath, a woman named Alice discovers she has amnesia. A police officer and a group of commandos join her in infiltrating an underground research facility filled with zombies. Following her defeat of an evil computer program called The Red Queen, Alice gets her memory back and it’s revealed she is A) married to the officer and B) an unstoppable killing machine.
That’s strange. The storylines don’t seem to match up at all. A quick browse of the other films in the Resident Evil series reveals a further disconnect. Despite dozens of characters throughout the games, the films focus on the wholly invented character of Alice and her journey from kung-fu badass to supernatural kung-fu badass. Wasn't Anderson just pointing out the flaws in other director's work? And the reason being is that they don't stay true to the game?
If you dig past the surface hilarity of Anderson’s comments, his point is strangely valid. Albeit on a completely unintentional basis. His eye-stabbingly awful version of the Resident Evil universe may be no longer connected to the games in any form but it’s clear his misguided enthusiasm is firmly in place. As a result, there’s a hard truth you need to face. Among all the movie directors who have taken a stab at the videogame genre, Anderson is the sole voice in support of the medium. The others simply didn’t care. Directors who don’t care about videogames make terrible movies about videogames. But Anderson says he loves videogames and he still makes terrible movies about videogames. Herein lies the problem. A problem which makes it clear that even though we may get a kick out of a homage scene here and a game reference there, all of these movies are disappointing. And every director apart from Paul W.S. Anderson will never make the effort to improve while his blind faith in the belief he’s being true to the games will remain. Which in turn, prevents him from improving.
Just let it go. Hollywood movie executives continue buying the rights to videogames and no good will come of it. A Dead Space movie will be ruined. Gears Of War in celluloid form will be ridiculous and fail miserably. Nobody in existence ever wanted a film based on Asteroids. Drop all your concerns and simply let videogames be videogames. They don’t need to be movies because they are fine the way they are.
But if you must chase this desire and keep your fingers crossed that one day you could hold your head up high when you exit that cinema - know this: Paul W.S. Anderson is the best you’re going to get.