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Assessing the Quality of Movies Inspired by Video Games

The debate about whether video games count as an art form will probably rage for a while yet. However, gamers do not need the label of “art” to appreciate their pastime. Anybody who plays video games, even on a casual level, can recognize the skill that goes into some of them. Far from the days of simple arcade games such as Pong, the video game industry is now nearly as diverse as the movie industry.

While some games are just mindless shooters, other video games have interesting narratives, characters and storylines. With such rich and complex games, it is not surprising that Hollywood has turned to video games as source material. At the same time, movies based on video games do not have a reputation for high quality. While it may be some time before one of these movies manages to gain an Oscar nod or gain much respect from critics, some filmmakers have managed the task better than others have.

“Mortal Kombat” (1995) was one of the earliest films to draw its inspiration from video games. The movie may not be a subtle drama, but it delivers exactly what fans expected. Moreover, it manages to have a sense of humor and offer up some genuinely suspenseful and well-choreographed fight scenes. The film retains the premise of an inter-dimensional martial arts battle. It also keeps many of the most popular characters, such as Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. Though campy, the movie is a solid entry in the line-up of flashy action movies. Even action movie fans who have never played the game can still enjoy watching “Mortal Kombat.”

“Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” (2001) is an interesting example, since it mostly avoids the extreme violence that characterizes many other video games and subsequent movies. The movie earned a lot of attention for its groundbreaking use of computer animation. For its time, the film is visually stunning. The plot involves a battle between humans and aliens, but goes beyond mere bloodshed to focus on a plot with mystical, supernatural elements. The film features the voices of many major stars, such as Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin. Despite its graphics, however, the movie falls flat. It lacks emotional depth, and after over a decade, its main fan base mostly includes diehard fans of the video game series.

“Resident Evil” (2002) is a fast-paced action thriller with crossover appeal. The movie has its roots firmly in the dystopia of the video game world, featuring the evil Umbrella Corporation and a terrifying virus. The finishing product is likely to appeal to fans of zombie movies just as much as fans of the game series. While “Resident Evil” is sleek and high budget, it did not receive much praise from critics. However, it managed to do well enough in terms of profit to spawn several sequels.

Although none of the movies mentioned so far have received much critical acclaim, they are still solid movies by comparison. Many other movies based on video games are loud, violent, incoherent and forgettable. Films such as “BloodRayne” (2005) and “Alone in the Dark” (2005) have been widely panned by critics and audiences alike. These films feature wooden acting and overly complicated plots. While the action sequences might make for interesting interactive game play, on the movie screen, they tend to lack the high quality that would earn them critical or commercial success.

Since non-gamers usually do not take video games very seriously, movies inspired by the gaming world are a gamble for studios. While some games feature intriguing plots, these plots are designed around long stretches of interactive game play. Movies rely on much different storytelling techniques. Because of this, even fans of a video game might avoid going to the theaters to watch 90 minutes of that same game turned into a non-interactive film.

Movies based on video games often fail when the filmmakers try to stick too closely to the source material. Judging from examples, it seems important to straddle the line between making a movie that appeals to video game fans and finding a fresh, new approach. If movies based on video games continue to grow and change, filmmakers should experiment by going beyond stereotypes. Instead of merely making loud, flashy action movies with striking visual effects, filmmakers should try focusing more on the overall plot and characters. The trick is to appeal to non-gamers, as well as to existing fans of the video games.

Video games have only been around for a relatively short time when compared to the history of Hollywood. As video games continue to be part of the pop culture landscape, movies and games will have plenty of time to figure out a more high quality partnership.