The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts October 14, 2005

Wanton Distraction

Sound off: From fun with zombies to impending doom

GAME OVER: Why do all the movies based on video games suck?
Video games — that is, video games with some semblance of a plot (although a friend of mine once wrote a brilliant piece of Pong fan fiction) — have been around for about 20 years. But ask anyone who has seen a movie based on a video game will probably tell you it was terrible. Not just mediocre, but a film that would make you curse anything with levels and extra lives. You would be unwelcome in a hospital.

The most popular and moderately successful video game film was 1995’s Mortal Kombat. As more terrible video game films come out, it seems like that was more a fluke than a template for success.

You can decry the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood all you like, but you probably have better things to do than to show off your mastery of the obvious. The video game films are going to keep coming and it doesn’t look like history’s going to change as one master of schlock continues to churn out some of the worst studio films of our lifetime and a former master of schlock provides a beacon of hope that may give us reason to keep spitting out quarters.

Giving Video Game Movies a Bad Name
I won’t deny that Super Mario Bros., Tomb Raider I and II, Street Fighter, etc. are terrible films, but they all look like contemporary classics when compared to the work of a director by the name of Dr. Uwe Boll. Some have likened Boll to a modern-day Ed Wood, which I think is fallacious. Wood’s films may have been terrible, but he had no money and his love of movies shines through in the final product regardless. Boll, on the other hand, compares himself to cinematic masters like David Lynch and Sergio Leone, manages to continuously swindle money from foreign investors, uses that money to make atrocious movies and when the movie tanks (this is my favorite part), he uses his poor English skills to write an open letter to the public condemning them for not recognizing his brilliance.

Boll had made awful films before in his native Germany, but when he came to America he really started to shine. Actually, ever since he arrived in the U.S., all his movies have originally been video games. His five upcoming films all are video game properties. He likes video games so much that for his first video game film, House of the Dead, he decided for a reason only he knows to intercut clips from the game as scene transitions. It may subliminally remind the viewer that they’d have more fun playing the game than watching an adaptation upon which the director spent so much money for 360 degree action scenes (like the original Matrix except random and unintentionally hilarious) that the titular House of the Dead turned out to be more of a shed in the middle of the woods in the middle of an island.

Boll has the good fortune of being German, because no matter how terrible his films may be and how poorly they perform at the box office, he will continue to take money from German investors who don’t care about the final product because of a German tax loophole. Boll buys a cheap video game property, he provides easy paycheck roles for actors without dignity and everyone wins except for the audience. I won’t go into details concerning Boll’s second American film, Alone in the Dark, other than to say the following:

1) It kills Christian Slater’s career faster than if he had groped every member of a retirement community.

2) Tara Reid gives a performance so terrible that performers in the adult entertainment industry would find it laughable.

3) A guy gets killed with an underhanded knife toss. An underhanded knife toss.

4) The opening prologue is so long that it’s still going on as I type this.

With a director like Boll running around and making unintentionally hilarious yet ultimately depressing films, where do we find hope?

I Got a Ring For Ya
Ask any regular video game player to list the five most successful games of the past five years and I guarantee you that Halo will be on it. I own both Halo and Halo 2 and I still find it hard to describe why the game is so great. The multiplayer kill-fests certainly factor into it, but there’s just something in the game’s simplicity; by somehow boiling off all the glitz, the game’s creators at Bungie managed to make a game that’s purely enjoyable.

Unfortunately, when it comes to movies, simplicity can only take you so far and, while the storyline is an adequate starting point (Aliens-esque Marines fight evil alien religious zealots), it’s certainly not enough to carry 100 minutes of screen time.

But with Halo, Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox are making an honest effort to make a movie as successful as its source material. First, they brought in Alex Garland (28 Days Later) to write the script. But last week a big gun stepped in and decided to offer his services as an executive producer and, more importantly, the services of WETA, his visual effects studio. No, it’s not George Lucas (he’s too busy trying to find new ways of ruining the original Star Wars films). It’s Peter Jackson, the man behind The Lord of the Rings and the upcoming King Kong remake. Even if you find his epic fantasy trilogy boring, you can’t deny the incredible visual effects work done by WETA. Now the New Zealand-based company will be bringing their talents to Blood Gulch and the rest of the Halo world.

Get in the game?
Next Friday, Doom will finally come to the big-screen after lingering for over a decade in development hell. Personally, I think it will be a disappointment. While it has charismatic actors like the Rock and Karl Urban, I also think it’s a mistake to try and imitate the jump-scares of Doom III, rather than the fun shoot-em-up of the previous Doom games.

But what’s the story of the Doom video game? Hell monsters on Mars. And what’s the story of Boll’s next film, Bloodrayne? Sexy vampire kills Nazis. The lack of plot in most video games can be an opportunity for a talented creator to stretch creatively and make a fascinating world from a provided starting point.

Unfortunately, you really shouldn’t expect much creativity from people who were too lazy to look past their living room for inspiration.





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