Editorial: Video Game Movies

Video game movies have sucked, LusiFrames. This is no strong statement. This is no revelation. There have been some financially successful video game movies and there have been some video game movies that have not been complete pieces of shit, sure. But in terms of successfully capturing the tone, wonder, and depth of our favourite hobby, LusiProjectors, movies have flopped face-first into a steaming pile of platypus manure.

Total, man.
This movie totally understood Mario.

Therefore my question is this: Should there even be video game movies? Is it a futile effort? Or should we be more interested in accurately celebrating the culture instead of “porting” a franchise over to the big screen?

From purely anecdotal evidence, it appears as though Hollywood often misses the point. The thought process seems to be along the lines of “well, people pay lots of money for video games and those same people usually pay money for movies, how about we combine the two?” Therefore, franchise names are slapped on a generic action movie with little thought on how to truly capture what people enjoy about the games.

However, while it appears as though Hollywood is doing a shitty job of understanding gaming culture, I wonder if even a “good” video game movie would fall flat.

Mario platformers are generally excellent games, but their strengths are not story. It seems as though a “good” Mario movie would have to abandon what makes Mario games what they are.

Zelda games include a lot of figuring out puzzles and exploration of the world. A Zelda movie would not let the viewer explore the world at their own pace or talk to whomever they would like to talk to.

So much of what makes Shadow of the Colossus great is the desolate lonely feel. This is accomplished by great stretches of time when nothing happens at all. It works in a game because the player herself is discovering the world, but it sounds like a shitty movie to me.

Perhaps the answer is complete creative control. Advent Children is the most successful video game to movie transition I can think of, and perhaps that only worked because it was built ground-up for the small screen. No Hollywood marketing people to twist it with their dirty hands. Just look at Spirits Within. I mean, I never saw it, but I have not talked to anybody who said it was not garbage. Complete trash.

I kinda want to see this, just to say I did it.
Uncanny Valley: The Movie

There is a new development, however. Perhaps most of you have already seen the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph. It is based on a fake video game and breaks a lot of the real rules of the world as a cartoon is wont to do. But there is something different about this movie compared to trailers for Sands of Time or Tomb Raider. There appears to be a genuine understanding of gaming culture. Of course, this is just a trailer, but there are signs.

First, there’s the fake Wreck-It Ralph game within the movie. It is obviously nodding to Rampage and the original Donkey Kong but it does so with respect. It is a case of imitation as flattery. From what I can tell, the fake games in the movie are exaggerated parodies of real games; I see Mario Kart and Call of Duty off the bat. And although I am sure that the games’ rules will take many liberties to accommodate the means of the plot, it appears to be clear that the filmmakers are not trying to cash in on the lucrative gaming industry, but are rather genuine fans.

This, to me, seems like a much better approach to video game movies. The mediums are compared a lot, but I actually think they transition very poorly to one another. Instead, why not celebrate the greatness of video games with film instead of trying – and failing – to recreate said greatness. Indie Game: The Movie appears to be another great example of this. I have yet to see it, but it has received extremely positive reviews from gamers and cinemaphiles alike. That appears to be because it is a well-made documentary about the independent development scene. It is not trying to shove a square peg into a circle hole. It is finding a way to consolidate the worlds.

What do you think, LusiScenes? Am I too pessimistic about video game movies? Do you just think that the right one has not been made yet and we just have to wait another generation? Or maybe you think Wreck-It Ralph looks like shit and you loved Spirits Within. Sound off below!


  1. Family pride requires me to brag that my brother is an animator at Disney Studios and he was quite excited to tell me about Wreck-It Ralph when he was home for the winter holidays last year. He’s certainly a genuine fan of video games and assured me that the people working on the movie are, in general, life-long video game players and would a good job with all the video game parodies they were putting in the movie. So, your suspicions about he motivations of the staff at Disney studio are confirmed, Ethan. Of course, the decision to produce the movie was probably heavily influenced by the fact that Disney could cash in on the video game market, but that doesn’t take anything away from the desire of the staff to make the movie a proper tribute to video game culture.
    To further this point, my brother was in charge of the art and design (and ended up doing most of it himself because he’s a perfectionist control freak) for the Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade cabinet that was on display at E3 this year. wired.com wrote article pointing out the attention to detail he and his coworkers put into the design of what was essentially just an advertisement for the movie (I would provide a link but I’m not sure what the policy is on posting links in the comments so I won’t. It should be the top result on google for any competent search string entry).

  2. Oh, and I didn’t think the Spirits Within was complete trash. It helps to divorce the movie from the Final Fantasy name and the overblown budget and hype, which is what I did when I watched it. When I think of it that way it becomes just a mediocre movie that has extremely good graphical fidelity and a derivative, predictable story, and not a failed Final Fantasy movie. Saying it’s complete trash implies that it’s unwatchable, but I would probably watch it again if it was on TV.
    When you write “I kinda want to see this just to say I did” and “I have not talked to anybody who said it was not garbage” in the same article it makes me think you just want to see the movie to join in on hating on it instead of giving yourself a chance to see if you genuinely like or dislike it. Of course, if you go into the movie thinking you’re going to hate it you’re strongly biasing your viewing experience and will conclude that the movie is garbage too (because the movie isn’t good enough to pull you out of your bias). To that end, why even waste the time watching it when you could be doing something you enjoy?

  3. I don’t think expecting to hate it and being willing to like it are mutually exclusive. I love movies that people hate (Indiana Jones 4) and hate movies people hate (Phantom Menace), so I’d be more than willing to say I like it if that happened. But you have to admit that you’re putting a lot of qualifiers on Spirits Within in order to give it a mediocre-at-best review.

  4. Yeah, I do have to admit that. But that’s kind of the way I choose to view most movies and video games. I try to remove external influences (negative and positive) from my point of view as much as possible so I can judge something on its own merits and according to my preferences so that I have can properly compare it to other similar experiences I’ve had. It’s not that I think it’s invalid to let external factors influence one’s opinion of something; I just don’t like the idea of my opinions being tainted by the rhetoric of others.
    And I wasn’t saying that expecting to hate it will exclude you from being willing to like it. I’m saying that expecting to hate it while already being dismissive of it (evidenced by saying you want to see it just to say you did) means that you really aren’t going to give it a proper chance. This is simply because you are going to be more likely to notice bad things about the movie than good things because the bad things have been beaten into your brain by the people you’ve talked to. You will be looking for the bad things, consciously or subconsciously, and that will prevent you, at least partially, from noticing the good things. Obviously, there’s still a possibility that you will like it, but I’m saying chances are quite slim given the way you portray your preconceived notions of your experience with the movie will be.

    I, for one, think that the human brain likes the world to be neat and orderly so that one can feel like they understand what is happening around them. In other words, your subconscious likes to reconcile what you’re seeing with the way you already think the world works instead of trying to call attention to the ways in which what you’re seeing might go against that preconceived world order, basically because it is easier to do so.
    So, for example, it would be easier for you to agree with the people you’ve talked to that say the Spirits Within is shit because your brain is already at least partially convinced that it is shit. Of course, I might be completely wrong about the way the human brain works, so maybe not.

    Indiana Jones 4, huh? Wow.

  5. By all accounts, Indiana Jones 4 was a turd. Indiana Jones 5 will make everything fine (ho ho ho!).

    I really liked Spirits Within, honestly. I saw it when it came out and was very impressed with it on a technical level, though I felt that it had nothing to do with Final Fantasy. These are still my general impressions of it. Not a bad story, standard sci-fi fare, very technically impressive at the time, but what does it have to do with Final Fantasy?

    I much preferred Advent Children, which I still like very much, even if some of my more moronic staff members prefer to poop all over it because 1) they don’t understand Jenova/Sephiroth and are therefore confused by the three clones, or 2) they are pedantic little shits who prefer to hate on entire movies (and games) because of one line of text or dialogue.

  6. Indiana Jones 4 has a shitton of things wrong with it and falls just short of comically bad. Which makes it just the regular George Lucas kind of bad. Also, holy hell is that movie’s CG ridiculously terrible.

    The problem with video game movies is that they’re usually made by Hollywood, poorly written (like the source material, generally), and made by Hollywood people who have zero respect for the source material. Ryan Davis of Giantbomb.com did a series of video review of video game movies where he picked nearly all the ones there were apart pretty well. And he wasn’t nitpicking either. Nearly all of them were fucking horrid. The Prince of Persia movie, which I haven’t seen yet because it hasn’t been on FX and also because the lead is comically miscast, was directed by a guy who watching his son play the game said it was “fucking retarded.” How could he make a not-bad movie with that view of what he was making? The shitty Doom movie starring The Rock (the pro-wrestler, not the shitty Michael Bay movie) changed the story from “Scientists on Mars Moons accidentally open a trans dimensional gateway to Hell” to “There’s something or other on Mars, and also people have some sort of hidden genetic Good or Evil…or Something?” because the former was too dumb or something. At that point, it’s like why bother paying id for a film rights license and not just do your not-Doom-related movie if you think Doom is sooooo dumb?

    As for The Spirits Within it’s not deserving of all the hatred it incurs. There’s really three problems with it.

    The first, is that it cost 100 million dollars to make and was put forward as an American Hollywood Blockbuster when it really wasn’t. If you view it as that you’ll probably be disappointed. If you view it as a ~90 minute anime OVA that’s just telling a story, then you’ll probably like it. As everyone reading this undoubtedly knows the film was made around the same time as FFVII and it shares the general theme of “Life” that FFVII was centralized around. I won’t go into spoilers because I’d encourage any FFVII fans who haven’t seen it to see it, but there’s plenty of thematic and setting related similarities.

    The second problem is the casting. In trying to be an Big American Blockbuster Square Studios cast James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, that asian lady who played the lead and was sort of aurally recognizable, and a bunch of other people. A thing I despise about big budget CG animated films is that they go with people who’s voices are super recognizable so when the character they are portraying is talking, and generally looks nothing like them (Donald Sutherland excepted), it shatters my suspension of disbelief. The actual actors also tend not to be as good at what they do as experienced, notably in actual video games, voice actors. Sure both jobs are basically pretending convincingly, but to be good at something you need to do it a lot or have some vast natural talent.

    The third problem with Spirits Within is that while I think it still looks pretty decent to this day (I own it on DVD) there is a bit of the Uncanny Valley stuff going on. In stills it looks good, generally, but when people start moving you can tell the animation is slightly off, skin on people who are talking’s faces are slightly off, the surface and texture of people’s skin is slightly off, etc. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me. The same can be said of the visually stylized Advent Children (which I consider a spectacular but shitty nonsensical movie) they still haven’t figured out how to make real looking human skin ten years later.

    But these criticisms aside it’s really not a movie deserving a tenth the poop that people dump all over it.

    Also, @Lusipurr, I understand the terribly translated FFVII plot regarding Sephiroth and Genova. (And that Squaresoft apparently has no idea what a “clone” is.) Which to be brief is to say that all those Genova NOUN fights that follow encountering Sephiroth are because you didn’t encounter him. You only see him in misremembered flashbacks at that hotel, in a crystal/block of ice/materia(?) at the Norther Crater, and in that final battle at the end of the game (OMG SPOILERS!!!). I just dislike Advent Children because it was Nomura at his most style-over-substanceyness. FFVII had a deliberately ambiguous ending that left it up to the player to decide what it meant, what happened, and what would follow. Advent Children, to me, ruined all that and was like unneeded, if shiny, fan fiction that answered things that should have been left unanswered.

  7. People liked the Phantom Menace? I actually thought The Spirits Within was ok, but apart from sharing a little of the Gaia theory with FFVII it has nothing to do with the series.

  8. I tried to watch The Spirits Within with a couple of friends, and we got so bored that midway through we gave up. It looks amazing, though.

  9. @EP: Nomura at his most style over substancey? What rot. Why, there’s hardly a belt to be seen in the entire movie!

  10. I’m casting my vote in for The Spirits Within, too. It was way ahead of it’s time for a full-length CG animated movie; c.f. what Pixar was doing, and it’s incredible. Not a very interesting story, but they tried. The visuals are very interesting however, and I think it took Square a while to catch up with the graphical quality of the film; arguably by Final Fantasy 10 or 12, but certainly by 13, which shares much of the same “feel” to it.

  11. Well obviously I didn’t talk to you guys about Spirits Within! I have seen a few clips and it definitely screams “uncanny valley” to me, but maybe it’ll feel more like a stylistic thing within the context of the movie.

    I think Indiana Jones 4 suffered from context. It’s a great action adventure movie like the first and third (although distinctly not as good), but movies aren’t made like that anymore. Perhaps it was too much like an actual Indiana Jones movie. Either way, while 1 and 3 stand alone on top, Indy 4 is miles and miles better than Temple of Doom. What trash that movie is.

    “2) they are pedantic little shits who prefer to hate on entire movies (and games) because of one line of text or dialogue.” Bah-ha, I have NO idea who that could be.
    I really like Advent Children. I don’t know how well it did, but I’d be okay with more Final Fantasy sequels like that.

  12. Spirits Within was a substantially decent movie if divorced from the FF name, which is more than I can say of the gorgeous show-reel of Nomura fetish that is Advent Children.

  13. @Ethan: Indy 4 suffered because it was a terrible movie. Period.

  14. How drunk you can be on Foster’s yet still be less than Indiana Jones 4 drunk I have just discovered. It makes me thing other continents should’t be a thing because Indiana Jones 4, mostly.

  15. I think he’s saying that Indiana Jones 4 was so bad that it calls into question the existence of other continents… Or something.


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