Friday, March 10, 2006

"That was just a game, Centauri!"

Lara Craft: Tomb Raider. Resident Evil. Wing Commander. Doom. In the past few years, a whole cottage industry has developed in the movie business of turning video games into movies. And the results, pretty much entirely across the board, are awful. Sure, there have been bad video game movies for a while (Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, etc). But as executives realize that video games are here to stay, and that the people who grew up playing games in the 80s continue to engage them, companies have been pouring more time and money into video game movies.

The question is: why are they so goddamn stupid? People who play video games don't want to see the story that they played through in the game up on the big screen - we already saw that story, and it was more fun the first time when we had an active role in it. If these companies had any sort of sense, they would realize what gamers want to see: movies about people who play video games getting sucked up into real life variations on the action.

It seems so fucking simple. What was so awesome about the first Matrix movie? It made hackers, computer geeks, and anyone disaffected by modern society to think, "Holy crap...that could be me." Well, that's what gamers want to see. "Hey, that dude plays video games like me...and look, he's flying a spaceship now! He's actually doing spy missions! That's awesome. I'm seeing this movie at least ten times in the theaters." All you need to do is look back to the halcyon days of 1983-1984 and see three examples of movies that totally fucking worked because of this conceit:

WarGames - kid uses 8 inch floppy disks and pre-Prodigy dial-up connection to hack into the NORAD computer and almost starts World War III. Computer gamer playing war simulation --> real life war situation. Movie is awesome. Everyone aged 25-34 knows it. (Bonus: Pre-Ferris Broderick; in-her-prime Ally Sheedy; the two computer nerds who talk about "the back door"; "wouldn't you like to play a nice game of chess?"; the irrascible Dabney Coleman.)

Cloak & Dagger - kid plays Atari games all the time; ends up with an Atari cartridge that contains top-secret data; must navigate through perilous situations with his imaginary superspy friend to stop total disaster. Atari gamer playing spy games --> real life spy situation. Movie is awesome. Everyone aged 25-34 who remembers it loves it. (Bonus: Post-E.T. Henry Thomas; the three-fingered woman; the Alamo; the extremely depressing subplot of Davey's imaginary superspy friend being the same actor as his absentee dad; the irrascible Dabney Coleman, in TWO roles.)

The Last Starfighter - plotwise, probably the best of the bunch. Teenager in Trailer Park Town, Nowheresville, Midwest, is a master at a spaceship arcade game. Crazy alien in a car comes down, tells him game was a training simulator for actual space fighting. Teenager ends up flying an X-Wing knockoff in a huge space battle. Arcade gamer playing space fighting game --> real life space fighting situation. Movie is awesome. Everyone aged 25-34 who has seen the movie speaks of it with a gleam in their eye, remember when they wished they too could have been swept up into a giant space battle. (Bonus: The Music Man in the Obi-Wan role; the running subplot of the robot Alex who has to stay behind in the trailer park and pretend he's regular Alex; the sort-of-cheesy-but-still-sort-of-awesome Tron-esque special effects. Unfortunately, no Dabney Coleman.)

Think about it. If Hollywood remade any of these movies (or at least lifted the concept from them), they'd make a fucking killing. Maybe they could do a movie about a MMORPG player who gets sucked into a fantasy world like Norrath or Azeroth. Or how about someone who loves Splinter Cell-type games, and ends up being recruited by the miltiary to run covert-ops on a top-secret mission? Maybe a criminal organization starts recruiting gamers who are stellar at causing mayhem in Grand Theft Auto. If done well, a movie like this could become the new Matrix. And if it's just some little piece of still has a better chance of capturing the imagination of the gamer audience than some shitty Uwe Boll movie.


Blogger Q. Meyers said...

Exellent post, and point well taken! One point of contention however: are you implying that Mario Brothers was a bad movie?!?!?! Hello! It's John Leguizamo's defining moment as an actor!

11:00 AM  
Blogger ptm said...

It isn't that Mario Brothers is a bad movie. It's that it was a letdown from the game. They couldn't capture that amazing narrative complexity in just 2 hours.

If they got Hoskins and Leguizamo to make a sequel, and they set it in dream world...clearly, I'd be first in line to see it.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Tron? You could update that classic for the new century by making the heroes lose themselves in the internet and then finding a way out of a cybertunnel. Or maybe that age of simple but confusing technological metaphor has ended. Also, the cold war is over. Perhaps they'll have to make the kids battle online predators cleverly disguised on chatlines. Sadly.

9:17 PM  

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