VIDEO GAME MOVIES AND HOW MUCH THEY SUCK
By Noel Wood
Last summer (2001, that is) came and went, and while I saw a lot of the big summer blockbusters that hit screens during that time, there were a few biggies that I managed to miss. Of course, I skipped out on PEARL HARBOR and PLANET OF THE APES and others that just looked inherently bad on all levels, but I also skipped a few that otherwise may have looked fairly appealing. Two of those in particular were the Angelina Jolie starring vehicle TOMB RAIDER and the all-CGI epic FINAL FANTASY. I got invited to see these movies on several occasions, but always turned down the offers, citing one all-inclusive fact: Movies based on video games, without fail, are going to suck.
Usually, when you make a broad statement like that, there are a few obvious exceptions. Like, for instance, when I say that all the shit that Ridley Scott has done since THELMA AND LOUISE is dog excrement, someone will always rebut with BLACK HAWK DOWN. But in all honesty, Iíve never run across an exception in this one. Now, granted, I canít say Iíve seen all the movies based on video games ever, but some of them I donít think I need to see in order to make a judgment. Iíve decided to make a list of every video game movie made to date, and let you judge for yourself. As far as I can tell, this is pretty much the definitive list, but I may be missing a few here or there. Thereís also a whole slew of video-game-based anime out there that may or may not suck, but Iím no big fan of anime so Iím not touching those (I have, however, seen the anime of STREET FIGHTER and itís not too bad, and Iím excluding POKEMON for a number of reasons.) Of course, Iím only including movies based on specific, real-life video games. This means that stuff like THE LAST STARFIGHTER or WARGAMES or THE WIZARD or TRON gets left off as well.
I was discussing this with a coworker before writing the meat of the article here, and he was sure that there was at least ONE halfway-decent game-to-movie adaptation. He couldnít think of a specific one, but was sure there was one out there he had forgotten. At the time, I didnít know whether or not there were any more that I couldnít think of off the top of my head, but it turns out there arenít but nine total that have been released to date. Iím sure youíre all thinking that among those, there has to be a good one in there somewhere, but youíd probably be wrong. Like I said, I canít attest to seeing every one of these personally, primarily because Iím not a masochist. But those I missed Iím going to base judgments on other peoplesí reviews as well as just general common sense. So hereís the list, read on if you care to, but donít say I didnít warn you.
SUPER MARIO BROTHERS (1993)
First of all, letís get right to the point: The first movie about video games came along, and it had almost NOTHING to do with the game it was based on. Now Iíve heard some people say thatís a good thing, but those people are full of shit. This movie blows ass. Itís rather unfortunate, because it actually has a good cast. Bob Hoskins, Dennis Hopper, and Lance Henriksen all appear in major roles, and Samantha Mathis is really nice to look at. Even Mojo Fín Nixon appears, which in itself is pretty goddamn cool. But unfortunately, none of them can save it. The character names are the same as the video game, but unlike the game, King Koopa is a human being rather than a giant turtle-dragon-thing, the Goombas are weird pinhead creatures, and Toadís not even a mushroom. But the most important difference here is the overall tone and feel to the movie. The games are very bright, colorful, and upbeat, but this movie has a dark feel to it. Either way, the movie is shit, and didnít even get its seal of approval from Nintendo themselves.
DOUBLE DRAGON (1993)
Before ďParty of FiveĒ launched him to fame, Scott Wolf was Billy Lee, one of two brothers from the popular video game adaptation DOUBLE DRAGON. I saw this in my many years in video store heaven, and what a gratuitous piece of crap it was. This wasnít even so-bad-it-was-good kinda stuff. The backdrop is New Angeles, a post-apocalyptic (or post ďthe big oneĒ) view of the capital of the left coast. The story basically is that the Lee brothers are trying to recover half of some ancient talisman from a bunch of baddies led by Robert ďHave you seen this boy?Ē Patrick in really bad makeup and looking like Vanilla Ice with an evil goatee. Of course, the game is just about these two kids who beat up bad guys for no apparent reason anyway, so I guess itís okay that they got some basic story out of it, but not much of one. This movie also features the presence of Alyssa Milano as a kickboxer with a bad bleach job, shortly before she had her all-too-short affair with the world of soft porn. She plays Marion, the leader of a pro-environmental martial arts gang. I canít make stuff like this up, folks. See, this movie sucks donkey balls on paper, so you can just imagine how much it sucks in real life.
STREET FIGHTER (1994)
This movie, based on a series of fighting games produced by Capcom, was the first movie based on a video game to be marketed as a potential blockbuster. While it was indeed based on the game in characters and basic story, they really tried to give it a broader appeal by casting a mainstream star in the lead in Jean-Claude Van Damme and the general look and feel of a summer action movie. Of course, it bombed, and for good reason. It wasnít good. Unfortunately, Raul Julia was in this movie, and it marked his last performance before his early passing. Iím afraid that when he got to heaven St. Peter was going to let him in based on his pure talent and then realized what his final performance was and sent him straight to hell. The did a decent job of keeping the characters true to the game, but the problem there is that the characters really arenít that interesting to begin with. You have the all-American G.I.Joe guy Guile (who unfortunately was miscast badly by sticking a Belgian in the role) leading his band of ethnic stereotypes against the evil militia guy M. Bison (Julia) and his band of ethnic stereotypes. Great for a game. Shitty for a movie.
MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)
MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION (1997)
Street Fighter was rivaled in the realm of video games by this game, which replaced the cartoonish look and feel with a more graphic, violent sensibility. Not to be outdone in the movie realm as well, New Line pictures released a celluloid version of Kombat, this time featuring HIGHLANDER star Christopher Lambert as the main character, Raiden. Lambert may be no Van Damme, but he still blows as a lead actor. The first movie was also directed by British filmmaker Paul Anderson (not to be confused with P.T. Anderson of MAGNOLIA), the followup to his underrated $HOPPING but predating his later crap like EVENT HORIZON, SOLDIER, and another video game movie or two weíll mention later. The film sticks pretty close to the game as far as story and characters go, and even the overall look and feel. Of course, that doesnít do much good when itís not all that interesting to begin with. And it ended with a stupid cliffhanger scene that demanded a followup.
This movie somehow managed to pull in 70 million domestically, so a sequel or two was not out of the question. MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION was released in 1997, and did about half the business of the original. I think I caught about half of this movie on the SuperStation one night and remember it sucking just about as much as the original. The cast got reworked, and Lambert did not return as Raiden. They even did the unthinkable and removed the one remotely appealing actor in the movie, Bridgette ďthat Veronica Vaughn is one piece of aiceĒ Wilson. But yeah, basically this was an even crappier sequel to a pretty crappy movie.
Oh yeah, thereís also another sequel for the series due out in 2003. Iím sure it will suck too.
WING COMMANDER (1999)
When most folks make movies based on video games, they tend to be smart and choose games that are currently top hits on the market to capitalize on the success of the game. The folks responsible for this little number seemed to lose sight of that trend, and instead made a movie based on a 10-year-old PC game that hadnít been relevant for years. The only people who had even heard of this game were hardcore PC gamers, which account for about .00001% of the population of the U.S. Needless to say, nobody saw this movie. That includes me. Not just because of the fact that I never cared about the game, but because it starred a twin pack of the most annoying actors to ever emerge from the vats of Hollywood: Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard. Since I didnít see this, Iím only assuming how horrible it is based on the reviews of others and my own common sense. But I am going to top off this bit by leaving you with what Roger Ebert had to say about it: ďWING COMMANDER arrives at the end of a week that began with the death of the creator of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Close the pod bay door, Hal. And turn off the lights.Ē
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)
Finally, someone decided to make a movie based on a hugely popular video game and actually let it have a chance to become a huge success. The Tomb Raider video game series has been a top seller for many years, largely due to the fact that fanboys all over the globe really think that there are girls in the world that look remotely like the gameís heroine Lara Croft. News for them: there arenít. Not even Angelina Jolie, nice as she may look wearing a skintight blue tank top. No, as is the case with the last several video game movies, I didnít see this. I can only go by instinct on this one. After all, I liked Indiana Jones when he was played by Harrison Ford, so I didnít need to see John Voightís daughter try to pull off what basically amounts to the exact same character but more shapely. I also donít ever care if I never see another Simon West movie ever again, after what I would strongly consider to be the worst movie of all time, CON AIR. But yeah, this looked like a pretty generic action flick designed for males aged 18-34 with a techno soundtrack, so Iím thinking itís a safe bet to say it sucks. Oh, and itís getting a sequel next year.
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2001)
I never was in to the Final Fantasy series of games, so I never really had a desire to see a movie based on it. I never actually understood the whole concept of it all, anyway. I mean, when I was like 15 there was a game called Final Fantasy that I rented for my NES, but it was a pretty forgettable little RPG that just made me wish I was playing Zelda. Apparently, all this time there were half a dozen sequels to this game coming out in Japan, and it was morphing in to this whole other thing than it began as. You see, I was still under the impression that Final Fantasy was still a game about wizards and crystals and castles and shit and then a movie comes out and itís all science fiction about aliens or something. So yeah, I passed on it, and most people tell me I was all for the better as a result. But again, Iím being clairvoyant in my review and assuming itís gonna suck on my own accords.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
From the hands of MORTAL KOMBAT director Paul Anderson comes yet another video game movie that I didnít bother seeing. I figured that since it sucked, and it was based on a game that I actually cared about, that this one would suck, because I never really gave a shit about Resident Evil anyway. This game just made me long for the days of simplicity and Marios and Pac-Men and things like that. But thatís another rant for another web site. Anyway, this looked pretty generic in every way possible, and I just didnít care to see it. Besides that, the whole thing just came off as a big fat NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ripoff, except with updated special effects and Hong Kong fight scenes made especially for the hip young audience it targeted. And Milla Jovovitch just kind of annoys me. I know Iím supposed to think sheís ultra-hot, but the girl needs to eat. And take some acting lessons. And quit being so god damned French. Did I mention I hate the French?
Iím sure Iíd hate this movie too if I saw it, so I passed. Oh yeah, this movie just recently came out on DVD, so if I really wanted to see it now would be the time, but thereís far too much other stuff Iíd rather spend my money on. And of course, this sucker managed to get a sequel planned, so weíre not done just yet. Next year, thereís THREE sequels to video game movies planned, all of which are likely to suck as well.
So basically, thatís it in a nutshell. Video game movies, as a rule, suck. One of these days something might change, but for now thatís the rule. Who knows? Maybe one day a Peter Jackson or a Martin Scorcese or a Paul Anderson (other than the one who did MORTAL KOMBAT and RESIDENT EVIL) might come along and turn The Legend of Zelda into an epic motion picture worthy of taking home Best Picture, but I somehow doubt itíll happen. For now, Iíll stick to my gut and just enjoy games as they are intended to be enjoyed: with ME controlling the action, not some Hollywood hack.