The popularity of film adaptations has grown steadily during the last decade. However, most of them end up causing huge disappointments, and this seems to have become an irreversible trend.
In 1993, Super Mario Bros. was made into a live-action movie. Bob Hoskins delivered an awful performance of the most famous plumber in video game history. This movie was unsuccessful and remembered as one of the worst examples of films based on video games. Still, today’s adaptations are incapable of showing any improvements: Michael Fassbender did his best while performing in the far from convincing adaptation of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed saga. Similarly, not even the best CGI technology could do justice to the epic World of Warcraft.
These kinds of adaptations seem to be bound to fail. The audience experiences a widespread feeling of “missing something, but not knowing what it is.” In fact, there is a theory that could help us clear things up a little. A crucial factor of gaming gets lost in the translation process from playability to cinematography: this factor is immersion. According to Bartholomäus Wissmath, David Weibel, and Rudolf Groner, the concept of immersion or “presence” alludes to “multimedia contents which are perceived as real experiences, since users also form part of the immediate environment of the game.” This kind of experience is of great significance in terms of esthetics and also as a bond with the user.
The main obstacle adapted movies face is the consumer’s expectations, that is, enjoying a story they already know, especially in the case of video game fans, who are used to controlling the story. Although this may depict fans as purists with insatiable demands, it is also true that deep inside they can be critical about anything that is done with a title they enjoy so much.
Maybe we need less adaptations. Maybe we should just let games be games and cinema be cinema. That’s why I decided to make a list of the main reasons why most movies based on video games are unable to pay a fitting tribute to the original work, and end up disappointing us because they lack the following fundamental elements of the game’s universe.
1. Character’s movements
One main feature of games is letting the user take control over character’s movements and the physical world that surrounds them. Cinema can portray these features faithfully, but this takes away from what makes a game so entertaining.
2. Music and sound effects
The average audience could think that replicating a game’s soundtrack and the wide range of sounds that you hear during your journey through this apparently virtual world is an easy task for cinema. However, you cannot be immersed by only hearing sounds.
The items around are not simple props. Yo can interact with them and change a video game’s story. Cinema only keeps images and items in the background. Therefore, they lose their main essence.
In most video games, the outcome of the story results directly from the decisions you take and the places you explore throughout the game. To make this comparison may seem a bit unfair, since the audience’s experience in cinema differs from a gamer’s. However, the dimension of the game’s story varies considerably according to its format. When a video game is adapted into a movie, the story is compressed (Assassin’s Creed tries to compress in 120 minutes the first few events of a nine-part saga), and the users are stripped from the freedom of developing a story based on their creativity.
Movies like Resident Evil or Assassin’s Creed series pay special attention to the action sequences at the expense of other elements, and as a result, the audience struggles to have empathy towards the characters. In thrillers like Seven (David Fincher, 1995), the audience follows the protagonist’s footsteps in order to figure out the story’s puzzle up until its heart wrenching conclusion. Overlooking the importance of this aspect is not a good sign for a movie, whether it is an adaptation or not .
Now, it is pertinent to ask a couple of questions: Why do we have the opposite experience when we are exposed to the same story in a different medium? Could it be that these kinds of stories lose their appeal when they are not built through our experience?
We still have a lot to learn about video games. Some people conceive them as luxury items born from the latest forms of technology that only encourage idle activity. Others, however, conceive them as a new art form, even capable of awakening our deepest dreams and nightmares.
Translated by Andrea Valle