As I approach my 28th birthday, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I have to show for my life. The answer I usually come up with is: not that much. Well, there is one thing. I’ve seen every movie based on a video game.
It started in high school, when that was a fairly easy task. Just four movies, one night’s work. Mortal Kombat had come out in theaters, and my friends and I rented the other three: Double Dragon, Street Fighter, and the one that started it all, Super Mario Bros. Why did we do it? By that time I had started to lose interest in video games, so the only explanation I can offer is that when you don’t have a girlfriend and don’t drink, you have to get creative. The other guys didn’t stay awake past the scene in Double Dragon where Alyssa Milano has on short shorts, but I toughed it out. It was a weird night. Who cast the British Bob Hoskins and Hispanic John Leguizamo as Italian brothers? And did Raul Julia really have to shout “Game over!” at the climax of Street Fighter?
When it was over, I patted myself on the back—I had complete command of the video-game movie microgenre. Little did I know that what seemed like a cinematic curiosity would become an epidemic. When Doom comes out this week, it will be, by my count, the 20th video-game movie. Since the four we watched that first night, there have been eight game adaptations, three sequels, and, of course, the Pokémon quintology. And I’ve seen all of them. Even the Pokémons. I did eventually make some rules to alleviate my suffering. I only watch the ones that screen in American theaters and are the first published media based on the property. For example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a video game before it was a movie but was an animated television show and a comic before that, so it doesn’t count. The Wizard? That was an advertisement for an entire video game system, not an individual game. (Of course, I’ve seen it anyway.) Myrules also disqualify a lot of weird Japanese straight-to-video imports that I’m scared to watch.
Lots of people take potshots at video-game adaptations without thinking about how difficult they are to make. Any filmmaker can adapt something that has an actual story. But the directors of video-game movies have to get by with one of two strategies: They can either lose cred with gamers by making stuff up and claiming it’s “based loosely” on the game—I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy—or they can waste time creating convoluted explanations for all the game’s weird details. Ever wonder why Mario and Luigi can jump so high? In Super Mario Bros., we learn that they got hydraulic jumping boots from a fat lady in an alternate universe. And how did the Street Fighter gang get their colorful outfits? The whole movie revolves around how each character—there are at least a dozen—trades in his everyday attire for whatever weird costume they wore in the game. (I should add that there’s a video-game version of the Street Fighter movie. So, it’s Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.)
With all the mockery they hear, it’s not surprising that video-game auteurs can get snooty. Simon West, the director of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, once explained that his movie is “on a much higher level” than the Indiana Jones series because it’s about “new age mysticism … rather than fighting a bunch of Nazis and being scared of rats and things like that.” I’ll remind you that Tomb Raider is a movie in which the already well-endowed Angelina Jolie had to pad her boobs.
The genre’s foremost champion, though, is Uwe Boll, who’s directed two movies based on gamesand has two more in the can, with plans for three others announced. Considering that Boll’s first two such efforts, House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, both rank among IMDb’s 50 worst-reviewed titles, it’s a wonder he keeps getting investors—maybe there’s some special loophole in the German tax code just for video-game movies. Need proof that Boll’s movies are bad? Well, consider that in House of the Dead there’s no actual house. On the DVD commentary, he proudly explains that this is because the movie is a “prequel.”
But give Boll credit. House of the Dead is something of a cinematic landmark because it uses footage from the video game to transition between scenes. The new Doom movie goes a step further. As you may have seen in the trailer, there’s a scene shot in the game’s trademark first-person perspective. It’s nice that they cared enough to do it that way, but I can’t imagine that the game’s fans really care. When I go to the movies, I don’t want to feel like I’m holding a controller in front of the TV; otherwise, I’d just stay home and play the game. When they adapt a book, do they try to make it seem like you’re reading?
Doom isn’t a great movie, but the plot, which has something to do with mutants on Mars, almost makes sense and sticks reasonably close to the source material. Besides, there are only two or three really stupid scenes. That qualifies it as the best video-game movie ever made, at least until Peter Jackson helps make a movie based on Halo. (For my up-to-the minute, all-time video-game movie rankings, click here.)
When this trend started, I thought Hollywood would get sick of video games after awhile. But it’s not happening. Now they’re making movies out of games I’ve never even heard of. (What system did Alone in the Dark come out on, Atari Jaguar?)Watching every video-game movie may be lame, but it’s not as lame as giving up after Doom. Anyway, I figure that in 50 years the line between games and movies will be so blurry that the whole idea of a video-game movie will be moot. Then, my mission will finally be complete. Or, as Raul Julia would say, “Game over!”