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For a genre where the most highly regarded films are often described as the "least bad," it is not surprising video game movies garner little praise from critics or audiences on a steady basis. This feature could be more aptly named "The Okay, The Awful, and The Horrendous."
So why is it that film adaptations from all other sources (literature, other movies, comic books, graphic novels, television, etc) all have their masterpieces while video games have only disaster-pieces? This subject could be analyzed ad nauseum, but the most obvious fault can be found with the studios that produce the movies. Because, according to "experts," video games are an inferior art form (if even an art form), loved only by the geek populous, so the adaptations are treated as such: trashy, low-budget schlock.
Attempts to bring beloved games to the big screen seem to follow two doomed paths. The first option is a deliriously faithful imagining where the result is simply a video game, on a bigger screen, with cornier dialogue, that you are unable to play. The second is the conversion that uses name-only and works an entirely new story around the well-known protagonist and setting. This has yet to work effectively and often results alienating the core audience.
With Price of Persia: The Sand of Time hitting theaters on Friday, fingers are crossed that this adaptation can take the best from all its predecessors and be the first of its kind to please fans of the game and adventure seekers alike. Dare I say, only time will tell?
Contemplation aside, let’s get on to the rankings.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) & Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
The "good" video game films all have something in common: style, action and adventure (although Silent Hill is a very dark adventure). The “Tomb Raider” films work in part because they are self-aware, fast moving and actually have a budget to back them up. Throw in an incredibly sexy Angelina Jolie and you have yourself one downgraded female “Indiana Jones” flick.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
A notorious flop at the time, “Final Fantasy” had everything going for it, boasting visuals still astounding to this day and a narrative with some brains. Yet it failed to find an audience even though widely considered to be the most successful awakening of a game on the silver screen. “The Spirits Within” fell between the cracks exciting neither fans of the game, the sci-fi genre or cutting-edge animation.
The Resident Evil Trilogy (2002-2007)
The only live-action video game trilogy in existence (if you’re not counting direct-to-DVD sequels), the adventures of Alice, played by Mila Jovovich, have managed to bring in those looking for bloodshed along with followers of the classic game franchise. The films boast balls-to-the-wall action, wise-cracking stereotypical characters and plenty of zombie-ish abominations of which to dispatch. Critics have not been kind, but a fourth film (of course in 3-D) is set to hit theaters in September, so apparently their opinion is a moot point, at least to director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson.
Silent Hill (2006)
Silent Hill is certainly a triumph of style and atmosphere if not of total narrative coherence. Opting for costumes and sets over cheap CGI, this film is genuinely creepy at times, sometimes horrifying, but also often exasperating. Loose ends, supernatural hokum and plot holes galore do become grating, but for fans this is a mostly faithful effort and its low-key approach certainly managed to expand beyond its niche.
Hitman is one video game which seemed appropriate for adaptation, lacking an ultra-confusing plot that would translate poorly and boasting a badass central antihero. Although the film provided everything one might expect, it is an exceeding dull and forgettable endeavour and more than a tad dumb. The usually exuberant Timothy Olyphant lurches his way through the lead role and the sexy Olga Kurylenko (who also appeared in Max Payne) adds as much skin as possible but to little lasting effect. At least it was rated R.
Max Payne (2008)
Casting a great actor like Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of a classic video game hero seemed like a promising choice and the trailers boasted great style and flashy action. But like Hitman it was a tough slog, featuring far too many dream sequences, scarce action and a suffocating self-seriousness. Max Payne is a great example of why style does not equate to a good movie and again why video games make questionable source material.
Of all the films on this list, Doom is perhaps the most fragrantly silly and entertaining in a so-bad-its-good sense. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is an infinitely charismatic actor even when the material fails him and finding him in a villainous role was a nice change. Throw in some laughably self-aware first-person shooter scenes and a hilariously over-the-top final battle, this adaptation feels closer in tone to what one would expect from a film of this ilk, even if those expectations remain low.
Everything made by Uwe Boll (House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, Postal, etc)
What more is to say about Uwe Boll without raising this critique to the level of slander? There is not a single film in his resume that is in any sense tolerable, and his efforts actually manage to drag the name of the source game through the mud. The most torturous of the bunch has to be House of the Dead, which is so excruciatingly inept it falls below the level of watchability even for camp value.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
“Street Fighter” could have easily been directed by Boll (it is that bad), but at least the production values have some gloss to them. Most of the events of this movie have long leaked from my ears in the form of rancid green slime, but if you want a lesson on how not to act, take a gander at Chris Klein’s "performance." Enough said.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
If there was ever a game that did not need an adaptation, you needn’t look much farther than Super Mario Bros., the film that kicked off the genre. “Bros.” is an awful movie, yes, but its un-watchability comes from the embarrassing performances from its cast. There are times when I legitimately felt bad for actors involved in this movie but what results were they honestly expecting when adapting a game where the point was to jump up and down collecting coins and mushrooms?