Video games have come a long way in terms of storytelling. Not too long ago, we would all wish that our favorite video games could be adapted into films. Now, our games are becoming more and more cinematic, blurring the line between video games and movies.
However, there is still a very unique style that is exclusive to video games. Stories are structured in unique ways to accommodate the player and their actions. This need to accommodate the player has created a unique storytelling structure. Then, in almost a shocking turn of events, movies and shows like The Mandalorian are having their plots compared to video games. This structure, therefore, is becoming more and more recognized.
But someone should tell this to the companies that make film and TV adaptations of video games.
See, video game adaptations don’t just have issues of quality, although that certainly is a factor for some adaptations’ failures. Many TV shows and films based on video games reject the style and structure video games have and instead try and modify it to fit the structure and style of a film. Although there are steps in the right direction, in many cases, the very integrity of a video game is compromised as the property is warped and contorted to be a completely different product.
As a disclaimer, I do enjoy this show tremendously, although it has some serious flaws. However, critics are tearing the show apart, and there is one major reason why:
They are comparing it to Game of Thrones.
No matter how much the creators fight back, The Witcher cannot seem to escape this comparison. And it’s easy to see why; there are simply too many similarities, and there is no way that some of the commonalities are not attempts to pick up where Game of Thrones left off. The Witcher has its fair share of sex, dark fantasy, and twisted plot lines, and the show doesn’t shy away from these elements. And it makes sense to indulge in these aspects of The Witcher. This dark and scandalous type of fantasy was popularized by Game of Thrones, and The Witcher is smart to play off of this.
But, although the creators of Netflix’s The Witcher are insisting that their show is entirely unique, it certainly isn’t in execution. And that’s something that hurts the show.
The Witcher doesn’t need to be Game of Thrones. It has an incredible world and some fascinating source material to work with, including the books and the games. In many ways, The Continent is an even more fantastical land than Westeros in Game of Thrones, richer with typical elements of fantasy. And the show does a good job of leaning into this. The show’s quality dips, however when it takes away these unique elements and simply focuses on the sex and violence that made Game of Thrones the massive hit that it was.
The books are a great source of material but so are the games. The Witcher games have gained a following of their own, and it would be refreshing to see the manifestation of the game in the show. For example, where are all the potions and oils? We see Geralt consume some potions, but there is no explanation as to what they are or how Geralt made them. We see a few unique creatures in the show, but I would argue not enough. The Witcher is about a monster hunter in a world full of unique and creative beasts – there should be more monsters in the show.
However, all of these elements are completely removed or toned down, replaced instead with only political intrigue, violence, and sex. And that’s all great, but it is only a small part of what makes The Witcher great.
The games take the books and immortalize Geralt’s behaviour in the form of game mechanics. It would have been smart for the show to use these game mechanics as a foundation for making a unique fantasy series. The Witcher feels like Game of Thrones because it doesn’t do enough of what the made the games great: moral ambiguity, alchemy, and monster hunting.
Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Hitman, and the List Goes on…
There have been a lot of film adaptations of some of the biggest, most successful video games. And, for the most part, they are not good. At all. But the reason is not necessarily because of poor writing, bad acting, etc., although those all play a part. Rather, it is that they pay no respect to the source material.
The Tomb Raider films aren’t anything like the games. Some of the Tomb Raider games have had some pretty silly or ridiculous plots, and they have their fair share of action. But the movies take away the cunning aspects of Lara Croft and just make her an action hero. Where are all the puzzles? The platforming? There are allusions to these elements in the films, but the majority of the films are concerned with action.
The Resident Evil movies certainly have their quality issues, too, but they also have the same issues as Tomb Raider. Where are the puzzles, the horror, the resource management? Instead, the films take the action from Resident Evil 5 and leave everything else.
With the Hitman films, where is the stealth? Where are the creative and clever kills? Agent 47 insists on shooting his way through most situations, which, it’s true, you can do in the games. But we all know that isn’t exactly the point of the games.
To summarize, Hollywood takes fantastic video games, strips them of their original elements, and makes them action films. Not only does this perpetuate the image of video games as a purely violent medium, but it takes creativity and shapes it into something bland and barely recognizable. I think that these movies would be at least a little more successful if they took the elements that made these games unique and incorporated them into the films.
So, what would that look like?
The Best Video Game Film of All Time is… a Fan Film?
All it took was 15 minutes to show the world what a video game movie should be like. Nathan Fillion joined a cast of undiscovered but excellent actors to make an Uncharted short film. It’s fantastic and that’s primarily because it embodies the games.
Nathan Fillion is the perfect Nathan Drake; in fact, if Tom Holland can mimic even an ounce of Fillion’s performance for the full-length Uncharted film, we are in for a good time. The writing is perfect, and Fillion delivers it with the sarcastic, humourous tone we expect from Nathan Drake. He’s hilarious and charming, even in the face of danger.
But it isn’t just what Nathan Fillion says that allows him to embody the character. Once a fight scene begins, Uncharted fans will notice that the attacks Fillion uses are the same moves that Nathan Drake uses in the games. Therefore, Drake is not changed even in terms of action; he still is a clumsy yet effective fighter, just like the games.
Once the fight is finished, Drake goes upstairs and looks over ancient letters and documents. This is where Drake’s intelligence shines through as he uses his knowledge of history and the evidence in his hands to come to a stunning conclusion that leaves even his friends in the dust. Drake isn’t dumbed down in the film; rather, this moment mirrors the many revelations Drake makes in the games.
Finally, once Drake escapes the house he is in, the camera does something incredibly interesting. The black bars at the top and bottom of the screen shrink away, and the camera takes position just behind Drake. It follows him, always behind him, as he shoots and punches his way out of danger. This is the exact third-person perspective not just used in all the Uncharted games but also in most third-person action games.
So, not only does this short film take all of the unique aspects of Uncharted, but it also, with the cinematography, adopts the style and aesthetic of video games. Everyone loved this film because it was true to the game and true to the medium itself.
Therefore, if companies want to start making more successful, higher quality video game adaptations, they need to take some cues from this fan-made short film. Don’t dilute what makes the games great – capitalize on those elements. Then, maybe, video game movies will start to stand-out amongst the myriad of films in theatres. Then, maybe, will video game TV shows begin to show the world that there is something unique, special, and interesting about video games.
What do you think? Do you like many video game adaptations? Do you have a favorite, a least favorite? Let us know in the comments below!