By Jay Sizemore
With Need for Speed — a shameless attempt at creating The Fast and the Furious-lite (a movie series that I already find repulsive enough) — opening to a less than stellar weekend box office, I feel like this is a great time to remind people why video game adaptations to film are always best avoided, though I know no one will listen to me.
People who play video games are a niche market, and they are often extremely loyal to the game franchise once it is established, playing sequel after sequel of the same game titles because they get attached to the characters they play as. Obviously, the film industry sees this fan loyalty as an ideal market for assimilation by cross-merchandising into their own media production. But there is a problem with this tactic, because when the time comes for the adaptation to take place, the writers inevitably realise that they have very little to work with.
This is due to the fact that video games are generally not about character development and story. There usually is a story, but it is a very thin framework upon which elements of action are meant to engage a player from point A to point B. There is a goal, and the action must lead to that goal. The characters and the story are all essentially ornamental to the actual play of the game. Even though some character brands become popular, this is mostly due to subjective projection of the audience self onto the character of the game, because the audience generally plays the game as that character, with whatever thin backstory the creators decide to throw in. This formula of creation is almost the opposite of how a movie is developed. Therefore, when adapting a game to a movie, most of the story and character details have to be invented by the writers. This leads to audiences feeling like the source material has been corrupted because they have filled in the gaps of story and character with their own projections, and thus they will feel disappointed in the outcome, even though in actuality the elements the audience feel were changed barely existed in the first place.
Movie adaptations of video games generally do not draw top talent either, which is an obvious detriment to their success. Although some big name actors have played in a couple of these duds, one actor cannot polish a turd into something other than a turd, a fact proven long before video games were even invented. Angelina Jolie may have played Lara Croft, but the Tomb Raider films were still absurdly atrocious. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson may have starred in DOOM, but, well, we know how that turned out. From Super Mario Bros. to Resident Evil (I lost count, how many of these vomit piles have been produced already?), the disappointment just keeps on coming.
Why do video gamers keep falling for it? Is it the illusion of hope that a well-edited trailer can produce? Or are people just aching for entertainment so bad that they’ll happily spend their money on anything, and watch anything pushed through a glowing screen (Duck Dynasty anyone?). I’m not sure. The somewhat successful Resident Evil series is the most baffling to me, as that series is a complete perversion of a truly great idea into something as vapid and soulless and plastic as cinema can possibly get. I think it simply proves that teenagers and young adults LOVE Milla Jovovich (see also the success of The Fifth Element). Please, refer again to the second sentence of the previous paragraph. I don’t know how movies like these keep getting made, but I can attest to one fact with the utmost certainty: as long as audiences are dumb enough to make such tripe a profitable venture, film studios will continue to bet on it.
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for the magazine.