The process of adaptation has been used to transform one form of media into another. This act allows a familiar story to gain new context and ways to express itself. From books made into films, to comics made into cartoon series, and board games made into films (Battleship), these adaptations, for better or worse, add new dimensions to the source material. Fort this entry I’m going to focus on video game to film adaptations.
Out of all the different ways that one form of media has been adapted into another, the most unsuccessful has to be that of adapting video games to film. Although some films have seen financial success, the overall critical response has been very negative. To help understand this, I’ve created a chart of the top 10 highest grossing films based on video games. I’ve subsequently added their rotten tomatoes scores for both critics and viewers.
|Rank||Film||Gross||RT Critic Score||RT Viewer Score|
|1.||Lara Croft: Tomb Raider||$131,168,070||24%||60%|
|2||Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time||$90,759,676||35%||71%|
|3||Pokemon: The First Movie||$85,744,662||14%||57%|
|5||Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life||$65,660,196||19%||60%|
|6||Resident Evil: Afterlife||$51,201,453||23%||51%|
|7||Resident Evil: Apocalypse||$51,201,453||21%||70%|
|8||Resident Evil: Extinction||$50,648,679||22%||63%|
|10||Pokemon: The Movie 2000||$43,758,684||15%||53%|
The thing that immediately stands out is the large gap between critics who enjoyed each film and regular viewers who enjoyed each film, with every film receiving less than a 40% approval rating from critics as well as a more than 50% approval rating from regular viewers. The biggest difference in approval was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life which received ratings of 19% and 60% respectively. So why the large gap? For one, you have to consider whom the films target audiences are. It would be safe to assume that the makers of a film in the Resident Evil series are largely relying on fans of the game series to show up to screenings. These fans are going into the film probably aware of the negative receptions that game to film adaptations have received, but are still excited to see many of their favorite characters come to life. On the other hand the film critic, for the most part, is viewing the film at face value, with no prior connection to the game leaving them only with the thought that the film will suck even before the opening credits. Furthermore, if one subscribes to the opinions of critics such as Roger Ebert, that is that games are not art, then they would possess a bias that a non-art form could translate into an art form such as film.
So, despite the majority of viewers saying they enjoyed these films, why do film adaptations of games get such a bad wrap? Well for one, most people don’t submit reviews to sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. I would assume that only those who felt passionately about the film, i.e. fans of the game, would feel motivated to give their critical analysis. As I stated before, having had a higher degree of excitement towards the film due to their connection to the game gives them a bias towards its quality. This suggests to me that the negative perception is largely rooted in the opinions of casual viewers both gamers and non-gamers alike.
Having discussed where the perceptions as to the quality of these films come from, I’d like to briefly look at why these adaptations have been so unsuccessful. When looking at what a game is, one debate involves those who subscribe to ludology and those who subscribe to narratology. Ludists believe that a game is defined by its rules and functions whereas narrists that games are rooted in their story telling. It would make sense that if video games were strong in character depth and narration then it would be easy to translate that into film. However, we rarely see a film even attempt to mimic the source material. For example, the Resident Evil film series uses no plot elements from the games in the creation of its films. You could easily change to names of the characters and the film title and no one would ever know that had any connection to the games. In Prince of Persia, well….they use a white guy. If these games had better narrative structures and characters with depth then perhaps it would give a better framework for film adaptations. However, with the narrative structure being so loose, it should give the filmmaker the freedom to be creative and put their spin on a popular story.
Perhaps though it’s just plain laziness. Knowing that no matter how good or bad your film is there will always be people willing to see it just because of the title is enough for many filmmakers to coast on. Uwe Boll is widely regarded as one of the worst directors of all time having made game to film adaptations such as: Alone in the Dark, Far Cry, and House of the Dead. Having grown tired of the negative backlash towards his films he decided to really dedicate himself to his craft and make a truly great movie. That’s a lie, he actually just challenged a bunch of bloggers to box him and subsequently beat them up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swg4SshYx2E