Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Are Video Game Movies About to Have Their Day?

A Still from Warcraft
Let's face it, if you're both a gamer and a movie fan, you hate pretty much any movie that's been made of a video game.  When the pinnacles of the game-to-film translation are Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Prince of Persia with Jake Gyllenhaal, you can get where I'm coming from.  For some odd reason, Hollywood has just never been able to take what's so great about playing these games on our couches and adapt that into major cinematic spectacle.  This is a shame, because a lot of games are almost tailor made for film, what with their vast stories and franchise potential already built in.  However, it feels like there might be a change just on the horizon with video game companies like Sony, Blizzard, and Ubisoft, starting to take a very active approach to making film franchises out of some of their most storied video games.  With the likes of Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Splinter Cell, and Uncharted, all slated to come out over the course of the next two to three years, things very well could be changing.

In a lot of ways, one of the main reasons I feel like the game industry, and gamers themselves, have always wanted movies made of their favorite video games, is to somewhat legitimize their place as a viable form of entertainment and storytelling.  However, I believe this current surge is more of a response of filmmakers who love games and who are now in a position of Hollywood power to make films out of games that they've always wanted to see.

I'll be perfectly honest, given the track record of most video game movies, I am always skeptical whenever I see a new one announced, and I think a large reason for that is so many past video game movies have tried to make a story out of a game that is not known for storytelling.  Need For Speed is not a story-driven game, nor is Street Fighter or the like, but a lot of these upcoming video game movies are based on story-driven games.  This has me a lot less skeptical about a lot of the upcoming video game movies.  Of course the biggest reason I am optimistic is the level of talent behind most of the video game movies coming out over the next few years.  The talent level is just so huge, that I really think this may be the time of the video game movie.  Take what game company, Ubisoft, is doing for example.

Currently, Ubisoft is playing Hollywood very well right now with both Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell.  For both of these franchises, they tapped big up-and-coming stars for the films (Michael Fassbender for Assassin's Creed and Tom Hardy for Splinter Cell), and hired highly respected directors to direct them (Justin Kurzel and Doug Liman, respectively).  Fassbender and Hardy are two of the best actors under forty currently working in the film industry, and Kurzel is a fast-rising star in the directing world having recently teamed with Fassbender on a cinematic adaptation of Macbeth that wowed critics at the super-prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May (getting some Oscar buzz along the way).  Then there is Liman, who has been one of the action movie genre's greatest directors for over a decade now, with a resume that includes everything from The Bourne Identity to Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow.  These are some big, highly respected names and they lend these films a level of credibility that most other video game movies have never had, which has allowed these movies to garner real blockbuster-sized budgets.

Michael Fassbender in Assassin's Creed

Too often in the past, video game movies were always done on the cheap because studios feared whether or not they'd be successful, but it really feels like that with both Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, the studios are going all in.  The same can be said for Warcraft.  Director Duncan Jones (Moon and Source Code) has been working on this adaptation of the popular strategy game for almost five years and it's finally coming out June 10, 2016.  The project is utilizing cutting edge motion capture performances from actors portraying orcs interacting with humans to create a type of spectacle video game movies have never delivered before.  As a matter of fact, studio Universal, and production company Legendary, are basically hedging all of their bets on Warcraft next Summer.  This is their big Summer blockbuster for next year and they are not ashamed of it.  While I have yet to see a trailer or anything, all I've heard from outlets that saw stuff at Comic Con a year or so back are raves, and the few pictures I've seen of the film look as good as anything we're seeing from the new Star Wars movie.

So are we on the eve of a video game movie renaissance?  It's still too early to call, but things are shaping up nicely.  Big name filmmakers from Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott have expressed interest in video game movies in the past few years, with Spielberg himself directing a movie heavily inspired by video games based off the bestselling book, Ready Player One, so anything is possible.  Of course, what it will really take for this to be a full-blown renaissance is for more than one of these movies to actually be successful at the box office, and not just with a niche crowd.  These movies need to find success with people who have never even heard of these video games for them to break through the glass ceiling.  However, if you are a gamer and you're hoping that these movies will legitimize your love for video games to the rest of the world, don't put so much pressure on yourself or these movies.  Just like comic book movies, even if video game movies get to a point of profitability and quality that we've yet to ever see before, there will be the stinkers as well as the really awesome, super good ones.  So time will tell, but we wont have to wait long.  With both Warcraft and Assassin's Creed hitting theaters in 2016, we will know sooner rather than later if a renaissance has begun.

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