How To Make A Good Video Game Film – Part Two

After sitting through the awful Assassin’s Creed movie three months ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “How To Make A Good Video Game Film“. It’s probably one of the highest-viewed posts on this site and I had fun writing it and it led to some good conversations with people who disagreed with my points.

I was playing some Minecraft with some friends and I mentioned that there was a Minecraft movie in the works. My friend sighed loudly and said there was no point to making a Minecraft movie because, “…it would take out the entire reason for playing Minecraft, the gameplay.” I understood where he was coming from, (it’s one of the main reasons given for stopping game-to-movie adaptations), some games are inexorably tied to their gameplay.

(SPOILERS AHEAD for Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line) Bioshock is a key example. While it might be fun to see Rapture on the big screen, “Would You Kindly” (the phrase that controls the main character) would lose pretty much all of its awesomeness, since we are not playing. Spec Ops: The Line is another. We decide to enter Dubai, we decide to use the white phosphorous and game chastises us for how we play the game. Those choices wouldn’t be there in a non-interactive medium.

To take away the thing that separates games from all other media makes sense, so we should stop game-movies, right?

HOWEVER…

Before we decide that, let me show you a few things.

The Defence of Video Games – The Last Question

Books have been a main source of adaptation since the inception of filmmaking. The Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Christie; several key books and authors have been successfully transposed from page to screen. Heck, Chuck Palahniuk is on record as saying the film version of Fight Club is better than his book.

So, we can all agree that book to movie’s work. And believe it or not, there are some books to games. A non-interactive media working in an interactive one. Let’s look at some examples.

  1. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

i_have_no_mouth_and_i_must_scream

One of the best science-fiction stories ever written, Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi story is a slim tome, I think it’s around ten pages. And they managed to make it into a sprawling hours-long adventure game. Reading it again and again, I’m surprised they managed to make this short story, one with not a lot of character backstory or traditional narrative, into a game, but they did and they managed to create what is regarded as an actual mature game, when mature meant dealing with themes such as sexual assault and the Holocaust (see the link below), rather than mature meaning an 18 Rating and lots of blood.

Harlan Ellison worked on the script with the creators (showing that getting people who care about the property makes it better) and it while it is technical ‘sequel’ and throws out a couple of the themes, it’s thought to be one of the best point-and-click games ever created.

  1. Metro 2033

metro2033.jpg

I got to read Metro 2033 before I played the game, surprising how it came out in the United Kingdom the same year as the game did. The Metro series, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky tells the story of people living in the Moscow Metro system (partly designed as the Soviet Union’s nuclear bomb shelter) twenty years after a nuclear war.

The game follows the same story of the book fairly closely. Players/readers follow Artyom as he travels from one side to the other trying to save his station while encountering hostile humans and supernatural enemies. In the game we get all the main characters from the book, like Bourbon and Khan as well as some of the minute details such as staring down the Librarians or the mummified lady in the ticket booth. I guess this is what happens when the writer of the book helps write the game.

  1. Rainbow Six

rainbow six.jpg

Much like Metro, I read Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six before I played the original game (which sold 25m copies when it was released). There has only been one R6 novel, and while the newer games have made their own stories, the first game stuck extremely close to the novel, with missions directly lifted from the novel. It’s not even a run-and-gun shooter. Violence is to be feared in Rainbow Six, where one stray bullet can kill you, something which the book emphasised heavily. And again, just like the two cases before, Tom Clancy not only helped develop the game but was one of the founders of the company that made it, Red Storm.

Closing Arguments

So what’s my point? Well, if a book can be turned into a film and be successful (LOTR, Harry Potter etc.) and a book can be turned into a game and be successful (the three above, as well as The Witcher and Parasite Eve) why can’t a game into movie work? A book into game shows a non-interactive media working in interactive, so that dispels the usual video-game-to-film argument that the film would just be gameplay footage.

Heck, most games have equivalent films. Tomb Raider is Indiana JonesAssassin’s Creed is both The Matrix and The Mask Of ZorroRainbow Six is Sicario (not to mention the five other Tom Clancy films, showing that his action can work in all three mediums). This is what I meant in my original article about choosing a correct property, something that would work as a film, not Angry Birds or bloody Tetris. A follow up argument might be, “well why do we need video-game films if other films do it the exact same?” That’s a non-argument. Every slasher film has pretty much the same story, but we watch it to see the new things added to it.

Tetris
Why is this a thing? Do not go see it, I beg all of you. Don’t go even as a joke.

And if we want to look at it the other way, we can. Several games have been turned into books, and not just concept art books or behind-the-scenes. Max Payne 3 had a three-comic series written by Sam Lake and Dan Houser which fits right into the series. Halo, Splinter Cell (a Tom Clancy property) and Assassin’s Creed (which was also based off a novel, Alamut) have all jumped from games into book form and are well-received by their fan-bases. The new Tomb Raider comics had Rhianna Pratchett and Gail Simone (the latter being comic writer of Deadpool, Wonder Woman and Batgirl). That’s an interactive media moving into non-interactive.

And to finish, there is a long-running game series known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which is set around the nuclear site at Chernobyl. And before it was made into a game, it was a book before being turned into a play, another book and even a tabletop role-playing game. The creators managed to move between all those types of media, both interactive and non-interactive. But the main thread I want to bring up was the film that was based on the same text. The film is called Stalker (that’s where the game got the name from). And do you know who made that film? Andrei flippin’ Tarkovsky, one of the premier filmmakers to ever come out of the Soviet Union. That film is ranked 29th at the BFI’s ’50 Greatest Films Of All Time’.

While the game is much more bang-bang-shooty than the film, which is a 163-minute philosophical breakdown, the New York Review of Books still said that, “…much of the players activity is oddly in-keeping with Stalker‘s spirit, sometimes even managing to expand upon it.” And while NYRoB says, “…on the face of it, the games don’t have much that in common with the film,” S.T.A.L.K.E.R. isn’t just defined by it’s shooting. Again, it’s one of those games that it’s gameplay might be boring if it were beamed straight into a theatre, but moving away from that might create a great film. I never said that game-films had to stick to their gameplay, but it’s knowing which gameplay can translate into movie action well.

So, let me put that question to you again. If a book can be turned into a critically and commercially successful film and a book can be turned into a critically and commercially successful game, why can’t a game be turned into a critically and commercially successful film?

Argue with me in comments if you have a reason why it wouldn’t work.

Thoughts On The New Tomb Raider Film

After months of speculation, with names coming and going and the writers and directors being announced, we finally have our next big screen version of Lara Croft; Alicia Vikander. But let’s go back half a year and see the beginning of the third Tomb Raider film and the names that are already connected to it.

Ever since October time in 2015, when the first proper rumours announced of a return to the film screen (MGM bought the rights in 2013 but only in 2015 had they started making moves). The studio, obviously wanting to mimic last year’s Suffragette (a film notable for the main crew being entirely women) started canvassing for female directors. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, Pay It Forward) and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) were all brought up as possible directors for the film. Out of those three I would have gone Bigelow, she would have drawn in crowds.

In the end, a fairly unknown Norwegian director, Roar Uthaug, was brought in to direct around November 2015. I researched his film, The Wave, to see what he could bring to the film. The Wave is a Norwegian disaster film about a giant-tsunami destroying a small town in a Norwegian fjord and has received critical acclaim (it was even submitted for Best Foreign Film Oscar). If Tomb Raider 2013 (what they’re basing the film on) was anything, it was destruction and just from the trailer, The Wave looks like a perfect audition.

Just a side-note, many people managed to confuse The Wave with The 5th Wave, a frankly rubbish YA film starring Chloe-Grace Moretz. They have similar names but they are not the same film. Similar to how people managed to confuse The Room (honestly the worst film ever made) with Room (one of the best films of 2016).

The script-writer has already been brought on as well. Geneva Robertson-Dworet, (Transformers: The Last Knight, Blacklist) is penning the script, following the tradition of female writers of Tomb Raider (Vicky Arnold for TR2 and Rihanna Pratchett for TR 2013). Hopefully Robertson-Dworet will find some inspiration from Pratchett’s 2013 work, but change where appropriate. The “First Kill” arc (where Lara kills her first human and starts to uncontrollably sob, but then five minutes later is mowing down enemies like Rambo) would be a good place to deviate. It would turn into parody if the film went the same way as the games, but it could be a glorious high stab at violence and brutality and what it does to a person if they film it right. And last point about the games, they damn better put some Lara/Sam in there. I, along with a large amount of 2013’s player base did not put so much investment into that relationship for it to not feature in the film.

Lara vs Lara
The new film will focus less of the action girl (right) and more of the survivor plotline (left). Source: imgur.com.

And finally, just a few weeks ago, Alicia Vikander was announced to play Lara Croft. Before her announcement, all bets were on Daisy Ridley. Yes, Ridley was great in Star Wars VII and looked a lot like LC, and with her telling the Hollywood Reporter that she had been in talks to play the part, it looked almost certain that she would be cast. I had my reservations however. Ridley had only been in bit parts before jumping into Star Wars. I thought maybe trying to helm two franchises might be a bit much for one relative newcomer.

Compare her to another Star Wars alumni Harrison Ford, or another actress Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, both of them have held two major franchises before, but in between they did other contained work (Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner for Ford, The House At the End Of The Street and anything David O. Russell for Lawrence). That’s what I think Ridley needs, instead of another blockbuster, she could build a reputation for smaller, indie work. Sadly, deep down I knew my #1 choice, Camilla Luddington (the voice and motion-capture for Lara in the games) would not be chosen due to her less-known status (unless you watch Greys Anatomy). But as soon as Vikander was chosen, I knew it was a good shout.

Alicia Vikander HQ photo
Our next Lara, Alicia Vikander on the left. Render of Lara from Rise Of The Tomb Raider on the right. Source: filmonic.com.

Vikander has only really come onto the mainstream scene recently. Despite performing since 2006, many people haven’t seen her work. I first saw her in 2012’s A Royal Affair, but you may have seen her in one of the six films she was in back in 2015. If you want a good base for her work, I suggest A Royal Affair, Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That trio will show off action, drama and romance and several flourishes of what Vikander may bring to Lara. If you really want to you can go see The Danish Girl but her performance wasn’t anything particularly special. Also, keep an eye out for her in the new Jason Bourne, although how “hands-on” (i.e. breaking people faces) she will be is unknown.

So, we’ve got around a couple of years until we see the third Tomb Raider in cinemas (at the time of writing it was a 2017/18 release date). And with Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and Justin Kurzel’s Assassins Creed coming out later in 2016, are we seeing a tipping point for video games? If anything, Vikander will bring a strong performance and it’s always nice to see Gaming’s First Lady back in the limelight.

P.S. In TR 2013 there was this scene…

TR the descent
Source: kotaku.com.

This is a scene ripped directly from 2001’s horror film The Descent. Just something interesting, I wonder if they put it back in the TR film. Film imitating games imitating film?

 

Banner Picture. Source: Google Images.