The bar isn’t all that high
Mortal Kombat, the popular 90s video game that caused so much controversy decades back, just dropped a new movie trailer recently. Here’s why it’s a big deal to me:
1. This is a video game straight from my childhood, the one we all had to sneak around to play because it was so violent. The content was so brutal that adults would use it as a threat to kids like me “Alam mo may bata na hinuli ng guard sa Quezon City? Hinuli kasi nilalaro niya yung game mo. Yung Kombat Kombat na yan. (Do you know a kid got arrested in Quezon City? Caught because he was playing your game, that Mortal Kombat.)”
Yes, this happened to me, so you can understand the impact that may have had.
2. We are in a time when technology has caught up to the intention. While the 1995 version was good fun (cue the Mortal Kombat theme song!), the special effects don’t hold up to today’s standards as much as we’d like. Today though, CGI has gotten so much better that mistaking CG for live-action is as common as a hiccup.
3. Video game movies are far from the all-time best movies list but for certain adaptations, I still like seeing the game come alive in a different format and maybe surpass my expectations.
For all the opportunity it possesses not too much has come from the genre. Why is that? I pin it down to the medium.
Videogame vs. movie
This is where it gets weird but, before all else, let me say that I want to focus on two things. There are countless differences, but today, I’ll zoom in on a couple that strike me.
Single player video games are interactive; you push plots forward as the player through the buttons on your controller. You solve puzzles on the screen yourself. It falls to you to beat the final boss to finish the game—the list goes on. The feeling you get when you put your controller down to watch the cinematic ending is totally different from watching a character on screen play it out on their own. Different thrills and a very different sense of payoff.
Games, in my opinion, have largely sat in a world of fantasy. It’s only recently that we’ve started getting less fantastic and more plot-driven video games (I’m looking at you The Last of Us and Uncharted!). The classics that have been translated into movies have been from worlds and plots of weird origins: a plumber who eats size-boosting mushrooms and whose goal is to rescue a princess, pocketing monsters that you can train to fight in gyms; my list is a bit exaggerated and, while there are more down to Earth storylines, you get the point. These aren’t exactly the best plots and visuals to translate on to the big screen, so when the shift does happen, as with books to movies, something is bound to change in the process. Thus far, the adaptations have been far from the best movies.
Video game movies that crushed my hopes
These two represent the biggest disappointments to me because these were some of the best video games I had played, naturally some things that are so excellent come with strings of expectation even when you fight the hardest to keep them low.
Boy, was I fan of the video game. The survival horror game genre could not be better represented by the OG of the category. From the possible scares at every turn (zombies, mutated dogs, hunters, you name it!) to slow-paced music sucking you into an eerie abandoned mansion to some of the most stressful boss fights of its time, Resident Evil was an excellent game. The series mostly got better with each new sequel. But when Hollywood decided to go all-out action creating a new character in the process with Mila Jovovich, it felt like they missed the mark, big time.
An age-old conflict between assassins and templars that had you playing an assassin, sneaking, evolving, discovering his ancestry through pseudo-time travel—this game broke new ground and, like Resident Evil, seemed to get better and bigger with each sequel. Cue Hollywood capitalizing on it by bringing in the likes of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons. Big name actors and the technology able to actually backup the video games visuals; sounds good, right? What was supposed to be a category game changer was a movie in limbo. The setting provided for lots of action, which was expected and necessary, but even that was lackluster. That wasn’t the worst of it. The movie and storyline itself were such a mess that even casual moviegoers were critical of the film, and I’m putting it very nicely.
The bar isn’t high, and that’s okay
This genre has yet to produce an all hailed film, but as someone who has invested many a day into video games, I really hope that things change. Part of the experience of playing a video game is being able to talk to the next guy about it. But because not everyone plays video games, even communicating a story to a non-gamer becomes an uphill battle. Bridging video games and movies the way books and movies have been bridged would be like finding a missing link—one that tells a larger audience how awesome the source material is without having gone through the countless hours of gaming conquest.
There have been good attempts like Sonic The Hedgehog, Detective Pikachu and even the original Mortal Kombat movie from 1995. They weren’t bad, but we need something that isn’t “not bad for a video game movie;” we need a “holy hell, that was a freaking wow!” Though the series format is off to a great start with The Witcher. The movie industry has had a head start of several years, so the end question becomes, when can we expect that one breakthrough of a video game turned movie?
Damn soon, I hope. Damn soon.
Words Yosu De Erquiaga
Art Alexandra Lara