Videogames & Movies: Overcoming the adaptation

Last month we were graced with the return of Ratchet & Clank. A game, but also a movie. Was the game based on the movie or the movie based on the game? The lines are blurry there but there was consensus among the public and the critics in one thing. The game was way better than the movie.
While the game managed to have the best initial sales of the entire series and hold a metacritic score of 86, the movie was a commercial failure and its metacritic score sits at 29 as of today.
Does that surprise me? Not really, and on this article I’ll explain my opinion why.

I’ll go straight to the point on this matter. I think the very concept of making a movie based on a game is simply a mistake. No matter how good your intentions are, even if you take the best actors and take your time making a good script that reflects properly the original material. You can’t make a movie that’s better than its videogame counterpart. Unless the videogame wasn’t that good to begin with, but which studio would like to fund movie out of an unsuccesful game? Anyway, I digress.

We’ve reached a point when hollywood studios seem to have ran out of ideas. But It’s not because they don’t have skillful writters, it’s just that making blockbusters is expensive and executives are just too coward to wager that much money on a formula that hasn’t been proven succesful on its own. That’s why all big movies nowadays are either sequels or properties from another medium like books, comics and also videogames.
But there’s one difference between making a comic book based movie or a videogame one. And that reason is why the whole concept of making a movie based on a videogame falls apart on its own.

When you make a movie based on a book, for example. There’s an added value to the product. Films as a medium add a new layer to the original material, visually and also auditory. Now you aren’t restricted with how can you describe a scene but you can show it in the flashiest way your budget allows. Action can be more explicit, emotional scenes can feel more touching with a proper soundtrack… With the proper skill and effort, you can make a movie better than its paper-based original.
Now moving to the videogame to movie conversion. What does the movie medium add to a videogame? Nothing, on the contrary, it substracts one layer of depth that videogames have and movies can’t reflect, the gameplay.
It’s easy to see the benefits of gameplay. What is it more fun? Watching the protagonist jump from jeep to jeep while gunning down baddies with an AK or doing it yourself by playing uncharted 2? Being able to experience the action for yourself will always be more fulfilling than just watching Matt Damon do it in front of a camera.
And the advantages of the videogame medium doesn’t only apply for the instant fun from the action. In games you’re put inside the shoes of a certain character. You become him and so your bond with him grows way stronger than if you were just watching someone else think and move on his own. That has the potentional to make emotional scenes hit you way stronger. Also, unlike in a film, a three hour experience won’t ever be considered too long. A 10 hour campaign could be considered standard but some games can make you play over a hundred hours. That’s a lot of time for the player to bond with the characters. Now ask me why I cried at the ending of Nier.

There was a time when making a movie adaptation of a videogame wasn’t completely pointless. In the past videogames couldn’t reach the level of fidelity needed to convey emotions as they can now and stories anyway weren’t as thoughtful or even fleshed-out most of the time. Making a movie adaptation back in the 90’s, for example,could have added something extra that games from that time didn’t have. Having live action characters instead of simplistic sprites developing an enriched version of the game’s plot would have been an improvement. The problem though was that videogames back then weren’t respected by either the mainstream public nor the studios making the movies so you got travesties like the Super Mario movie which straight-up laughs on its original material.

Now, with the technology behind the AAA games of today. With budgets that match and surpass hollywood productions. Great scripts full of interesting dialogs. Famous actors hired for motion capture and voice work. Great musicians composing their soundtracks… What can a movie do to improve on a videogame masterpiece as the last of us? In my opinion, nothing.
A videogame isn’t restricted to be a 2 hour thing which you can only see and hear. Don’t get me wrong, movies can be (and are) a beautiful thing. There are so many masterpieces out there that everyone should go and see and get enriched by it. Gaming by comparison is a new born baby that hasn’t done much other than taken a few steps but ,as a medium, gaming has proven to have the potential to be not as good but actually better than film. In my opinion, the effort spent making a movie adaptation that could pretty much just be used for developing a sequel or simply a brand new game, it’s just wasting that potential.

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