Video game movies have the same kind of reputation right now that comic book movies did. There is no way to make a good one! Lo and behold, you sure can make a good- even great- comic book movie! This summer, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed movies.
The jury is still out on Assassin’s Creed, but the early reports on Warcraft is… not good. And I am not even a little optimistic about Assassin’s Creed, but more on that in a second.
So what does it take to make a good video game movie?
Make it a good movie. Video games can tell very cool interactive, immersive stories. BioShock, Fallout, and so many others take you and immerse you in your story, via first-person narrative. It’s a great way to tell a story. Movies are also a great way to tell a story, but different. Embrace those differences rather than just trying to follow a story from the video games. That’s what playing the game is for. If you just try to give viewers the same experience as playing the game, it’s doomed from the start. While there are things you can do with a video game that you can’t with a movie, there are things you can do with a movie that you can’t in a game. Do those things.
Do something different. Not just with the way the story is presented, but different than the game itself. Like a lot of early comic book movies, video game movies try to stuff it full of characters and locations from the games. Hey, you loved [character X], right? Here they are on the big screen! Whoop-dee-do. Add some originality! Keep the flavor, but give people an experience that playing the game for two hours won’t.
Don’t take it too seriously. Even if it is a serious story, have fun with it. Do you see how much fun Marvel has in the movies? It’s what makes them great. Think about Hawkeye’s crack in Age of Ultron about having a bow and arrow. It has fun, even in the climax of the film. And it elevates it, since pretty much everyone was underwhelmed with it. So don’t make another dour CGI spectacle. Relax, tell a good story and have fun.
Focus on What Works: Going back to the comic book movie thing, what made them work? There were adaptions (see: Snyder, Zach) that are very, super true to the source material, but suck. Why? Total lack of depth and subtext. Sure, they are shot-for-panel recreations of a comic book, but a good movie that does not make. Video games like BioShock and Mass Effect (two of the best games out there) are deep and say a lot more than what is right in front of you. Borderlands is goofy insanity. Capture the essence of what makes a game good, as Marvel has done with the MCU, instead of just cloning the game.
And if you need any help with this, Hollywood, my fees are very modest.