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How To Not Make A Video Game Movie Adaptation

Posted on August 27, 2011 AT 10:03am

When a recent discussion cropped up on video game adaptation movies, it was certainly no shock to find that I hated every single one that’s been released. “Postal“, “House Of The Dead“, “Alone In The Dark“, “Silent Hill“, “DOOM“, “Resident Evil“, the list goes on.

   When I go over these movies as adaptations of games that have been integral parts of my childhood, I can’t help but feel annoyed and a bit confused. It’s just because they fail to capture any of the magic and mystery of the franchises they portray. Essentially, you’re taking an interactive medium (video game) and transcribing it to a very passive medium (movie). The person watching the movie is no longer “driving the story”, but watching it unfold out of their hands.

   So the main issue with making an adaptation of a video game is being able to keep the audience interested while taking away their interaction with the product. This is where every game movie has failed. Sure, we had moments in these movies that reminded us of the games, but ultimately too much was either changed, or deleted and replaced with something that made no sense.

   In DOOM they created an “FPS Sequence” in which the protagonist goes around slaughtering the “Demons” (see: bio-engineered monsters) in a First Person perspective, but it was a short sequence, and it didn’t make up for the rest of the movie which missed the point of the series entirely. And the only movie to come close to the series it portrays, Silent Hill, got so much of the history of the town wrong that it was almost unbearable to watch. Which brings up the second issue with making an adaptation: Canon. For this point I will discuss and dissect the Silent Hill movie.

   See, the Silent Hill town is supposed to be based in New England. Most research places the town somewhere close to Maine. So using Cetronia, PA as the inspiration and location of the movie’s Silent Hill made no sense. Furthering that, Silent Hill was renowned for two effects: Fog and snow. When Harry Mason (Silent Hill 1) arrives in Silent Hill, the town is enveloped in fog and snow. Never, NEVER in the series was there ash or soot. The change is so deeply unsettling because it is trivial and un-necessary. Not only that, but it changes something iconic about the location. Something that’s been essentially hammered in by every game in the series.

   Furthering that, the history of Silent Hill is altered so much that it becomes painful to watch. The town is NOT evacuated over a fire. It was the site of a cult dating back centuries. The cult itself is borne from superstition and legend from Native tribes that used to populate the region in which the town is located.

   The game wasn’t anti-religion, or anti-Christianity like the movie tended to portray. It was a psychological horror with extreme occult overtones. It played heavily on the concepts of being alone, lost in an unfamiliar town, battling the psyche of a tortured child. It also revolved around the bond between a man and his adopter daughter, as well as the complexities of the child-mother relationship. It dealt with child abuse as well as occult ritual and superstition.

   Worse still was that the movie threw in fan servicing, and added in plot elements that added nothing to the story or characters. Firstly, Pyramid Head (re-named Red Pyramid in the movie; WHY?!). Pyramid Head was the main antagonist of Silent Hill 2. The role of Pyramid Head in the game was meant to be shrouded in mystery until you reached about midway of the game. From there, Pyramid Head remains an elusive and intimidating force that only on rare occasion seeks to physically harm James Sunderland, the protagonist.

   In the movie, Pyramid Head’s role is altered from being an element of psychological torment to simply a butcher. A splatter character who’s only purpose is to make the fans of the series dribble and wet their pants. But his presence in the movie is not only non-canon, but un-necessary; doing nothing to actually drive the plot forward. His presence and actions in the movie feel more like schlock horror than psychological horror–a deep departure from the original material.

   Secondly, the raping of Alessa in the movie. Through a flash-back sequence, Alessa herself reveals that she was raped as a child by the school janitor. Why? Who cares?* It never added anything to the character of Alessa in the movie, nor did it fit in with the story canon. Again it felt added in for extra “shock value”;something that’s been prominent in a lot of modern horror.

   Granted, rape DOES occur in Silent Hill 2 (Pyramid Head again), but the point of the rape scene in Silent Hill 2 was relevant to the story. Particularly because the main motif of Silent Hill 2 was both sexual deviancy and sexual repression/frustration. It was deeply relevant to the protagonist, which is what made the scene not only pivotal to the story, but a thousand times more unsettling. It had a point, and man did it stick in the minds of gamers.

   This is becoming a tl;dr kind of piece, but the point I’m trying to drive at is that when you write a script for any kind of game or movie, it’s important to take all the scenes and events into consideration. Everything you write has to be relevant to the story as a whole in some way. Not only that, but when you’re writing an adaptation of a video game into a movie, you have to really understand the subject material at hand.

   It’s not a requirement to keep every little nuance intact, nor do you have to create a shot-for-shot remake of the material, but when you alter key components that are integral to the story, setting, characters, or plot, you’re ignoring pre-existing material and creating something completely different to what you’re “adapting”. Essentially, call it something else then.

   Which brings me to the Resident Evil series. The reason why I say “call it something else then” is  because if you look at the Resident Evil movies, they completely missed the point of the original games. Being fair, Resident Evil started becoming an action/horror title somewhere around Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. However, the first two movies were combining Resident Evils 1 and 2 into one. So the whole concept of centering the story around some clone megasoldier (Alice) was deeply confusing. This is because the series (at that point) was about bio-weapons created through the use of a “virus”.

   Furthermore, why was a survival horror game being turned into an action horror movie? And even more than that, the story and creation of the various B.O.W’s (Bio Organic Weapons) is completely inaccurate to the game canon. Particularly the Nemesis and Tyrants.

   Why does this all matter? Because the market for video game movies is very weak. It’s constantly under criticism, and rightfully so. The majority–if not all–of game adaptation movies have been pandering to everyone, rather than treating their subject material with understanding and respect. Worst of all is that the way in which the material is handled (see: DOOM) literally treats the audience as stupid. At least that’s the feeling I get from most of these movies.

   The best example of this would be anything produced/directed by Uwe Boll. When the original script writers for Alone in the Darkgave him their ideas, they said, “He wanted us to add ‘big gun battles’ and ‘car chases.’” Adding to that, was the infamous “Boll e-mails” such as,

Edward is not mysterious and does business as usual – which destroys his entire heroism – his entire reputation built up by the game, would be DESTROYED by this film. Edward has to be mysterious like in THE CROW and BLADE, he has to have special abilities and weapons and no normal BACKSTORY!!!

What isn’t much use are grave things: the dialogue, Edward’s Character and the story per se. IT IS GOOD THAT H IS NOT A SUPERNATURAL SUPERHERO – BUT HE CANNOT BE ALSO TOO NORMAL – HE IS A LONELY HERO.

You don’t have big screenplay experience and after my bad experience on House Of Dead, I need a Top Script now. Your first script wasn’t that. I want to be scared, intelligent, not boring, packed and surprising at the end.

   This, this is why these movies fail. Because (some) directors completely misunderstand what makes the game good, what makes the story good, what even makes a movie good. Some try to dumb down the material, and then compress it all into a deeply insulting mess of visual garbage. Others miss the point of the series and transfer it from one genre to another, causing confusion.

   Many gamers and movie goers feel that it’s impossible to properly make a video game adaptation movie, and I have to completely disagree. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s that the people who are getting the contracts, getting the sold scripts? They don’t know what they’re doing/working with.

   It’s completely possible to adapt an interactive medium into a sedentary one, but you have to apply complexities and subtleties to compensate for everything you intend to sacrifice. You must adhere to the pre-existing canon and material, and learn how to apply them to the new medium in a way that neither detracts from the original, nor your own style.

   And I still have yet to hear a proper excuse as to how anyone could muck up a story as easy as the one in DOOM. Portal to Hell, can’t miss it.


-Scott Christian

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