The Big Question is a semi-regular outing where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. The results…may surprise you.
This week’s big question is…
What Is Your Favorite Video Game to Film Adaptation?
With SONIC THE HEDGEHOG coming out today we turn to the less than great world of video game adaptations. It’s certainly a mixed bag of bad, awful, gleefully dumb, inspired, and just plain bizarre. But from 1993 up to now, there have been multiple attempts at bringing the incredibly lucrative and popular world of video games to theaters (or DTV, if you’re Uwe Boll).
This is just about titles turned films—and not video game adjacent movies (like THE WIZARD, CLOAK & DAGGER, KING OF KONG, TRON, etc.). So out of all of these many cinematic adaptations, which one is your favorite? Could be “so bad it’s good” or simply because it’s weird or because you love the game so much, or even if it stands on its own merits.
Johnny Donaldson, SILENT HILL
French filmmaker Christopher Gans, fresh off his wild fusty-period drama-cum-martial-arts-epic-cum-lou-garoups adventure BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, took Silent Hill—that shuddery nightmare-fuel first person rust-bucket video game franchise—and turned it into the best film that Clive Barker never made.
Working from a script by former Tarantino collaborator Roger Avary (admittedly, the weakest part of the film), Gans took the reins of the game and crafted a two hour fever dream of hellish nightmare images: a maze of twisted, faceless dancing ghoul-nurses; a Lovecraftian tangle of sentient barbed wire tearing apart a congregation-cult of Jesus-freak psychos; a spidery undead corpse; that damned hulk-monster Pyramid Head, the demonic bodybuilder with a giant axe and a cone of metal perched atop his muscular shoulders.
SILENT HILL doesn’t really make a lick of sense—the narrative falls apart if you think about for too long—but it still holds you in its ferric, ochre-colored death grip vision. Gans hurls one spectacularly nasty creature or scenario at you after another, enthralling you with his apocalyptically ugly Hadean universe. It’s damning with faint praise to call something the best horror movie based on a video game, but SILENT HILL is just that.
Jon Abrams, RAMPAGE (2018)
I’ve never been much of a video game guy. Growing up, when other kids were playing games, I’d be playing with action figures or reading books or comics. There were a few exceptions. I spent hours at a time playing Rampage with my cousin Charlie, my soul brother, my best friend. To us, it was a perfect concept: Entire cities are destroyed by a giant gorilla and a giant lizard, and sometimes by a giant wolfman. The gorilla was George. The lizard was Lizzie. The wolfman was Ralph.
In the home version you’re playing as characters who are essentially King Kong and Godzilla, with the goal for each level being to bring down every building in sight. You could team up with a second player. (NES didn’t allow for Ralph.) You were allowed to punch each other, but really the focus was on demolition, not sparring. The army would try to stop you. If they got your health down low enough, you’d turn back into your human form, and you’d have to inch your way off screen in total embarrassment, naked and covering up all your naughty bits.
Who was Lizzie? How did she become a monster? Who was George? Who was Ralph? Why are they so ravenous when they’re ten stories tall, and why are they so bashful when they’re cut down to size? If there are answers, I don’t know them. I didn’t even have the questions back then.
One thing I did love about the video games of the 1980s was the purity of the arbitrary premise. Why is a plumber the only one who can be brought in to fight off an angry ape? Why are ghosts haunting a maze full of glowing energy pellets? What the fuck is Q*Bert? Video games didn’t generally bother to answer these questions, and none of us ever asked that of them.. Movies, particularly in the current era of IP-based blockbusters, don’t work that way.
You can’t make a movie about gigantic were-gorillas and were-Godzillas. Not today. Not in America. You have to populate the lead roles with human people, even if they’re pretty archetypical and stereotypical. The human people have to commit to stop the destruction. We moviegoers all came to see the destruction, but we have to pretend we don’t enjoy it in order to root for the movie’s good guys. And above all else, you have to answer “Why?”
So George becomes a kindly gorilla whose best friend is an ape scientist played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. George is enlarged by evil corporate types in control of science they don’t deserve. Being enlarged causes George to go on a, well, rampage. Lizzie isn’t a kaiju originally, but an alligator exposed to the same pseudo-scientific process. Likewise Ralph is a really big wolf, but never a wolfman.
I can understand with the logical fraction of my mind why these changes had to be made in order to turn this property into an American feature film. I can even concede that these changes to the premise made the film more accessible and thereby more lucrative, though I confess I don’t entirely believe that. I can tell you that I enjoyed the movie well enough, and I can promise you I’m always happy to see Naomie Harris on screen. (She plays a “good” scientist — you know, the kind willing to fix the problems caused by bad ones in movies like this.) I like some other performances in the film, like the ones by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joe Manganiello, and the ever-undersung Malin Akerman as the gender-swapped evil tycoon archetype. Like anybody, I like Dwayne Johnson, who — ironically for a guy in such great shape —is the equivalent of fast-food when it comes to movie stars. The SFX are believable enough and the explosions and the building collapses and the snarling animal scrapfests are excitingly rendered.
But watching the movie RAMPAGE, diverting as I find it to be, in no way compares with the house-quaking fun of playing the 8-bit game with my cousin Charlie. Maybe that’s an impossible task. Maybe things were just simpler then. Again, I’m not totally convinced of that. I believe things are pretty simple these days, maybe to a fault. Just not the ideal permutation of simple.
Mike Vanderbilt, SUPER MARIO BROS. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1993)
Despite the massive success of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. and its countless sequels, adapting their mascot to live-action television (The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!), animation, (The Adventures Of Super Mario Bros. 3) and film (SUPER MARIO BROS.) proved to be a difficult task. Producers, directors, and writers never seemed to be able to get it just right, mainly because they would muck it up with confounding interpretations on the source material (Dinohattan? Dennis Hopper as a Tyrannosaurus Rex?). Despite being poorly received in the summer of 1993, the big screen debut of Mario Mario and Luigi Mario did feature a gangbusters soundtrack that—like the movie—is strange, all over the place, and feels a few years too late.
Divynyls cover ‘70s era Roxy Music, George Clinton & The Goombas offer up a take on the ‘80s hit “Walk The Dinosaur,” and Roxette delivers one of the all time great—if out of time—power pop ballads with the memorable “Almost Unreal” (originally intended for the HOCUS POCUS soundtrack.)
On top of all that the album features a blistering instrumental from guitarist Joe Satriani, the classic rock of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down,” and the New Jack Swing-inspired “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” from English group Us3. Released during the zenith of grunge and gangsta’ rap, the SUPER MARIO BROS. movie soundtrack remains a notable pop culture artifact of a transitional time in pop music when one decade hasn’t quite shaken the style and characteristics of the former.
Justin Yandell, MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)
To me there is still no greater film adaptation of a video game than MORTAL KOMBAT. I will say POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU is a better film, but in terms of a near-perfect translation of what a particular game boils down to, KOMBAT takes the kake. (Just the one, I promise)
If you weren’t a teenager in the ‘90s, you may not have a real understanding of how big a deal Midway’s original Kombat game was to gamers, particularly between the game’s release in 1992 and the movie’s release in 1995. To put its cultural impact at the time into perspective, picture this scenario…
Fortnite releases in 2017, to immediate acclaim. It is the game to play; for a solid year it’s what everyone you know is doing after school. (In Kombat’s case, convenience stores and arcades across America had lines six-to-twelve people deep for hours on end) In 2018, Fortnite II is released and it’s even better, arguably the best the series will ever be. Missing from this Fortnite analogue is the fact Mortal Kombat was released to home platforms at this same time. Mortal Kombat was now a full-time hobby for some people, with fans playing the second one in arcades and the original on their system of choice at home.
Moving along with this Fortnite scenario, Fortnite 3 and the Fortnite movie would be released this year, only three years after the launch of the first game and the absolute peak of its popularity, not a decade later as is so often the case now. The movie looks and feels like the game, it has the same spirit and tone, and the plot is dumb as dirt, but absolutely nobody cares because its essentially the exact plot of the game. The characters all have a preternatural propensity for building walls as high as the Tilting Towers themselves and it’s not explained with anything more than a hand wave, but it’s leaps-and-bounds better than the Smash Brothers film so ill-advised its own lead hated it. It features a theme song that consists entirely of a maniac screaming “FORTNITE” over a really-basic-but-disturbingly-catchy generic House track that you’ll only be able to listen to ironically in six months, and yet somehow despite all of this it works for what it is. Critics are mixed on it because by and large it’s simply not for them. It’s designed top-to-bottom to appeal to the people who will appreciate it the most.
And appreciated MORTAL KOMBAT was. I saw it opening night with an audience packed to standing-room-only and it played unbelievably well. It played so well the Shao Kahn cliffhanger – near-nonsense outside of the context of the game – prompted roaring applause from the crowd. It was an incredibly powerful and uniquely communal experience for the time. Our group ended up sticking around for a second viewing, mostly to watch the audience reaction to a forty-foot bodybuilder in a skull-mask shouting “YOU WEAK, PATHETIC FOOLS, I HAVE COME FOR YOUR SOULS.”
MORTAL KOMBAT wasn’t anything close to perfect. It contains lines that truly only work within the context of the game. It was “watered down” to a PG-13 to appeal to a wider audience. Characters came and went with barely any explanation of who they were or why they were there. Who knows where it would have landed in terms of Tomatoes back then, but it sits today at 47%. Most of MORTAL KOMBAT’s target audience likely had no idea what critics, plural, had to say about it outside of pull-quotes because that would have required either going to the library to read several newspapers or sitting in front of a television at several specific times throughout the weekend. In my experience at multiple schools there were a small number of us at any given middle/high school and most of us were in drama and we all sat at the same lunch tables. At multiple schools in multiple states, never did I see clans of warring youths destroying each others’ lives with reckless, malicious abandon because some people thought Goro looked like a Muppet that had escaped a witch’s oven.
There’s a scene in BILLY MADISON where Billy (Adam Sandler) has a brief disagreement with a kid over which game is the “best game ever,” Donkey Kong or Mortal Kombat. There is no real discussion over the merits of either and it quickly devolves into each telling the other their game of choice “sucks.” Beyond this being a perfect encapsulation of Film Twitter today, it was a scene that rang true in 1995. Anyone who played video games had participated in some variation of that conversation but then it was over and nobody ever brought it up again. Never did I encounter clans of warring youths destroying each others’ lives with reckless, malicious abandon because some of them thought Goro looked like a Muppet that had escaped a witch’s oven. In retrospect, I think this never happened because those of us really into film, comic books and video games were truly few in those days and very lucky to find each other at all.
It’s because of MORTAL KOMBAT’s uncanny ability to play the ludicrous material 95% straight, it’s admirable devotion to the source material and its unique-for-the-time communal fan experience that I think MORTAL KOMBAT is the best video game to film adaptation of all time.
And if you think it sucks, then you know something—you suck.
Jay Alary, RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
I’m not a video-game enthusiast. While I have very pleasant memories playing Super Mario Bros., Rygar, Contra, and other games on the NES (and a not-so-pleasant memory of throwing my controller in disgust when playing Mega Man), I never bought any future gaming consoles and can count on one hand how many times I was cajoled into playing video games in the post-NES era (I still have my NES console and cartridges in storage). Consequently, I haven’t seen many video games adapted to film, but the one that I did see and enjoyed somewhat was RESIDENT EVIL.
Watching Milla Jovovich eradicate zombies in a silky red cocktail dress and knee-high boots is a silly spectacle admittedly, but I enjoyed it. In 2002, zombies hadn’t reached saturation point yet, so I was intrigued to see a film based on a zombie-themed video game (I was only mildly interested in seeing the much-decried SUPER MARIO BROS. live-action adaptation, courtesy of Dennis Hopper, but, alas, I never got around to it).
Viewing Jovovich and a post-GIRLFIGHT Michelle Rodriguez battle zombies in the hilariously-named Raccoon City and a pre-Arrow Colin Salmon being laser-sliced into symmetrical chunks of human flesh (while very-dated electronic music blares not-so-subtly in the background) are the only things I can remember clearly, but it was dumb fun. Paul W. S. Anderson made quite the impression on me with EVENT HORIZON, but his subsequent films never reached the promise of that dark cosmic delight (I still haven’t seen any of the RESIDENT EVIL sequels—how many are there?). One could certainly do far worse than watch RESIDENT EVIL under the influence of cannabis or alcohol. Do they still make Resident Evil video games? Yeah, I’m a clueless Gen Xer.
Brett Gallman, STREET FIGHTER (1994)
After video games surged in popularity during the ’80s, it was a given that Hollywood would eventually exploit them. Sure enough, a wave of nonsense arrived during the early ’90s, often taking the form of bewildering adaptations that struggled to retain the essence of the games. And, to be fair, it’s not as if these games gave filmmakers much to work with in terms of story. Just how do you stretch the likes of SUPER MARIO BROS. and DOUBLE DRAGON—games in which a plumber stomps on turtles and assorted evil creatures and a pair of brothers beat up punks on the street, respectively—into feature length movies? Hollywood certainly didn’t provide faithful answers; however, with STREET FIGHTER—a film based on a game whose title tells you all you need to know—it must be said that Universal at least crafted a deliriously entertaining answer.
While nobody of sound—or possibly even unsound—mind would argue that this adaptation is really all that recognizable as STREET FIGHTER, it’s a perfect confluence of Hollywood’s preoccupation with martial arts and pre-existing IPs. You have Jean-Claude Van Damme at the height of his powers trying to work his way through a nonsense plot with only his fists and ham-fisted one-liners at his disposal. You have Raul Julia oozing charisma as M. Bison, a warlord who considers genocide just an average Tuesday. You have Miguel A. Núñez Jr. committing very hard to the bit as Dee Jay, who apparently gave up a job at Microsoft to become a henchman to the wannabe dictator.
With an incredible cast that further boasts the likes of Kylie Minogue, Wes Studi, and Ming-Na Wen, STREET FIGHTER feels like it should be punching well above its weight. In the conventional sense, it does not since Stephen De Souza’s script struggles with all of the unwieldy, tangled threads needed to turn a video game about a martial arts tournament into a movie about a genocidal maniac’s attempt to take over the world via genetic engineering. But in the unconventional sense, STREET FIGHTER kicks a lot of ass because the action is plentiful, and its general spirit is just infectious as hell. It’s too charming to completely dismiss—it might be ill-advised, but it’s earnestly ill-advised, full of unforgettable dialogue and outlandish performances that perfectly capture the energy of the ’90s Hollywood martial arts scene.
I watched this movie an unhealthy number of times on video as a kid, so much so that I essentially took a 20-year break from watching it until a pair of students in my film class became obsessed with it last year. When they hijacked my classroom projector during my free period to watch STREET FIGHTER on VHS on two separate occasions, I couldn’t help but submit to the loving grip of the Pax Bisonica all over again. I might also own more STREET FIGHTER trading cards than any grown man should now, but that’s a story for another time.
What about you, gentle reader?
What is YOUR favorite video game to film adaptation?
Please let us know in the comments below!
Tags: Bob Hoskins, Brad Peyton, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christophe Gans, Christopher Lambert, Colin Salmon, Dennis Hopper, Divynyls, Dwayne Johnson, jean claude van damme, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joe Manganiello, John Leguizamo, Laurie Holden, Linden Ashby, Malin Akerman, Michelle Rodriguez, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Milla Jovovich, Ming-Na Wen, Mortal Kombat, Naomie Harris, Nintendo, Paul W.S Anderson, Playstation, Queen, Radha Mitchell, Rampage, Raul Julia, Resident Evil, Robin Shou, Roger Avary, Roxette, Samantha Mathis, sean bean, Sega Genesis, Silent Hill, Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, Talisa Soto, Umbrella Corporation, US3, video game, Wes Studi, XBox