After a week-long nostalgic journey blogging about video games that became films, I wanted to wrap it all up with a bit of a summary post. In case you missed any of the previous blogs you’ll be able to find them linked below, but in brief – I started in the 1990’s and the first Hollywood video game to film which was “Super Mario Bros” in 1993, and I wrapped things up with “Sonic the Hedgehog” for 2020.
In retrospect of the week that was, it was nice to start and end with the titular characters that led the console wars of the 1990’s, namely Nintendo’s Mario, and Sega’s Sonic. I am just amazed that 27 years elapsed between the two having their own film – through no fault of their own of course.
It is cards on the table time, I am currently 40 years old, and when “Super Mario Bros” came out in 1993 I was merely a whippersnapper at 13 years. I was old enough to enjoy the fun of cinema and movies, but probably not old enough to handle some of the intricacies. The younger me loved the idea of video games being made into films, it was a way of extended the joy I gained from watching pixelated avatars do my bidding. I was already a fan of video games having grown up in the golden age of arcade machines, home computing, and consoles. Getting to see the biggest and best of the electronic adventure pan out on big screen was amazing beyond comprehension. If I compare that joy to the older me, the 40-year-old me – I am less enthusiastic about the potential of video games being made into film, but why is that? Is it just because I am old and crabby? Is it because the joy and excitement of things I have enjoyed in other formats is gone? Is it because something happened along the way that tarnished the concept of video games to films? Lots of questions I am afraid, but not final answers.
In one way it is probably fair to say that the younger me was living in the moment and excited for new platforms and mediums to enjoy the games worlds and characters I loved so much. Everything was still new and developing and it was exciting. In comparison, the best of the video game industry, or at least the most innovative concepts from the industry may have already happened. Nowadays my rose-tinted outlook is probably fueled by a massive does of nostalgia. I am probably less enthusiastic about the next potential video game to film because subconsciously I do not want something that still holds a special happy place in my heart, to be tampered with and bastardized. This may even be a feeling that has been developing over time, since the very first Hollywood game to film of “Super Mario Bros” in 1993.
When I look back on “Super Mario Bros” by today’s standards it is a bit of a mess. The production crew did not enjoy it; the acting cast hated it; and many reviewers loathed it too. As a child I sort of liked it, not because it accurate to the source material, because it was fun and different. I was not blown away by it because even as a 13-year-old I felt that something was missing – but to expect a side-scrolling film where Bob Hoskins jumped on turtles and ate giant mushrooms is probably beyond possibilities. The film had kind of tarnished the game a little in the way that it handled itself. The truth of it is that Nintendo could have lost a lot of fans but in the entertainment system’s they made and the titular plumber that they had invested in. They took a risk, it failed, and they did not take another risk till “Detective Pikachu” in 2017 –24 years later!! That fact aside though, things went downhill for a while before it started getting better with video games to films. With games born from arcade machines, films of “Double Dragon” and “Street Fighter” were launched in 1994 – remembered for being neon and camp, and unfortunately flat and shallow too. Then the “Mortal Kombat” films of 1995 and 1997, again, not looked back upon with a massive amount of love. Some may argue that “Street Fighter” or “Mortal Kombat” at least were decent, but like Mario they did not stick to the source material very well, and like Mario as well, it tried too hard to make something out of nothing. Giving a credible ‘Hollywood’ story to essentially flat concepts. Mario had more to work with in terms of a story than the fighter games did, after all they were just about two characters on screen that had to kick the cack out of each other. It was no surprise then that somebody wisely decided that the next generation of video game to films should be something with more depth, step forward 1999’s “Wing Commander”, a film that not many people have seen, and fewer people admit to seeing. Unfortunately, this fell into the trying to hard category too – it felt more like a film that used concepts from the game it was based upon, using names and features too – but ultimately it just happened to be a film that by coincidence shared some similarities rather than paying homage to the game that spawned the concept. So, coming up to the end of the millennium, gamers and film fans had been given a taste for what could be a possibility – but it had not been brilliant, and it did not yet feel successful.
Crossing over the Y2K maker and things were about to look different. The console wars may have started out with 2 big players; Sega and Nintendo – but others had been getting in on the act. Titles that were born in arcade machines had managed to get film titles, as had a PC/ home computer-based title with “Wing Commander”.
1993 – 2006 saw a massive leap in consumer technology with the 5th generation of gaming. This brought with it boosted capabilities for computers and consoles (allowing 32-bit, 64-bit, and 3D), it also allowed CD-ROMS be used instead of just cartridges, and additionally, graphical output capabilities were ramped up too. In short, more powerful gaming machines that were cheaper; with a media for games that could be mass produce easily and could hold more information; which, when played, looked beautifully rich, colourful, exciting, and more slightly more realistic. Although not going with CD’s, Nintendo was ready for the 5th generation with it is N64 console, and Sega was prepared with its Sega Genesis too. Nintendo was aiming at keeping its family audience, while Sega was marketing itself as having matured and pitching itself at 18-34-year olds. A new player was about to emerge though, a big new rival to the big two which would go on to by dominant for a long time and change the way games were played at home. That new player would not really get globally acknowledgement till mid-1995 and it would not start hitting shelves in a massive way to consumers till later that year (and at least until 1996 was in full effect). It was marketed at an age group between 12 -24 years old, it was new, it was exciting, and it was called the Sony PlayStation.
The reason for the history lesson about consoles here is because the video games that would start to appear in film were the likes of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), “Resident Evil” (2002), “Silent Hill” (2006), “Hitman” (2007), and “Max Payne” (2008). Games that came out on the PlayStation. Rich games with plenty of story and lots of action. Games that would lend themselves brilliantly to the world of film because the way they unfolded to gamers, is like immersive films for the home. Gamers did not just watch the games, they were thrown into them, and cinema had to react accordingly. My favorite part of the 2005 “Doom” film was when the camera changes to first-person and the audience sees what Karl Urban sees. It seemed like the mistakes that were made before the year 2000 were being fixed up. The pre-2000 films may have been ground-breaking and revolutionary, but they were not as rich as the new batch of films, films which came about due to the changing of gaming technology brought to audiences because of the 5th generation of gaming.
If you were around to see the 5th generation of gaming then you probably didn’t expect the 6th generation to come around so soon, but between 1998 and 2013, slightly overlapping the technology that the 5th generation brought us, you get generation 6. With it you get 128-bit machines such as the Sega Dreamcast which started this generation off, you get the Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft’s Xbox, and the console which would close the generation down in 2013 when it stopped being made, the PlayStation 2.
In case you are wondering, the 7th generation began around 2005 with the Xbox 360. You’ll also find consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Wii, the crowdfunded Ouya, and and micro-consoles such as the Nvidia Shield and PC-based Steam Machine. 8th Gen came about around 2012 with the likes of Nintendo’s Wii U and Switch, the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, as well as some portable gaming machines like the Nintendo 3DS or the PlayStation Vita. Mobile gaming would feature heavily in this generation too… but I’m going off track from films now so I better stop – just know that the 9th generation is just around the corner with the likes of PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X and S.
Game to film features would go on to be in the cinema nearly every year and in most instances they would be successful. In that time of course there would be some stinkers, but that is only natural. When I talk about stinkers there is one German director’s name that springs to mind but I am going to refrain from using it again in case he invites me to a boxing match, besides, look back over the last week and you will see who I mean. Stinkers aside, personally I am still waiting to crown an absolute legend of a game to film conversion. In my opinion the best game to film so far was the “Resident Evil” film of 2002. It was not strictly accurate to the game by a long stretch and hopefully the impending reboot that is due in 2022 will sort some things out. What that film got right though was a sense of adventure, and involvement. It used some good old fashioned horror tropes and techniques and combined them with content made famous in the game. The result was a great action-horror film that felt like a journey and kept audiences gripped. A major problem that this film suffered though was its own success – yes that really is a thing. Because the first film was so popular it convinced Hollywood to milk it for all it’s worth, that’s why we ended up with “Afterlife”, “Retribution”, “The Revenge”… OK, “The Revenge” isn’t really one of the titles, but what we got was 6 films all under the ResEvil title. Each one gave us something new and unique, but each one also took something away from the universe that the game gave us. With each new title it cheapened the draw of the series and annoyed fans a little more. By the last film we were left with something, like Mario, that only loosely used the canon of the game, but instead had its own agenda and personality. Some might say this is a good thing – and if I go back to the excitement I felt as a 13-year-old when I was living with the thrill of getting an expanded experience, maybe that version of me would have loved all 6 ResEvil films. Unfortunately, the older me that I am now is more so appreciating the work that went into the films but is looking to the future reboot to fix things – hopefully, please, please, please.
Speaking of reboots and sequels – in my post yesterday (click here if you missed it) I looked at future titles in the game to film genre. There are definitely some fun titles on the horizon with the likes of “Monster Hunter” (2021), “Uncharted” (2021), “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (TBC), “Metal Gear Solid” (TBC), and “Space Invaders” (TBC) rumoured to be due in the next few years. That is on top of potential sequels due, like “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (2022), “Detective Pikachu 2” (TBC), and “Tomb Raider 2” (TBC).
Going further then, one final thing before I wrap up: games to TV series. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention something here because this is an area which has a rich history and shiny future much like games to films. Both in the animated arena and the live-action set-up, games have been gracing our TV screens for a while and will be for the future. Notably of late people have raved about “The Witcher” on Netflix. While this is undoubtedly popular it came from a book first so let us sidestep that. No, I am talking about the likes of “The Super Mario Super Show” and “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” from TV in my youth. Titles that have graced the small screen include: “Castlevania”, “Earthworm Jim”, “Halo 4: Forward unto Dawn”, “Maniac Mansion”, and “Defiance”. It’s as rich an area as games to films, and like that there are some interesting TBC’s being rumoured too, such as “Fallout”, “Brothers in Arms”, “Final Fantasy”, “Skull & Bones”, “The Last of Us”, and “Twisted Metal”. So, whether it’s on the big screen or the small screen, there has been plenty already and the future is looking good too.
On the journey of games to films there have been some good and some bad; some anomalies and some games that would seem inconceivable to have been made into films; some sleepers that went onto be big hits and some giants that became massive flops; some that will never be attempted again and some that are heartbeats away from a reboot or sequel. All in all, I would consider games to films as a legitimate sub-genre of films which is credible enough to stand on its own two feet. It has been a mixed roller-coaster of a journey, but it’s a journey I am happy to have been on as a fan of games and a fan of film. Rather than looking at the future with trepidation, what this week has taught me, it not to fear what may be around the corner. Embrace it and try to look at it the same way I might have looked at it when I was a 13-year-old, and “Super Mario Bros” was about to be released. It is an expansion of something I love and enjoy (or have awareness of even if I am not a hardcore fan of the pixelated version – casing point being “Angry Birds”); it might not be perfect but might mutate and go onto being something new and beautiful still. The future is going to be fun, especially as gaming technology, TV/Film, and entertainment as a whole change rapidly year on year.
As I have been writing this one point struck me that I wanted to get off my chest and written down. That is, that over the years I have been the kind of person that has been critical of some films which have been based on literature. That age-old comment of “it wasn’t as good as the book” has trickled from my lips more than once. In that instance it’s because a story that you read works with your imagination, it conjures up a world which is somewhat unique to you. It also gives you a unique kind of experience too. So, the more I thing about it, that’s kind of what game-to-films do too. You have your own experience of games and they are that unique that capturing the same experience on film is difficult. Even more so, when everybody has a different and unique experience, it’s practically impossible to please everyone. What one person experiences in a game – no matter how good, might be bland compared to somebody else’s experience. For every game transposed to film, the same amount of people are going to be unhappy as are content and satisfied.
My odyssey started last Sunday with a review of “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020). Then I went on a journey from the history of game to film – past, present, and future. So why not come back in a few hours’ time and read a blog about “Super Mario Bros”, which I have made time this week to rewatch.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this. Feel free to leave replies, memories, thoughts, or hatred in the comments section at the bottom of the page. 😊