In a move that seems less unfortunate than simply inevitable, the long-troubled Hollywood movie based on Uncharted was cancelled yet again. Difficulties in bringing video games to the big screen aren’t anything new but Uncharted has been particularly notorious for stumbling through various different incarnations for years (including a pitch to writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who turned the property down multiple times, citing trouble distinguishing it from Indiana Jones).
You can probably list off reasons why video game movies still don’t work as “good cinema”. For starters, what works in a game doesn’t necessarily work on film. Even worse, until recently the IP of video games was so undervalued in Hollywood that hacks were swooping in left and right, producing sub-par movies to take advantage of brand recognition (*cough* Uwe Boll).
Perhaps the biggest problem is that most of the properties that seem “cinematic” and are in high demand for adaptation are made that way by borrowing a lot from movies that already exist. Adapting these movie-inspired games (like Uncharted), one risks the movie equivalent of photocopying a photocopy.
Games have been mainstream for long enough at this point that filmmakers are already taking inspiration from their own favorite games. Adventure Time is better than any Super Mario cartoon, and Uncharted itself led to the opening action sequence in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Rather than continue to copy copies, video game movies should instead pull from properties that can bring something to the big screen that hasn’t been done completely to death. Here are four video game franchises that might make more interesting movies than Uncharted.
Wait, wait, don’t go. I promise this list isn’t all cartoon games. Put aside whatever feelings you have toward the Ape Escape series personally and think about it for a second. Monkey villain Specter obtains an experimental helmet that makes him smart, then equips a team of monkeys with more helmets and attempts to take over history. Main character Spike, accidentally transported with the monkeys, must then find all of them and eventually defeat their leader.
A computer-animated movie based on Ape Escape would give the creative team license to travel all around the world and throughout time – Carmen Sandiego by way of Futurama, if you will. The fact that the plot of the original Ape Escape game wasn’t very fleshed out is actually a bonus. Messing with the canon and characters is less likely to foment a horde of rampaging fans than say, doing the same with Bioshock or Halo, so the filmmakers could rewrite the story as they see fit to create the ultimate time-travelling comedy adventure – hopefully mentioning at some point that monkeys aren’t apes.
Another odd choice, but stick with me – sure, Wing Commander already had a terrible adaptation in the nineties, but even the best stories in the world have been told poorly. Just because it’s been done badly before doesn’t stop Wing Commander from being a game absolutely primed for transition to film. Let alone the series’ FMV cutscenes, the premise of the space sim genre is basically “Top Gun in Space”: which sounds exactly like the kind of movie that plays well to audiences today. You only have to ignore the nineties movie, and that’s easier than it sounds.
Ditch the “Pilgrims are Jedi” nonsense; take advantage of better looking modern special effects; and of course, pony up to have the biggest actors from the games come back. If Mark Hamill and John Rhys-Davies returned, it could even give the film a good reason to jump forward in the timeline and introduce new characters, the same way that the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens did.
As the wild success of the Star Citizen crowdfunding attests, the idea of Wing Commander still holds sway over many gamers. A new movie doesn’t need a complicated plot or multi-part cinematic universe, just good characters with a sense of adventure.
This was actually going to be an entry about Chrono Trigger, but you are probably tired of hearing how great that game is by now. Instead, let’s turn to a series that is still relevant today, with the remake of Dragon Quest VII dropping this week and Dragon Quest Builders hot on its heels in October.
As a franchise, Dragon Quest is less problematic than other JRPGs to adapt to film. The Tales series is more suited to anime than Hollywood, and Final Fantasy still hasn’t outlived the stink of The Spirits Within. Additionally, rather than the beloved characters and precise plot of Chrono, Dragon Quest‘s appeal lies in its general feel and Akira Toriyama’s art. Yes, the series has a plethora of enjoyable stories that share creature designs and themes, but each entry is relatively standalone.
A movie of Dragon Quest could use this framework to tell a brand new fantasy story, a journey in the vein of The Lord of the Rings or Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fans would go to see the movie either way, but for those who don’t know the series, Toriyama’s artwork (he also wrote and illustrated Dragon Ball) has an appeal all of its own. To best capture this look and feel, it would be even better served as a Disney or Dreamworks-style computer-animated movie.
Like Dragon Quest, the Monster Hunter series makes a great blank slate for a Hollywood adaptation. Unlike Warcraft or Resident Evil, characters and events aren’t as important as the feeling associated with fighting the series’ creatures, or advancing your character and their skills. An heroic journey against powerful monsters could propel any number of stories.
What about a sport film, where our protagonist goes from rags to riches all leading up to her “big hunt”? Or a tense chase around the world, like Mad Max but with dinosaurs? The story could even be really daring — what if the main character were a conscientious objector who intended to take the hunters down from the inside, but then found himself drawn into their world, like an undercover cop who questions whether he has also become a criminal? On the other hand, maybe it would just be a Jurassic Park-like thriller but with less technology for our heroes to rely on. That could be fun too.
UPDATE: There’s now a live action Monster Hunter movie in the works. https://twitter.com/VG247/status/776419304417861632
There are plenty of video game franchises to make movies out of than the current triple-A megahits. Do we really need a film based on Call of Duty, when Devil May Cry could be more fun and original? Suggest your own video-game-to-movie ideas in the comments, and let us know if you’d like more on video game movies.