It seems as though the curse of the video game movie has yet to be lifted. There was high hope Roar Uthaug’s reboot of the blockbuster video game series, Tomb Raider, would free us from curse but still, it remains. After getting slapped with a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes and receiving less than flattering reviews it seems not even Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander could improve the movies poor reception.
Warner Brother’s should be used to salty reviews at this point. Both Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s were met with dismal Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% and 27%. Justice League only barely did better with a score of 40%.
Now the shortcomings of the DC film universe can’t be held immediately responsible for the poor reception of the Tomb Raider reboot but it can tell us something about the problem.
Let me start by saying video game movies do not do poorly because they are based on video games. Storytelling in video games is some of the best storytelling modern entertainment has to offer. By and large, video games offer massive worlds, dynamic characters and plenty of time to properly communicate it all.
A game like Witcher 3, which was produced by Warner Brother’s games and is rumored to be coming to Netflix as a series, takes anywhere from 70-200 hours of gameplay time to complete. Now a lot of that time is consumed by fighting monsters and collecting loot but throughout the entire process, more and more story is being naturally fed to the player. This natural progression of information does not happen in a film because it cannot be fit into a ninety-page screenplay.
A character in a film must go from point A to point B with a simple edit and without gaining information in between. In contrast, in a video game the player must maneuver themselves from A to B and in doing so gains more information, a familiarity with the world and a better grasp of the story.
Filmmakers make the mistake of thinking fans want to see Vikander climb using exposed beams as monkey bars, a classic game element, instead of diving deeper into character and story. We already know it’s based on a video game you don’t need to show us Vikander actively participating in the game’s tutorial. This is insulting to the fan not only because it is a waste of screentime but because using exposed beams as a ladder is a hallmark of nearly every action-adventure video game ever made. It is just lazy writing.
The Future of Video Game Movies
Fans of video games and movies alike should continue to be untrusting of big studios producing stories they originally had nothing to do with. Despite J.J. Abrams wildly impressive IMDB resume, the idea of him and Bad Robot being responsible for the adaptation of both Portal and Half-Life live action movies should leave some room for concern. Although they may be fans of the franchises Abrams and his company were not involved with their inception.
One of the reasons Game of Thrones, although not a video game, has maintained such good graces from its fans is the inclusion of George R.R. Martin as a constant tool in the storytelling process.
When a video game title is sold to a film company it no longer is what it was. Creative after creative has the opportunity to inject their not necessarily educated opinion something that already has life.
Movies don’t give video games life. If anything they steal from the experience. This isn’t to say those making the films have bad motives only that their motives are counter to the core of the franchise they have been entrusted with.
Until lifelong gamers and developers are able to fully penetrate the Film industry as producers, writers, and directors the curse of video game movies will remain. You wouldn’t ask a boxer to perform open heart surgery any more than you would ask the same doctor to fight a heavyweight champ. The creative must be equal to the challenge and at this point, no one person has been able to wrangle a 70+ hour adventure into a ninety-page, go movie.