Tuesday’s Top Ten: Movies based on Video Games


Here it is again, time for another Tuesday’s Top Ten.  Last week, we discussed movies based on games.  Naturally, that leads us this week to the opposite concept—movies based on games.  There’s certainly no shortage of them, and being gamers, we’ll watch them.  Some are serious attempts at retelling the story of the game, some are light-hearted and filled with in-jokes and winks to the audience, and of course there are plenty in the middle.  I think most are actually pretty good, even if they set out to achieve different things.

Critics are usually divided on the issue, and with good reason.  Even leaving aside the argument about whether video games can ever be “art” in a similar fashion as films can be, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around certain concepts present in games that may be present in the film based on it.

10. Street Fighter
The history of the game franchise is an interesting one.  What started out as a title to cash in on the beat-’em-ups that were popular in its day soon became something different.  Something more.  Starting with the first sequel, everything we as gamers knew and understood about the fighter genre had started to change.

The franchise started or made popular quite a few concepts we now take for granted—a wide array of playable characters, interesting backgrounds, different motivations for the characters, and more.  As a whole, the franchise as almost always been rather popular, and for good reason.

It was almost taken for granted to make a movie based on it.  The result was—well.  It was generally panned by critics and viewers alike, and for very good reason.  The plot was—silly, in a bad way.  Most of the actors over-acted, and badly at that.  There was, however, one redeeming factor and one alone—Raul Julia.

He took the campy and hammy nature of his role (and, really, the movie as a whole) and made it golden.  He delivered the lines with panache and flair, positively stealing the entire movie and making what was otherwise worthless dreck something fun and hilarious.  Spending the money to purchase the D.V.D. just to see him in one of his best (and, sadly, his last) roles is well worth it.

09. Super Mario Bros.
I have to admit, it was a toss-up between this film and Street Fighter for the number ten spot.  Both are bad, both have one real saving grace, and that one saving grace in both cases is a major one.

I know I don’t have to say anything about the game franchise.  There are more games with Mario than there are stars in the sky.  You can’t go anywhere on the ‘net without running into stories like the girl who made her bathroom Mario-themed, dozens and dozens of people dressing up as Mario and company—with varying degrees of success—and a million other such things.  So let’s just dive into the movie.

The plot—such as it is—is basically from the games.  The Mario Brothers end up in an alternate universe and face off against King Koopa, who, it turns out, needs more water for his city.  It’s a whole boat-load of silly.  Interestingly enough, there’s even a web-site entirely devoted to this movie, but I digress.

On the other hand, it stars Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi, and Dennis Hopper as Koopa.  They bring over-the-top camp to a movie already filled to the brim with it.  That’s the saving grace—it’s an hour and a half of hilarious and cheesy camp.  It’s worth the price of a rental, at the least, just to laugh with—and most definitely at—a movie harder than you’ve likely laughed in your life.  It’s worth the price for that kind of humor and entertainment.

08. Resident Evil
You likely know the games.  They’ve almost always been incredibly popular, and for those who enjoy the “survival horror” genre of games, there are arguably few better.  The games are generally intense, with every sight and sound crafted for the ultimate in immersion.  They’re the kinds of games that, even as a supposedly mature and responsible adult, you simply don’t play at night with the lights off (or you do for the same reason we watch good horror movies in the dark—we love getting scared from fiction).

Zombie movies have always been popular, and have been ever since their start with Bela Lugosi in the early ‘Thirties.  It stands to reason, then, that the insanely popular game that had zombies would be made into a movie, right?  It seems like it would be a match made in heaven.

Well, if you can go into it with nothing more than a bucket of popcorn and a bottle of soda, you’ll be fine.  If you’ve played the games, you’ll “get” a lot of the points made and won’t think too much about how little sense everything makes.  If you haven’t, well—you really need to just go with pretty much everything.  As long as you don’t dwell on things like the odd names (Umbrella Corporation? Raccoon City? Really?), or how a positively humongous under-city can be built without no one at all knowing about it who shouldn’t, and—pretty much the rest of the movie.

One thing you’ll have to remember if you’ve never played the games is that if something doesn’t quite make sense, it’s probably a part of the games, or at the least a nod to the games.  If not, it’s that the movie aims to stun and entertain the part of the brain tied to our visual cortex and rarely does it even make an attempt to appeal to our ration.  To that end, it actually serves rather well.  It’s got plenty of action, and Milla Jovovich delivers yet another stunning performance.  It’s great visual fun, and the ways people and creatures die can be downright creative.

07. Max Payne
It can be hard to like this movie.  The trailer doesn’t outright lie, but it does intimate that the supernatural has a lot more to do with the story than it actually does, and the story itself is only tangentially related to the story of the game it’s based on.  Critics and viewers alike generally panned it.

This film probably would have done better if it weren’t tied to the game.  To be sure, whatever else can be said about Mark Wahlberg, he plays the “enraged psychotic” very well, and that helped, here.  He plays the role so well, you can see how the loss of Max’s wife infant more than merely broke him, it shattered him.  Wahlberg was able to pull that off with facial expressions and body language.

If you can ignore the fact that it’s based on a video game and that it’s not tied too closely to said game, you should find this movie rather enjoyable.  The story it does tell is a bit more internally consistent than might be expected.  It’s a tale of a man destroyed by the loss of his family.  It’s not exactly like the game, but it’s an enjoyable story on its own.

06. Mortal Kombat
The Mortal Kombat franchise is—lengthy.  Spanning eighteen years and nearly every console and hand-held known, most were received rather well.  For good reason, too.  The game play was innovative and the carnage and gore unprecedented.

At first, the “plot” of the games was scarce as to be nearly not present at all; the Genesis version, the only real plot you found was in some text if you beat the game and, more, in the game’s booklet.  It wasn’t until a few titles later that Midway really started to get plot-heavy.

The movie doesn’t really draw on any one game for its plot, instead taking elements from many of them.  Interestingly, because Trevor Goddard, who played Kano, was Australian (and very much so; there really was no hiding his thick Australian accent), Midway retconned Kano to be Australian in the games.  That’s really a testament to his acting and how much the movie was enjoyed by fans of the games.

That leads to the rest of the cast.  The plot is—simple, very much so.  Yet the cast actually ties it all together, especially Christopher Lambert as Rayden.  He brings a bit of humor and seriousness mixed together quite well, and the rest of the cast delivers equally well.  While the plot might not have been the greatest, the cast delivered it well enough to make up for that.

05. Hitman
This one was an interesting choice, in the decision of which games to use as a springboard for a movie.  The protagonist is a brainwashed killing machine, who does “jobs” for a faceless organization.  He’s a master of combat and planning alike, and the one to call if you have someone to kill in an impossibly well-defended position.  Seems kind of natural they’d make a movie about him, wouldn’t you say?

And so they did.  The film tells the story of Forty-Seven, a man who’s sent to kill a target, then suddenly finds out he’s become a target, himself.  As the plot unfolds, he goes on a search for why.  There are quite a few interesting, even fun elements, especially as he’s all but forcibly “taken to bed”, if you get my meaning.  “[You’re] so very good with firearms; not so good with ladies’ undergarments.” That’s a memorable quote, and rather humorous in context.

With the games being regarded generally very well, you’d think the film would at least be decent.  Well, in general, viewers somewhat liked it while critics generally, ah—didn’t.

Timothy Olyphant plays Forty-Seven as you’d expect a man of his past to be—wooden, cold, efficient.  He also brings wonderful acting to the table in that there are humorous moments, but though you get a sense of Forty-Seven seeing said humor, you don’t see Forty-Seven actually smiling.  That’s a good thing—a man of his character shouldn’t smile, even if he sees humor in something.  Over all, the acting was pretty good.

The problem is the plot.  Just before writing this entry—and I mean, literally, just before—I watched the movie again, and I still am not sure what was going on.  The plot was ostensibly that he was trying to find out who wanted him dead, and I suppose he did that, but why he was wanted dead in the first place, well—that was never really answered.  He didn’t know anything he wasn’t supposed to, he didn’t go rogue (until after he became a target), or whatever else.

On the plus side, if you’ve seen The Transporter or its sequels, you know what to expect.  Interesting fight scenes, equally interesting (if a bit trite) dialogue, and different locales.

04. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
To say the that the Final Fantasy series has always been pretty popular is, of course, an extreme understatement.  Final Fantasy VII brought the genre to a wider audience, and made popular the notion that video games don’t have to be vapid, that they can have deep and rich stories.

In the early part of the last decade, movies based on stories from other mediums was gaining ground.  Movies based on comics were coming into vogue, but they weren’t the only beasts tackled.  Naturally, Square-Enix turned its collective sights to making a movie.  The first attempt was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which we’ll discuss a bit later.  Their next outing was Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

It has an interesting history.  Kazushige Nojima, writer for both the game and movie stories of Final Fantasy VII, wrote some fiction based on that world, titled, On the Way to a Smile.  It was never meant to be anything more than what it basically was—fan fiction.  Square-Enix didn’t expect that the fans would love it.  So much so, that they incorporated it into the canon of Final Fantasy VII.  Denzel, the protagonist of the first story in the Smile series, ended up a semi-major character in the film.

The problem is that he comes out of left field if you’ve played the game, since he doesn’t appear in it.  If you’ve played the game and go into the film, you see a young man staying with Cloud and Tifa, but you aren’t really told who he is and where he came from.  His story is actually quite interesting, but it’s something that should have been touched on a bit more in the film.  On the other hand, if you’ve never played the game, it doesn’t matter as much.  His back-story isn’t really gone into, but, then, the same is true of the other characters.

That’s the main thing that keeps this film from ranking higher on this list; the story is actually quite interesting, quite in-depth—but it’s a bit hard to follow if you haven’t played the game, and for those who have Denzel again comes out of left field.  What doesn’t help the matter is that one of the main concepts of the film, the Advent Children themselves, is based on a concept found in Japanese mythology, “shinentai”.  There really isn’t a good Western equivalent, and taking the time to put down all of the details is beyond this blog.  Suffice it to say that it’s basically a spirit whose will kept it in this realm.  That’s not perfect, nor entirely accurate, but it will have to suffice.

It’s a concept very foreign to Western viewers, so Square-Enix just went with “Remnants”.  That’s not very accurate, either, and that aside the film never really makes clear what they’re remnants of.  On the other hand, the action sequences, like its predecessor, are quite fitting and exciting, weaving through the plot without dominating it.  On the whole, a good enough film, with much deeper ideas than might be expected.

03. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Lara Croft has an interesting history.  Created by Toby Gard, he’d stated in an interview two years ago that one of her primary reasons for existing was because, at the time, most games’ protagonists were “big, strong, muscle-y American men”.  Further, game publishers were of the mindset that that’s what was necessary to sell their games.

The games also tend to get a little flak for Lara being, well—let’s say that her figure isn’t exactly achievable by most real-life women.  However, one reason for that was the low polygon-count most games offered at the time the first game as worked on, which was fifteen years ago, remember.  At the time, a physique more like a real woman’s would have been difficult to render well.  Also, a couple of years after the first game’s release, programmer Nigel West said that Croft’s bust size was a miscalculation buried deep within the code.  How true that is, especially considering her bust size hasn’t really changed until recently, is for the reader to decide.

All of that aside, Croft offered something no other game protagonist at the time offered—a British female protagonist who could kick butt, take names, and smile at you as she did it, yet was still feminine.  Such a thing was new, definitely different, and very welcomed.  It’s no surprised that, though the first game was the most well-received, the series as a whole tended to do well.  It’s also no surprise that a film was green-lit.

Starring Angelina Jolie as Lara, it told the tale of Lara still not “over” her father’s death years prior.  She gets her hands on a magical artifact which leads her to the Illuminati and the truth about her father’s death.  The story and settings are rather faithful to the spirit of the games, so much so that it really does feel like a Lara Croft adventure, only on the big screen instead of the small screen.  Plenty of ancient traps, weird, magical artifacts, and numerous locales visited—including an extensive training scene inside her home.

It doesn’t really draw specific story elements from any one game, which is actually a point in its favor.  It takes many general elements, and crafts something completely new, yet, again, completely fitting.  If you’re a fan of the games, you should find the movie enjoyable.  If not, you can still find the story of a strong, confident but feminine woman interesting if not downright engaging.

02. Final Fantasy: Spirits Within
As I said previously, the Final Fantasy series is incredibly popular.  A large part of this is the fact that the games had interesting, deep plots.  When the three-dimensional games rolled out, these plots were no less present, but were able to be displayed in a much more cinematic presentation.

So enthralled with the concept of cinematic storytelling, Hironobu Sakaguchi—the undisputed “father” of the series—wanted to make a movie.  It took four years, but the film finally made it to theaters.  It was initially well-received by the critics, and even Roger Ebert—a man not exactly known for his high opinion on video games or much relating to them—actually rather enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, though it opened strong, as time went on it garnered a lukewarm reaction from critics and fans alike.  I.G.N. says, “It was too alien to the games to attract the hardcore fans, and too wordy, philosophical and esoteric to work as a mainstream action movie.” To that I’d have to agree.  That does seem the most likely reason.

It shot for the moon, really—it tried to bring the same sense of depth that the games strove for to the big screen, at the same time as trying to show that movies didn’t have to be mindless to have good action.  I think it succeeded.  I think it succeeded on both counts, and think it stands perfectly well amongst its video game brethren.  The plot is deep yet coherent, consistent and peppered with action sequences that fit, that don’t feel like they were shoehorned in.  A great buy.

01. DOA: Dead or Alive
This film is based on a rather popular series of fighting games.  If you haven’t played that series, know this—the breasts of the female fighters are apparently magic, as they laugh in the face of your puny “gravity”.  Yes, sex appeal has been one of the most well-known and well-talked-about aspects of the series since day one.

However, that wasn’t the only aspect talked about.  As Kurt Kalata and Derboo say over at Hardcore Gaming 101:

One could assume that [adding outlandish and near-fetishistic sex-appeal] was just a ploy from Tecmo, yet another attempt to use beautiful women to sell utter garbage, the gaming equivalent of a Girls Gone Wild video (the actual attempt at that kind of skullduggery, The Guy Game, actually is one of the worst games of all time.) But somehow, against all kinds of logic, the game somehow turned out to be good. Not just vaguely good, but the kind of good that eventually led it to become one of the best 3D fighting game franchises out there.

That’s not really hyperbolic.  The first game on the Sega Saturn was incredibly well-received, as was every game since—even the Dating Sim-esque female-only first Xtreme Volleyball was received rather well.

That leads us to the movie.  It starts out seeming like it’s going to be a serious movie, but in the first few minutes it throws seriousness out the window in favor of audacity and simple, hilarious, fun and doesn’t look back.  It’s an hour and a half of campy, over-the-top action.  The movie doesn’t take itself seriously at all, which is a good thing, though it does pay homages to the games—even Xtreme Volleyball—that spawned it, which is also good.

The introductions to the characters all fit who those characters are, and if you’ve never played the games you’d still get a large kick out of them.  On the whole, it’s one of those movies you sit down with friends and/or loved-ones to have a good time with.  The plot is—well—it’s silly, but in a fun way.  The film doesn’t promise an in-depth look at the emotions and psyches of fighters.  It promises non-stop fun, and since that’s what it delivers so well, that makes it take the number one spot.

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