super-mario-bros-movieSince the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.

Media is great in the many different streams and tributaries its developed over the past decades. First came movies and television, then the music industry started taking hold. Computers came much later, and when those started becoming more common, video games started making the scene. So the entertainment industry saw all of this, and thought “Why haven’t we combined any of these media aspects together? The result has to be twice as good as either of the original parts!” Surely, musicals combined the ancient medium of theater, and later movies, and combined them with the constant melody of music. The music industry got a huge boost when it realized it could combine songs with mini-movies, and thus music videos were born and thrived. (at least until reality TV came about and usurped it) After the video game industry started making its big push into the mainstream in the early 90’s, the film industry took notice and asked itself the previous question: “A mix of the two can only lead to great things!”

(ye be warned…..)

What the film industry didn’t take into account is that, much like adapting a book into a movie, if you take the creative vision of one person or group and drop it in the hands of someone else to take and interpret any way they choose in any fashion, that the end result doesn’t always lead to people singing your praises. Thus, we have the tumultuous roller-coaster that has been the genre of video game-based movies.

In the U.S., the film industry didn’t start transcribing games into big-screen features until close to the mid-90’s. The console wars between SEGA and Nintendo were heated and created publicity for their individual front-runners. Thus, why not start the beginning of game-to-film adaption with one of the biggest names in video game history? Thusly, in 1993 Hollywood Entertainment with permission from Nintendo went released Super Mario Bros. into theaters. The movie starred Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper as Mario, Luigi and Bowser Koopa respectively. Koopa was the self-imposed king of the evolved-from-dinosaurs populace of an alternate-dimension parallel from Earth, Princess Daisy was the princess of the kingdom who’d been smuggled away to earth and grew up here only to be kidnapped after she’s found out and dragged back, and the Mario Bros. were, well, plumbers from Brooklyn. The story tried to tie itself to the games as much as you can connect to a game that involves jumping on the heads of sentient mushrooms and turtles and the princess being in another castle. Despite giving a fair amount of tribute to the games, the execution of the plot was bashed by critics and even by the actors themselves. It was labeled as a flop movie at first, but with the advent of game-based-movies has grown a cult following over 15 years later.

Despite Super Mario Bros. initial poor reception, the film industry wasn’t about to give up on such a vast pool or potential in gaming.The movie Double Dragon was produced and released in 1994, right after the game’s popularity made it a big-name with gamers. Sadly, it fared worse than Super Mario Bros., cited for its cheesy acting and underdeveloped plot. Memes of Robert Patrick depicting Sho Koga from the film in hilarious ways still circulate the internet to this day in reflection of the character’s silly-stupid brand of villainy.

The live-action Street Fighter movie came into creation in 1994, meant to bank on the wild popularity of the game franchise in arcades and home consoles alike. The game had a huge following, and Universal Studios meant to cash in on that. Casting the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and Raul Julia as M. Bison, Street Fighter struck pretty close to the loose plot of the games and used a good portion of popular characters. However, the characterization used was incredibly cheesy and the acting sub-par, to the point where the movie became a laughable flop so epic that it inadvertently became popular with fans (and only fans) some years later, much the same way Super Mario Bros did. Surprisingly, the film grossed well and became nominated for the Saturn Awards for Raul Julia’s performance. Sadly, it would be his last as he died shortly after filming due to complications caused by stroke.

Since Street Fighter was technically a box-office success, film makers turned their attention towards the possibility that fighting games could be fleshed out in film-format, and do well with fans. In 1995, Mortal Kombat was released by New Line Cinema and directed by Paul. S.W. Anderson with production from Lawrence Kasanoff. As with Street Fighter, the loose story of the games was interpreted rather well, meshing the plots of the first and second MK games. Highlander star Christopher Lambert was cast as Lord Raiden, little-known martial arts actor Robin Shou as Lui Kang, Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, and Billy Madison co-star Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade. Despite some negative reviews from critics, the movie grossed very well, actually staying at the top spot at the box offices for 3 weeks after its release in theaters. The special effects, fight choreography and soundtrack of the movie were especially praised, with the acting and dialog getting mixed reviews. Considering the low opinions gaming fans held the previous game-based movie in, Mortal Kombat was like a breath of fresh air. So two years later, the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation came out to theaters after decent marketing. Anderson did not return to direct, and instead the previous movie fight cinematographer John R. Leonetti took over. His reception was not met warmly by critics and fans alike. Whereas the first movie could be classified as a campy B-action film that catered to fans and casual moviegoers, Annihilation was aimed at fans almost exclusively and attempted to cram as many characters from the games and fight scenes into 90+ minutes as possible – considerably reducing the overall quality of the movie. Critics bashed the poor scripting and lack of characterization due to so many characters being thrown haphazardly in; some not even being credited by name. Fans bashed it due to terrible and out-of-character dialog, next-to-none of the actors from the first movie returning save Shou and Soto, and a drastic drop in special effects quality. The only thing that got a nice word at all was the movie’s soundtrack. In the end, the film failed to live up to the original and became notorious with fans as the worst thing to come out of the franchise, if not game-based movies overall. (and still is considered as such to this day)

After the travesty that was the 2nd Mortal Kombat movie, game-based films took a dive. Wing Commander came out in 1999, and despite having teen-approved top stars such as Freddie Prince Jr. and Matthew Lillard, bombed due to scripting and plot, and never recouped it’s 30-million budget. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released in 2001, with Angelina Jolie picking up the lead role. Though praise for Jolie’s acting was fairly high, the film was widely criticized for terribly silly plot and and goofy scripting and fight scenes. (its 2003 sequel, Cradle of Life, did only marginally better) The purely-CGI Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within also debuted in 2001, and was an original story base meant to be inspired by the Final Fantasy games rather than based on any one. Although the movie received high marks for its beautiful animation and special effects, the plot was accused of being too generic and bland, with the main female character getting mixed reviews as either being equally generic or being a “representation of real-life”. Fans of the Final Fantasy games particularly held distaste for the movie, citing that while it was pretty, it held none of the spark that made the games appealing. Thankfully Final Fantasy: Advent Children later took alot of the sting away from its predecessor flick as it took the visuals of Spirits and put them to the praised plot of Final Fantasy VII.

In 2002, another widely-popular gaming series was to get its turn on the silver screen. Resident Evil was announced the previous year, with fans either excitedly jumping for joy or cringing fearing the same poor treatment previous game-based movies had received. Paul Anderson hopped back in the director’s chair, as well as the producer and screenwriter’s, for another go at game-movie magic. The movie was meant to be a prequel to the games, and therefore not based on any one, though borrowing heavily from the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. This concept left less for fans to tear apart because it would not stomp on previously-held canon. (often a flaw of earlier game-movies due to being done poorly, but wait for it, we’ll get to that) The concept was done well enough, with new character Alice being portrayed by Milla Jovovich, supported by Eric Mabius’s character Matt Addison. An outbreak has happened underneath the city of Raccoon in an secret Umbrella lab, and an amnesic Alice must figure out what her role was in it all, and figure out of to stop it before it reaches the surface. Many aspects from the games, such as the t-virus created zombies and monsters like the Licker and Cerberi, were brought in to be used. Easter Eggs such as the basis for the Red Queen computer being based off of Alexia from Code: Veronica, the train from RE2, and a S.T.A.R.S. police cruiser at the movie’s end were also slipped in as fanservice. The movie got mixed reviews from critics, garnering Roger Ebert’s wrath due to it being a “flashy zombie movie meant to distract”. While not the greatest of movies overall, Resident Evil did enough credit to the games whilst not stomping on them too badly to earn mostly favorable reviews from fans. This was not to last for the series, however, as the movie’s success earned it sequels. Resident Evil: Apocalypse came out in 2004, with Paul Anderson stepping down from directing into a solely-screenwriting role so he could “focus” on directing Alien vs. Predator. The 2nd Resident Evil changed gears by not just being based on any one or two games, to being thrown right into the middle of the plot established by the 2nd and 3rd games in the series. (remember what I said earlier about treading on previously-established canon?) Anderson’s writing threw the character of Alice smack-dab in the middle of the Raccoon City outbreak, with her changing gears from being a reserved-yet-strong female leader to now being a super-powered usurper of the plot. Canon lead-characters Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera played second-fiddle to the Alice character, which became a huge source of outcry with the series fans, stating that Anderson’s newly-established relationship with Jovovich had prompted him to making her character a Mary-Sue, even going so far as to upstage the Nemesis enemy. (though Anderson later blamed the movie’s flaws on director Alexander Witt) The second sequel, Resident Evil: Extinction detracts severely from the story of the games even more, the setting now being a post-apocalyptic wasteland after the t-virus overran the planet. By now, the movie’s only connection to the games lies with the names of characters (now including a very in-name-only Claire Redfield and Albert Wesker) and Umbrella being evil. The end result of the Resident Evil trilogy was critics throwing around negativity and series fans avoiding the last two movies like the plague and wondering how a 4th movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife, got greenlit.

During the reign on Anderson’s game-based movies, another director who would become infamous in the gaming community stepped up to start his run. Uwe Boll got the rights to direct a film-version of the 3rd-person arcade zombie shooter, House of the Dead. His re-imagining of the game strayed from the game’s very-loose plot of government agents scouring a huge mansion over-run with the undead brought back to life through nefarious science, and instead centered on a teen-movie island party-scene overrun by zombies with the “House” being a shack. The movie received almost unanimous negative reviews across-the-board, with terrible plot and scripting earning it spots on many “Worst Movie” lists. Boll, not one to be deterred by something as petty as terrible reviews, pushed on. In 2005 he released the adaption of Alone in the Dark, which had a large following due to the games pioneering 3D-survival horror. Christian Slater was cast as paranormal investigator Edward Carnby from the first game. The movie was intended to be Alone in the Dark 5, but was scrapped at the last minute and the script written from scratch. This didn’t do the movie any favors, as it detracted heavily from the games themselves, with garnered outrage from fans. Very few actual points from the game made their way into the movie, which was probably the main reason for its downfall. (though it would have to have been on top to fall, really) For its terrible scripting and acting it received multiple Stinkers awards, such as “Worst Director”, “Worst Picture” and a few Golden Raspberry Awards. Later that same year, Boll decided to go for the trifecta and got behind the wheels of Bloodrayne. Proving to out-do himself in terms of making critically panned movies, Bloodrayne got universally poor reviews not seen since MK: Annihilation. Even its own actors bashed it, with Michael Madsen calling it “a horrifying and preposterous movie”. It also was nominated for 7 Golden Raspberry awards, but since 2005 was a terrible year for movies, several others managed to beat it out.

DOOM was one such movie. Universal Studios decided enough time had passed between the laughable tragedy that was Street Fighter, it was time for another crack as game-movies. However, it ended up doing about as well. Instead of a story about space marines battling the forces of hell unleashed by scientifically-mystical means, the demons in in the DOOM movie were created by a virus, which earned it rough reviews from fans that cited it detracted from the story of the games too much. Critics bashed it for its mindless violence and poor story. Considering the movie was released not long after DOOM 3 had come out, expectation had been high, and were subsequently let-down, though some praise was given for the movie’s small nod to the games by going into a 1st-person-shooter mode briefly.

It seemed like video games would forever be condemned in the world of feature films, save for a few gems. This was somewhat turned around in 2006 when director Christopher Gans got the go-ahead from Konami to adapt a film version of the cult-classic survival-horror game, Silent Hill. Gans did what many directors and producers of game-movie hadn’t in their past attempts – he actually tried. He flew in Silent Hill music composer Akira Yamaoka to oversee the score of the movie, in order to have the haunting melodies of the game help push the feel of the movie. He also used big-screen televisions hooked up to Playstation 2’s with the original game to show choreographers and actors how he wanted the film to pan out. He also attempted to emulate the psychological effects the game played on people, with atmosphere mirroring the psyche’s of the people of the town. The movie was based off of the first game, with the changes made being the female protagonist Rose looking for her daughter rather than the original male protagonist, Harry Mason. Creatures from both the 1st and 2nd games were used, with Pyramid Head being redesigned and made into a secondary antagonist and representation of Alessa’s revenge. The plot took a few other deviations from the original story, but its roots stayed close. Reception of the film was mixed, but generally favorable. The main argument from critics were confusion caused by the deep-set psychologically theme the plot had, further showing just how far the director leaned the movie towards series fans. The movie’s visuals were praised, but overall the film was admonished as being a “nerd-flick”. Still, it did favorably in the box-office, earning it a spot on the top-grossed game-movies of all time.

Since then, we’ve been subjected to mostly flop-movies and cinematic atrocities, such as Dead or Alive, a sequel to Street Fighter called The Legend of Chun-Li and Tekken. Resident Evil got a bit of credibility back with its Capcom-canon CGI movie Degeneration. Now this coming week, we have blockbuster status being tagged onto a game-based movie with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. What does this mean for the entertainment mix-up of gaming and movies? It means the genre still has a LONG way to go before Hollywood gets it right on a consistent basis and is able to do games the same justice that’s only just recently been achieved by comic-based movies after decades of hit-or-miss releases. Only time will tell.