E3 at the Movies: The Good and Bad of Video Game Adaptations

The relationship between video games and movies has always been rather intimate. Not only have film adaptations been crafted of different titles over the years, but the games themselves are adopting more and more cinematic storytelling devices. Watch any given video game trailer these days — it’s hard to differentiate it from those of big Hollywood blockbusters. In honor of this intertwined relationship, and in celebration of the commencement of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), we thought we’d take a look at some video game movies to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Unfortunately, more often than not, the latter far exceeds the former.

Super Mario Brothers (1993)


Where It Scored Points: Bob Hoskins is a great choice for the role of gaming’s favorite plumber-turned-adventurer. The cross-dimensional story device also adds an interesting, if wholly unnecessary, sci-fi angle to the proceedings. Plus, (and I mean this without any trace of irony), any film featuring Fisher Stevens is worth checking out at least once.

Where It Needs a Power-Up: Unfortunately, nearly everything else about Super Mario Brothers is far from super. Where are the colorful, fantastical landscapes that defined the games? Instead we are subjected to the bleak, dirty aesthetic of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. What is up with the tiny-headed baddies? And would somebody please tell the writers that Dennis Hopper making pizza jokes for an hour is not the same as being menacing?

Mortal Kombat (1995)


Where It Scored Points: Basing a movie on a fighting game is particularly tricky. Ultimately, your plot is going to be largely limited to arranging characters into one-on-one brawls. In that regard, Paul WS Anderson’s Mortal Kombat is a success. The story is as forgettable as its cast, but it does accomplish random battle pairings reminiscent of playing an exceedingly brainless round of the game. It also incorporates many of the familiar moves and catchphrases from the characters in the game.

Where It Needs a Power-Up: I’m willing to forgive the woefully bad acting here (seriously, Christopher Lambert, could you care less that you’re in this?) as well as the special effects that challenge the validity of both those words. My biggest gripe with Mortal Kombat is its soundtrack. It’s not enough that the techno dance battle white noise became the anthem of every middle school JV basketball game, but you have to hand it to a theme song that states the name of the movie seconds after you hit play. You know, just in case you didn’t know you were watching MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAT!

Doom (2005)


Where It Scored Points: The only thing I imagine has to be more difficult than making a movie based on an arcade fighting game is making one based on a first-person shooter. Undaunted by this challenge, Polish director Andrzej Bartkowiak brought us Doom in 2005. What I really like about Doom is the Sarge character played by The Rock. There’s a meta approach to the fact that The Rock was becoming a popular cinematic presence often known for playing heroes. The line, “I’m not supposed to die” makes the movie for me.

Where It Needs a Power-Up: Overall, Doom is pretty lukewarm in terms of its action sequences and its story fails to hold your attention. But its biggest flaw is actually born of its overzealous nodding to its source material. At one point the film utilizes a first person perspective to imitate the experience of playing the game. The thing is, if we are forced to view everything through this perspective, we want to be able to control the character; otherwise it’s as frustrating as…sitting through Doom the movie.

Street Fighter (1994)


Where It Scored Points: Here again, we have a film based on an arcade fighting game, and here again there are plenty of scattershot character fight combos. I actually think that, as silly as the plot is, there’s a certain sound logic to the good/evil/random rogue assignments bestowed upon the various characters. But let’s face it; the main reason to watch Street Fighter is Raul Julia as General Bison. He’s completely over-the-top and cartoonishly evil in the best possible way.

Where It Needs a Power-Up: Street Fighter’splot flatlines early on, and the preponderance of painfully bad jokes will have you squirming in your chair. But easily Street Fighter’s biggest, and most hilariously terrible flaw is the casting of Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile. You can flash that enormous American flag tattoo on your equally enormous bicep all you want, Jean-Claude, your accent betrays your supposed Yankee origins.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)


Where It Scored Points: Angelina Jolie looks the part, and in that regard her casting as the formerly polygonal adventurer was apt. And how can you not enjoy a gun-toting female doing battle with a robot? Also, the first Lara Croft movie features an entertaining turn by current James Bond himself Daniel Craig.

Where It Needs a Power-Up: There’s a bit too much emphasis put on Lara’s bod that makes the movie seem exploitative. Yes, I know there were elements of this in the game, but the movie took advantage of Jolie’s, um, natural assets. Some of the action sequences feel like rejected Matrix fodder that fail to excite us as much as its thumping soundtrack would fool us into believing.


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[Photo Credits: Buena Vista Pictures, New Line Cinema, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures ]

E3 and Video Game Movies