The Best Movie Ever | Video Game Adaptations
Usually when we do an installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever there are a lot of great films to choose from. The Best Action Comedy Ever? Lots of awesome films there. The Best Quentin Tarantino Movie Ever? There’s an argument to be made for most of them (although we did narrow it down to just two). But this week…? This week may be the exception.
This week on The Best Movie Ever we’ve asked our panel of critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to present their pick for the best film ever made in a famously underwhelming genre. What’s the best video game adaptation ever? They can’t agree on a single winner, but all of their picks come with caveats.
Find out what they picked, and come back next week for an all-new, highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Brian Formo’s Pick: Mortal Kombat (1995)
To be perfectly honest, this is probably the lowest bar that’s been set at Best Movie Ever, as video game adaptations notoriously range from average to awful as movies. We laugh at board games, stuffed animal characters and theme park rides getting their own film adaptations, but video game adaptations were the entry point for brand recognition cash ins. Because many of the classic games allow you to choose a character, certain allegiances form, thus for studios it’s easy to think that kids would rather see Scorpion fight in Mortal Kombat than create some new martial arts character. He already has a catch phrase and a signature move, and the kids will wait gleefully for that “Get over here!” demand. But then you have to open up the narrative to include all the other characters too, and then there’s very little time for story and character arcs.
A fundamental difference between playing a video game and watching a film is that when we’re removed from the game controllers we accept things less on face value and are more likely to ask, why is this happening? Thus, most video game adaptations (confession: I’ve yet to see Warcraft) are akin to being in middle school and watching your friends play video games because they’re non-inclusive asshats who don’t understand the concept of sharing. In this low-bar scenario, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat is perhaps the best video gameplay recreation. It’s got the loud music, it’s got the fight sequences, it’s got Christopher Lambert and it’s tacked on a save the world story because that’s what the movies are for, right?
Mortal Kombat doesn’t attempt much story or character development. It merely takes characters that you like based on their fight moves and outfits and just lets them fight in their outfits. Cinematically, it maintains a B-movie awareness before that was deemed cool, and thus it feels more authentic and not pandering. I guess that’s the best example yet?
Witney Seibold’s Pick: D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive (2006)
Adapting most video game for cinema has historically proven problematic, perhaps because most video games tend to be cribbed directly from genre cinema to begin with. How would, for instance, a Metroid feature film add to cinema, seeing as Metroid is, more or less, an 8-bit rip-off Alien? How is any fighting game any fundamentally different from Enter the Dragon? Video games are, in many instances, playable B-movies, and draw on the same stock characters, plot points, and story beats once so happily hammered on by generations of budget filmmakers. Modern audiences have seen enough movies, and played enough video games, that they have absorbed these cliches ad nauseum over generations of general cultural osmosis.
So, as long as that’s true, why not make a video game adaptation that wallows gleefully in the well-worn tropes and cliches of your standard, honest-to-goodness exploitation film? Enter Corey Yuen’s D.O.A.: Dead or Alive, a relatively obscure 2006 fight flick based on a fighting video game. The story of D.O.A. is the stuff of B-movie legend: An evil mastermind (Eric Roberts, natch) has arranged a secret, high-octane fighting tourney on a remote tropical islands. The fighters he has invited are, for the most part, lithe bikini models. Cue 90 minutes of hot chicks wailing on each other. When they’re not taking a break to play bikini volleyball.
Video game adaptations often make the vital mistake of overreaching. They tell stories that try to add portent to their long-ago B-movie forebears by adding unneeded complex mythologies, perhaps in a desperate attempt to stand apart from their chintzy influences (I’m looking at you, Warcraft). D.O.A., wisely, does not add to the ancient formula. It allows all the glorious flesh, awesome fighting, and enjoyably stupid plot elements to play out as organically as a B-movie allows. Grindhouse and drive-in classics are hard to come by these days, so when a fun skin flick like D.O.A. comes along, part of us must cherish it.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Warcraft (2016)
I’m calling Warcraft the best video game movie ever made (at least of the ones based on an actual video games, because otherwise this honor goes to The Last Starfighter in a heartbeat), but I want to make it known that although I do genuinely like Duncan Jones’s ambitious fantasy, this isn’t much of an honor. Too many video game adaptations try to capture the aesthetics of gameplay while either ignoring or completely misrepresenting the substance, but Warcraft tries and does a pretty good job.
I say “pretty good,” because it’s obvious that this project is missing something. I’d say it’s missing about half an hour, at least, because few of the characters get enough screen time to become more than stock archetypes. But stock archetypes are par for the course in fantasy storytelling, and there’s nothing wrong with Warcraft that isn’t also wrong with Willow or Legend, and I like both of those movies too. Warcraft tells a grand tale of adventure and combat and betrayal and I had a good time watching it, even though it hardly blew my mind.
Damn, I wish I was more passionate about this. The genre of video game adaptations has been weak since the beginning, and whichever movie you think deserves this honor – some might say Mortal Kombat, others might say Silent Hill – it’s pretty clear that the pickings are dismal. The best video game movie ever (again, unless you count The Last Starfighter) is maybe a three-star movie at best. But I’ll give Warcraft those three stars, and I think once the dust settles and people start actually watching the movie, instead of complaining that it isn’t campy enough (why would it ever have to be?), you’ll find it’s a fun film to watch. And the best. For now.