Following announcements regarding Michael Fassbender’s apparent involvement in the Assassin’s Creed movie slated for the end of 2013, as well as announcements regarding Scott Derrickson’s (he wrote Sinister apparently) involvement in the movie adaptation of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I got to thinking about the rather tenuous, dysfunctional relationship video games and movies seem to share.
Video games can now embrace the same cinematographic techniques utilised by filmmakers, games like L.A. Noire have pioneered new technology for motion capture and voice acting, and games have become legitimate outlets for big time actors to experiment with interesting new characters.
But no matter how you paint it, video games and movies just aren’t the same thing. Only when Hollywood realises this, will we get a film adaptation of a game that is worth seeing.
I am firmly under the impression that video games are the greatest form of entertainment that exists today. Simply put: games can do the things books, TV, comics, and films can, and then some.
You want beautiful HD visuals accompanied by stunning cinematography and well-designed environments? Games can do that. You want complex narratives with enticing characters and plot twists? Games can do that. Do you want to watch crops grow in your virtual farm, and then share their progress with your Facebook friends? Games can…. Okay ignore that one.
Still, in a time when games are considered, in most circles, as artistically and financially equal to other forms of entertainment, you have to wonder why anybody even wants to adapt games into films. We’ve seen some failed attempts already with the likes of the Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia movies, neither of which managed to boost the profile or success of two already well known game franchises.
The weird thing is: games like Tomb Raidershould work in film format. The games themselves revolve heavily around action sequences, impressive set pieces, beautiful scenery and locales, and a single, recognizable character. Similarly, a movie based around Call of Duty would probably work well. The games already feel like homages to action blockbuster films, and it’s not like a COD movie wouldn’t be popular.
This is where we come to Deus Ex, and other such announced adaptations that just cannot work. Games like Deus Ex, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect pride themselves (to varying degrees) on their interactive storytelling, freedom of choice, and player experiences that remain unique for each individual player. Movies, on the other hand, are generally linear affairs created for the purpose of watching, rather than taking part.
It would be fair to say that a large portion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution players decided to level Adam Jensen in a way that encouraged the use of the game’s stealth and hacking mechanics, rather than all out combat. It is unlikely, considering the nature of Hollywood blockbusters, that the film adaptation would favour scenes of Jensen hacking into an office computer over scenes of him blasting holes in a dozen bewildered security guards. Why would it? I loved hacking and sneaking my way through DE: HR because that’s my preferred play style, and because it’s fun to do. It is decidedly less fun to watch it happen, and in neglecting these features, you miss out on the player choice mechanics that are integral to the Deus Ex experience.
The same applies to the game’s multiple endings. The player can choose between several outcomes for the narrative, each one affecting the usage and public opinion of augmentations in a different way. A film has to have a beginning, middle and end that remains unchanged regardless of who is watching the film, again eliminating the sense of personal input of the Deus Ex series.
Much like a lot of great movies, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an interesting, provocative examination of a neo-dystopian future, wherein society is breaking down in some way. Therein lies the problem; DE: HR is already an interesting, provocative examination of a neo-dystopian future, wherein society is breaking down in some way. Adapting it into a film would only detract from the game’s overall experience, without adding anything of worth.
You could argue that the same applies for books to films and vice versa, however; when adapting a book to the big screen, it can often help people to visualise certain elements of the books more easily than if they read the original text. You may miss out on more in depth descriptions of characters or an insight into their thought processes, but depicting the events of a book on screen can add an extra flavour that the books may have been missing. With games, I really can’t see that happening.
At the end of the day, very little has been revealed about these projects, and they might have some great ideas, but fundamentally these games shouldn’t work as movies. They’re just too complex to be worked into a single, linear story.
As I noted before, I’d like to see what a filmmaker could do with more linear titles like Call of Duty or even Halo, since those games are pretty much one-way affairs without a great deal of choice, and if the source material was treated with respect I’m sure they could turn out great.
Games now have the ability to make millions of dollars, and can be played in almost everybody’s home. Believing that a film adaptation could in some way raise the profile or accessibility of a game just feels insulting; not only to the game and its creators, but to the fans as well.