Adaptations of video games (into any medium) normally suck.
It's a tale as old as time, the sea is blue, water is wet and video game adaptations are about as appealing as eating a doughnut out of a sceptic tank.
Though lately everyone has been given a taste of what a good adaptation can be with the Netflix series Castlevania.
It's atmospheric and actually crafts a decently compelling story around a series notorious for not really featuring such a thing. This adds up to something we, as fickle audiences, haven't seen in the history of cinema: A really good adaptation of a specific video game franchise.
There isn't a simple ingredient to making a great adaptation, it is more like taking a few necessary steps to ensure a level of quality that is a cut above the other video game adaptations.
The Right Plot Points
When selecting a video game for adaptation, it is always easy to be swayed to select the most successful and/or popular franchises, yet in doing so would cause the established fan base of said franchises to expect certain "moments" to be included in the adaptation of their favourite video game.
However, selecting these "moments" is part of the adaptive process and sometimes directors and writers go overboard in fan-service or sometimes they select great "moments" for the wrong reasons.
And fans will notice clunky fan-service when watching the film.
For instance take the Silent Hill movies which include a recognisable "moment" of Pyramid Head coming into the scene with absolutely zero context since they don't create a main charcter where the inclusion of Pyramid Head makes sense.
Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2 became iconic not just due to his design, but also because of what he represented to the protagonist of the story James Sunderland; an executioner of sorts to James created from his subconcious will to punish himself over his wife's death.
The creature appearing in the game makes sense. There is a lore-based reason for it appearing. It has context and a thematic reason for being.
The film's approach is simply to throw it into the plot because it is a recognisable figure in the source material and the writers think fans of the franchise will just lap it up. They misunderstand what made the creature so fascinating and memorable to begin with.
They mishandle a "moment" during the process of adaptation for fan service and no other reason.
Selecting which specific plot points to adapt to a different medium is difficult, yes, but certain things only work when used in tandem with other plot points.
The nuke scene in Modern Warfare only works when the writers contrast the gung-ho, America-saves-the-day attitude of the marines against the stealth-based, morally questionable SAS group.
Setting it off in the opening few scenes to simply satisfy fans and propel the plot forward would be a dumb move and completely mishandle the impact of such a scene... Though it would probably be more in-line with what Call of Duty is going for these days.
By all means, include some fan service and nods to the original material, utilise plot points that work, but only if it doesn't distract from the story you wish to tell. If something doesn't fit with your narrative, don't include it, because it becomes distracting.
Look at what Castlevania did.
It took a series that has little substance from a plot-standpoint, then wrote some original intrigue and compelling story elements into it while loosely basing itself on a specific entry in the game franchise and became all the better for it.
The television show even went so far as to include characters only when it saw fit.
Dracula for instance barely features as much as you'd believe and some of the more notable video game characters don't feature until late on in the series.
Castlevania can afford to do this with its characters however, because the medium it was created for allows it to do so.
The Right Medium
Not all video games are suited for the medium of film.
Something short in length like Brothers: Tale of Two Sons could make a very impressive, heartfelt two hour movie, or something that is already filmic in nature like Horizon: Zero Dawn could make for a huge blockbuster if it utilises the important moments of its script and markets itself correctly.
Others like Far Cry could easily work as a multiple-season-length TV show, especially Far Cry 3 since it basically splits its plot into three acts.
Selecting the right video game to translate into another medium is as important as selecting the plot... And that's before deciding what type of film/television show you're going to turn it into.
Super Mario Bros. may not have worked as a live-action movie, but imagine it as an animated television show. That sort of whimsical plot and world suits animation just a little bit more than a live-action film.
Hell, the games don't have live-action moments because it would look weird and practically horrifying, changing it from a childish platform/puzzle game into something akin to a Junji Ito manga.
Resident Evil (the first one, the tolerable one) is an action film, but imagine if they had decided to make it into a straight up claustrophobic horror movie like Rec and Don't Breathe.
Or in fact, it might have even worked as a television series, each season having a different locale and protagonist, based loosely on each of the games and playing up the horror more than the action. It could establish a nice foothold in the television market, especially given the lack of solid, live-action horror titles on TV nowadays.
Would Bloodborne work as a live-action television series?
No, if any adaptation was to be made an animated series would be best. A talented set of artists and writers could collaborate with Miyazaki to create an excellent anime series.
This is the mind-set that creators and producers have to have when adapting video games going forward.
Not everything works as a film and blowing a massive budget to adapt something that just doesn't work when written to fit a film-format will only lead to financial and critical disappointment.
We live in an age now where TV can be as high in quality as the best blockbuster movies. Consider what the best medium for the product is before adapting it.
The producers of Game of Thrones have adapted the novels (while not entirely true to the source material) into a highly successful, blockbuster-level television show.
The Leftovers (the show pictured above) adapts, reworks and builds off of the original book to create one of the highest critically-received shows of the past five years.
These shows work better as TV-shows because they can play the long game and adapt what they want and build on parts that are weak in the source material.
Video game adaptations could do the same if offered the chance.
This approach to source material has even happened and succeeded within the relam of video games too.
The Witcher game series for instance creating its own plotlines and canon while liberally pulling from the source material whenever they need to.
South Park: The Stick of Truth utilises the talents of both the original series' creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and the developers at Obsidian to craft an original experience that feels like the show.
That blends quite well with the final point I feel is incredibly important when it comes to translating any work to another medium.
The Right Crew
Uwe Boll made a name for himself by directing numerous video game adaptations and, if you choose to watch a single one of them (any one, choose it randomly) you can immediately tell he shouldn't be allowed near a camera, let alone helming a movie that is an adaptation of a beloved video game series.
A lot of the crew selected for video game adaptations aren't exactly the talent required to successfully produce, write or direct such a project.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation being the first film directed by John R. Leonetti who later directed the critical successes (sarcasm may or may not be present) Butterfly Effect 2 and Annabelle.
Doom being written by two gentlemen who have since gone on to pen nothing of note (one wrote the original story treatment for Godzilla 2014 while the other wrote The Loft and the god awful Nightmare on Elm Street remake).
Paul W. S. Anderson helming the Resident Evil franchise for over a decade, with each one falling in quality as they release yet never being replaced.
This isn't me judging these professionals as people.
They have made more films than I ever will and as such I respect them for working on, and taking on the huge task of, translating video games to film.
This is me, however, saying they weren't the right people for the job.
An easier way to ensure a quality product is made is to select the crew based upon their work experience in the film and television industries.
For instance, say I'm adapting Grand Theft Auto into a television show.
Which one would I pick to translate to the small-screen?
The most recognisable options would be Grand Theft Auto V, Grand Theft Auto IV, Grand Theft Auto Vice City or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
From a cold, calculating mind-set focused solely on marketability and business, Grand Theft Auto V is the best candidate; what with its millions of users, blockbuster-level marketing campaign and record-breaking sales.
Plus it is the most recent game in the franchise meaning it is the most recognisable to both old and new fans of the series.
So, as this section asks, who would I want to helm the project?
Well go for someone who has proven themselves capable of handling crime stories on television, who can write tight, well-crafted stories that are both interesting and beievable.
The best three candidates I can think of would be David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire) or Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul).
Imagine a Grand Theft Auto V TV show with one of those guys at the helm as showrunner/lead writer.
It's not just television shows either.
A Silent Hill film directed by David F. Sanberg or James Wan.
The Last of Us directed by James Mangold.
Mario: The Animation written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
It's a pipe-dream, sure, and something not likely to occur since video game adaptations are poison to both careers and the box-office, but it's something to consider when moving forward with adaptations. Someone has to be the pioneer to turn video game adaptations into a critical success sometime down the line, but it'll only happen if you allow them a level of freedom to express their creativity whilst adapting the game in question.
Speaking of moving forward, when selecting your crew for the film I think its a given that you should try to make sure that those who originally worked on the video games have a helping hand in the production.
It can help alleviate those stresses to meet fan demand if you have the backing of the original creators to cut certain plot points or cut entire characters even. It can also help you think outside the box since you have the original writers and creators on-board helping you out with the production process.
How would a Hollywood writer get better information on Joel from The Last of Us if not from the gentleman that created the character, Neil Druckmann?
In fact, Naughty Dog should be involved with the new Uncharted movie that has recently entered pre-production.
But they aren't.
This move is definitely not the smartest one and, while it doesn't gurantee success, involving Naughty Dog can hardly do any harm to the movie at this stage surely?
Not involving the people who made the Uncharted series into the critical and commercial success it currently is reeks of either desperation to impress the public: "Look at us, we can adapt this video game into a film all on our own."
Or arrogance: "Look at us, we can adapt this video game into a film all on our own."
This essentially is a way for me to vent my needs for good, well-made, television and film adaptations of my favourite video games.
While writing it down, it seems easy, almost as if it is all basic common sense, but I do understand that making a product for TV or the cinema screen isn't as easy as I make it sound. I don't believe, childlishly, that following these little sections will result in immediate quality cinema and worldwide financial success.
Production is a messy beast, it constantly causes changes in plans and scheduling, and the story/script you start with is never going to be the same when post-production is underway.
This has been the case for decades now and doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.
Yet I feel like there is a persistent rot at the heart of the television/movie industry when it comes to adapting video games, as if there is a disconnect between the majority of the talent that handles the adaptations and the intended audience.
Following the above points isn't exactly easy in this industry, but at the end of the day, the overall message is thus: Invest both your time and effort into making the adaptation the best it can be.
Don't half-ass things just to get it out the door, hire talent that have experience in making films/shows that share a genre with your current adaptation and choose said adaptations wisely.
Because we can't have another Assassin's Creed, House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Boodrayne, Super Mario Bros. and please never another Max Payne.
Castlevania has given us a taste (along with, arguably, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Wreck-It Ralph) of what a great adaptation of a video game series can be.
It really is time for those in charge of video game adaptations to, pardon the pun, adapt with the times.
We, as fans, expect better from our adaptations.
Or make an Emoji Movie 2... I know which one I can bet on happening first.