Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider, a reboot of the original film duology starring Angelina Jolie, recently hit the screens and critics gave a “meh” sort of reaction to it, and it is being pummeled by a five-week-old film, Black Panther. Ridiculously, it is still one of the best-reviewed video-game movies ever, despite a rating of 50% at Rotten Tomatoes. It must be said, though, that original Tomb Raider films were not exactly examples of quality filmmaking either. Indeed, video-games movies, in general, are said to be failures even before their release – and they almost always turn out so. The buzz before the release of a video-game movie is mostly about how bad it would be. To give you an idea, Vikander’s Tomb Raider has a 50% rating at Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer – which is among the highest ever!
Saying gaming and film are different, incompatible mediums would be a lazy way out. After all, books get converted to films all the time and many book-based films sometimes manage to outdo their source material. And film has more common with games with their cinematic cutscenes than books, which are only text. But even after all that, the expression “a video-game movie” has become the byword for really bad stuff.
It is not lack of talent either. Most movies based on video-games are produced by big studios who pour millions of dollars into production and hire people with proven calibre, both in front and behind the screen. So what’s the deal?
In my personal opinion, it is because studios are confused as to what they want when they are adapting a video-game. Sometimes, they try to pander to the game’s already established fanbase by stuffing the film with as much plot as possible that makes the film a mess that no editor can improve. Also, fans of the game are intensely loyal to the story and characters and get upset when there is the slightest deviation. Video-games tell their story over 20-30 hours or more of gameplay, while movies have to do it within 2 hours, so there has to be deviation – significant deviation.
Also, the story in games is meant to supplement gameplay and make it more involving. It does not need to stand on its own. That is why many games have hilariously bad stories and they still manage to be successful. It is hard to care about the story if you could blast the terrorist into smithereens or hop across the buildings in medieval Florence. But in films, the story is pretty much everything. Films are not interactive in the way games are and an average moviegoer would not enjoy a film if the story is not good.
Then again, if filmmakers take liberties with the source material, and follow the video-game’s story in spirit and not scene-by-scene, they risk alienating the core fanbase of the game which is usually their target audience. It is this fine balance that filmmakers have to strike to make a decent video-game based movie. And it has so far eluded them.