This Friday, Duncan Jone’s film adaptation of the Warcraft series of video games is released into theatres. Warcraft is part of a particularly strong line-up of video game adaptations this year, which included an animated Ratchet & Clank film last month and an upcoming adaptation of Assassins Creed, starring Michael Fassbender. While video game adaptations have had varying degrees of success over the years, it has proven somewhat difficult to take something that has hours worth of story and turning it into a 2 hour film.
As both a cinephile and an avid gamer, I thought that I would go back and see how past video game adaptations compared with the original games. It should be noted that I will only be covering examples where I both played the game and watched the film. As such, there will be no mention of either Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (haven’t played the game) or Hitman (haven’t seen the film). I should also emphasize that I am merely discussing how faithful these films are to the games they are based on, with little mention of my personal opinions of them.
UPDATE (6/12): Post now includes a movie/game comparison for Warcraft.
Super Mario Bros (1993)
It can be hard to find someone in this day and age who hasn’t played a game in the 30 year+ Super Mario Bros series. Super Mario is one of most recognizable video game characters of all time and the simple, yet challenging, platforming gameplay helped to make video games what they are today.
When people talk about video game adaptations not being any good, the Super Mario Bros movie is often cited as a prime example. Plagued with multiple script problems, the most positive thing that can be said about the Super Mario Bros move is that it was an absolute mess. While the film got the look of Mario and Luigi kind of right, everything else was as far a departure from the game as you can go, including Dennis Hopper sporting a weird hairdo as King Koopa. The Super Mario Bros movie was such a disaster that Nintendo has since been reluctant to license out any more of their characters.
Comparison Verdict: Horrendous
Street Fighter (1994)
While the original 1987 game was barely known, Street Fighter II became a huge hit when it was released in arcades in 1991, spawning multiple spin-offs in the following years. The game revolutionized the fighting genre of video games and the series remains popular to this day.
Street Fighter II was adapted as a 1994 film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The film was relatively faithful in preserving the looks of the characters from the game, including Raul Julia, in his final film role, as the antagonist M. Bison. However, the film kind of deemphasizes the whole “street fighting” premise of the game, with the film being a typical Van Damme action vehicle. At the very least, this film is more faithful to the game than 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, which I haven’t seen.
Comparison Verdict: Fair
Mortal Kombat (1995)
While Street Fighter II popularized fighting games, Mortal Kombat made them infamous. Utilizing performance capture for its fighters and featuring bloody violence, Mortal Kombat was a highly controversial game when it was released in arcades in 1992 and even more so when it was released to home consoles. It fact, Mortal Kombat is one of the reasons video games now feature ratings.
It should be noted that the 1995 film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was one of the first films by director Paul W.S. Anderson, who would become known for one of the most successful video game adaptations (to be discussed later). The Mortal Kombat movie is actually better than it could of been, with the film faithfully depicting the core characters and story. The film opts to be a more straight-forward martial arts film, askewing the gory violence that the games are known for. While Mortal Kombat can be seen as a relatively faithful adaptation, the 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation should probably be avoided at all costs.
Comparison Verdict: Good
Resident Evil (2002)
Released for the Sony Playstation in 1996, Resident Evil saw you play as S.T.A.R.S. members Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, who investigate an isolated mansion filled with zombies and other monsters. Resident Evil revolutionized the survival horror genre of video games, where the goal was more to strategically avoid the creatures than simply shoot everything in sight with your limited ammo.
Following his film adaptation of Mortal Kombat, Paul W.S. Anderson went on to create one of the most successful video game adaptation franchises, with the fifth sequel to Resident Evil scheduled to come out later this year. However, despite being one of the most successful video game adaptations, Resident Evil is also one of the least faithful, with pretty much the only element used being a virus created by an evil corporation that creates zombies and other monsters. Even though they do pop up in the sequels, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine are replaced by the new protagonist of Alice and the film is much more of a sci-fi/action film than horror. The Resident Evil series may be successful, but it’s not at all anything like the games.
Comparison Verdict: Poor
First person shooters probably would not be a thing if it wasn’t for 1993’s Doom. The premise of the game was simple: run through the levels and shoot the hordes of zombies and demons. Like Mortal Kombat, the level of blood and gore in Doom was highly controversial for its time and necessitated the creation of the ESRB rating system.
Released a year before the film adaptation, 2004’s Doom 3 is essentially a reboot of the plot of the original game, except with darker 3D graphics and a greater emphasis on the horror of these invading demons from hell.
There was talk about the film adaptation of Doom ever since the release of the original game, however it finally became a reality in 2005, likely spurred by the success of the Resident Evil films. The film features very faithful practical creature effects based on the designs from Doom 3. However, the film decided to simply make these creatures another case of “science gone wrong,” instead of having them be literal demons from hell. That said, the film does try to stay true to the game’s first person shooter roots by featuring a POV sequence in the third act.
Comparison Verdict: Fair
Max Payne (2008)
In what is probably Rock Star Games second most popular franchise (after Grand Theft Auto), 2001’s Max Payne is a neo-noir action thriller game about an ex-cop seeking vengeance for the murder of his family. The game is notable for it’s action sequences inspired by John Woo films and The Matrix, which utilizes “bullet time” to slow down the gunfights.
Starring Mark Wahlberg in the titular role, the film adaptation of Max Payne takes what is already a great neo-noir story and turns it into a gloomy mess with the questionable supernatural addition of drug-induced Valkyrie hallucinations. While the film does attempt to stick to the plot of the game, it actually omits the game’s climax, in an attempt to set up a sequel that never happened.
Comparison Verdict: Poor
Ace Attorney (2012)
Capcom’s Ace Attorney series of video games puts you in the role of young lawyer Phoenix Wright, as you investigate murder cases on behalf of the wrongly-accused defendants. 2001’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was a surprise hit when it was released in North America in 2005, with a fifth sequel scheduled to be released this year.
It is quite a shame that Takashi Miike’s 2012 film adaptation of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney isn’t more readily available, since it is probably one of the most faithful video game adaptations out there. With the game essentially being an interactive novel, it quite easy for the producers to bring the story of the game to the big screen in exact detail. Not only do the events play out in the same fashion as the game, but the characters look exactly like their digital counterparts, crazy haircuts and all. I have yet to see a video game adaptation that is more faithful than Ace Attorney.
Comparison Verdict: Excellent
Warcraft began as a trilogy of real time strategy PC games, where players chose sides as either the Alliance or Horde and built structures and units to help fend off attacks from the opposing side.
In 2004, in celebration of the franchise’s tenth anniversary, the massively multiplayer online RPG World of Warcraft was released. Using subscription-based online servers, you now do various quests to level up your character, before teaming up with other players for epic raids. In the twelve years since its release, World of Warcraft continues to go strong, with a sixth expansion scheduled to be released this summer.
You can read a more detailed breakdown in my review
, but I thought that the Warcraft
film faithfully brings the world of the games to the big screen. While there is a few things to nitpick about the film, it is definitely one of the better video game adaptations out there.
Comparison Verdict: Quite Good.
So, how will the other video game adaptations this year fare against the others? That it something we will just have to discover in the weeks and months to come.