Yet another video game movie has graced the box office and―lo and behold―it sucks!
Granted, I haven't seen "Tomb Raider" yet, which might completely discredit what I've just said and will say, but judging from the critical consensus (50% on Rotten Tomatoes, 47 on Metacritic), it seems like Hollywood's attempt at another video game adaptation has resulted in yet another stinker. To its credit, it did do better than 2016's "Assassin's Creed" and pretty much every other video game movie ever aside from 1995's "Mortal Kombat."
But while it might not be the worst video game movie ever made, does it represent a milestone for the form? Will this movie be the poster-child for video-game adaptations moving forward? Will it show executives that video game movies are safe to invest in? I highly doubt it.
What frustrates me though, is that there's no reason why video game movies shouldn't work. After all, how much of a difference is there between AAA video games and film? Both have actors, a director, a team of writers, an art department, a soundtrack... even cutscenes employ techniques typically associated with cinema. There's also no doubt that both are MASSIVE production undertakings. Just look at the 12 minute long credits for Uncharted 4.
There isn't as much of a difference between the mediums as one would think. In fact, we could boil down the difference into one word: interactivity. Whereas films are motion pictures, video games are simply interactive motion pictures. That's all there is to it. I think it's a dated notion to think that games need "an objective" or "must be won." We've seen plenty of new games this decade that break convention, redefining what a video game can and can't be. With the advent of TellTale style games and Walking Simulators like "Gone Home" and "What Remains of Edith Finch," the line between games and film is as blurry as ever.
At its core, video games are just like every other narrative and artistic medium―they create stories, they carry themes, and they explore the human condition. Therefore, there isn't anything inherently wrong with the medium that makes it impossible for it to translate onto the big screen. Instead, I believe the problem with video game adaptions lie with a broad public misconception about games.
It's time to stop dismissing video games as nothing more than childish entertainment filled with brainless and over-the-top action. When we make video game movies, stop trying to recapture the parkour in Assassin's Creed or the blood, gore, and action of games like Max Payne or Resident Evil. Focus on stories. Focus on narrative. Because games do that too, and that's the kind of stuff that translates into a good film.
Also, when searching for a game to adapt, stop choosing video gamey and narrative-less source material. Don't go for games like Doom, Angry Birds, Hitman, Need for Speed, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros, or Street Fighter. Why do these movies even exist at all?! They are based on games with barely functioning narratives, and their sole focus is to export good and fun gameplay. Sure they may work as games, but they are destined to fail as movies.
Start picking battles that can be won. Pick narrative-driven games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, and The Last Of Us. These are the types of games that can translate well onto the big screen. They are well-written, engaging, and contain memorable characters.
And when picking a game like Tomb Raider, don't try to recapture in-game firefights by making a pulpy action movie. Instead, capture elements from the source material that are less video-gamey and more filmic. 2013's critically acclaimed video game reboot of Tomb Raider reimagined Lara Croft; it featured an emotional narrative journey, a strong protagonist, and heavy character development. Focus on those elements instead. Because that's what made Tomb Raider 2013 great, and it's also what will make for a great movie too.