The Curse of Video Game Movies: Why ‘Pixels’ Sucked 0 162


This is a guest post by Maria Ramos. 

It seems like no matter how hard they try, filmmakers will never get the hang of making consistently good video game movies. For every Resident Evil there is a BloodRayne. For every Mortal Kombat there is a Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Since the 1993 release of Super Mario Bros. – based on the popular Nintendo game but bearing little resemblance to the source material other than having two plumber brothers as the heroes – audiences have been disappointed over and over again by films based on their favorite games and characters. So why do filmmakers and production companies keep trying to make video game movies? And why can’t they figure out the formula that will create a truly great adaptation?

Happy Madison Productions’ Pixels is the most recent of video game-based films. It’s definitely aesthetically pleasing with impressive special effects and an interesting premise. But this is buried beneath a generic and sometimes confusing storyline, unbelievable hero, and lackluster or totally misused supporting cast (Peter Dinklage could do so much better). The plot centers on the concept of aliens attacking Earth through the use of classic video game characters, known through a radio broadcast in the 1980s. The only one on the planet that can defeat these villainous video game monsters is a previous video game champion.

There are elements in Pixels that are interesting (watching Pac-Man and Tetris blocks destroy a city is actually quite cool) but they are buried under a nonsensical main character, the drama surrounding him, and his improbable love story.


Not all types of film adaptations are a failure. In the last few decades, many comic book stories have made the leap from page to screen with great success. But where a comic book property usually has a large well of backstory and character development to draw on, the same can’t be said for many video games. Even franchises such as Super Mario Bros. only have so much plot to work with when creating film content. Though the heroic plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi, appear in dozens of games, you are given little insight into who they really are, why they are constantly searching out Princess Peach, why Bowser is so obsessed with kidnapping her, and what kind of world it is they really live in (though there are some fan theories explaining some of these questions). The creators of the Super Mario Bros. movie made most of the plot up as they went along, and they ended up with a weird, boring, confusing film that no one wanted to watch or if they did, deeply regretted it.

With the advances in special effects and digital technology over the years it would be more than possible to create a video game film that had the look of the game and the feel of a great movie. But special effects aren’t enough. The Tron sequel from 2010 proves that point. Still available through Xfinity and DTV, Tron: Legacy has the look of a video game, from the flashy light cycles to the glowing armor uniforms. And it includes characters that play types of in-program “games” to survive. Yet while it looks like a movie that could be plucked off the screen, inserted into a gaming console, and played quite easily, it’s lacking in plot and character development. It inevitably ends up a “beautiful to look at but nothing special to see” kind of film.

Now, just because most video game movies fail at the box office and with fans, doesn’t mean they’ve all been terrible. There have been some good or at least watchable films based on video games over the years. The first Mortal Kombat included a great soundtrack, impressive special effects for the time, and a plot that followed the premise of the game pretty well. The first Resident Evil movie adaptation was similar, with a talented lead actress and well done graphics and effects. Both had scenes that felt like they were adapted directly from moments in their respective games, but both also had some more character-driven moments that gave audiences something to enjoy on a more emotional level.


More video game adaptations are in the works that are highly anticipated and will hopefully be worthy films to already-existing fans. Recent news of more video game adaptations have made many internet headlines. The Last of Us, an incredibly popular zombie survival game from 2013, has spawned the developments of a film coming out in 2016. With its complex storyline and character development, The Last of Us could potentially break the video game film curse.

Similarly, the Assassin’s Creed movie, also premiering in 2016, has the potential to be an action-packed piece with incredible special effects. Of course, there are many other video game franchises that would translate well in theaters: Mass Effect, Halo, Gears of War, and even Grand Theft Auto. However, in order to successfully create adaptations that will do justice to their originals, it would take time, money and actual effort from studios and filmmakers – not just the capitalization on an existing fanbase.

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 420

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 452

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10