With the news that The Last of Us is getting the Hollywood treatment, it once again teases the idea of videogame adaptations making a big impact in the movie world. The big screen is no stranger to game adaptations but the result is often…shall we say, abominable. There isn’t a single movie of this type that has made a good case for the game to film transition. Some films have flirted with greatness but always seem to fall short of a cohesive high quality production.
All of this started in 1993 with the release of a live action version of Super Mario Bros starring the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the legendary brothers, as well as Dennis Hopper as Bowser. The film was critically slaughtered and performed poorly at the box office, now relegated to a running joke within the gaming community. The crucial question is why did this film fail though? Mario is one of, if not the biggest, icons in gaming, surely the name alone would secure at least a financial victory, if not a critical one. The problem with this film, as well as every other game adaptation that has followed it, is that it fails to understand what makes the source material special during the transition to film.
Mario is all about a bright and colourful kingdom filled with cute and wonderful creatures. The film takes place in drab looking cities and deserts and features an entirely human cast, although one unintended disturbing looking creature makes an appearance. The Street Fighter movie, starring Kyle Minogue and Jean-Claude Van Damme, became a laughing stock for it’s terrible dialogue and cheesy fight scenes; a far cry from the brutal satisfying combat of the popular game series. Finally, who can forget Alone in the Dark, a Uwe Boll adaptation of the first survival horror game ever, which he skilfully managed to craft into a film that is considered one of the worst movies ever made.
The Resident Evil film series, although just as critically abhorred, has managed to become the most successful film series to be based on a game ever, but the problem still remains that it does not take the source material seriously apart from the odd name drop here and famous monster there. It’s carved out it’s own universe and tells a completely different story, but the overwhelming consensus seems to be that this is a world far inferior to the Videogame series that managed to redefine survival horror forever. The film franchise has long since buried the horror aspects and chosen to focus on action based set pieces instead.
Silent Hill is one of the most successful examples of staying true to the source material, but it still failed to understand the relevance of what the game series represented. The film understands the importance of cinematography, with skewed and disorienting camera angles that recapture the claustrophobic fixed camera of the game series. The mood is darkly surreal and the characters are a little more fleshed out than the usual kind of emotionless husks in game to film adaptations. The most notable characters being Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and Cybill Bennett (Laurie Holden) who are both portrayed surprisingly well with a good amount of likability. Where Silent Hill fails as a film is in how it fails to understand what the very essence of Silent Hill represents.
Each individual monster from every game serve a metaphorical purpose that actually helps us to understand the characters and situations more. The convulsing fiends that hunt down James Sunderland in the second Silent Hill game are disturbing enough just through their physical appearance, but it is the sexual undertones that offer up a real gut punch once you discover the deeper secrets of the game. The film does not offer up this same kind of depth, essentially placing grotesque looking monsters in certain scenes just to please fans of the series. Pyramid Head, the large blade wielding monstrosity from Silent Hill 2, makes a notable appearance in the film, but it’s a meaningless role that makes no sense in the wider context of the Silent Hill mythology. Pyramid Head is a figure of judgement for James Sunderland that is employed in order to constantly remind him of the atrocities he has committed. The monster’s purpose in the film is merely to be present, almost like a frightening attraction at a theme park; he takes our attention for a brief second but does not offer up any real great significance.
The Last of Us definitely has a lot of hurdles to jump over in order to convince videogame fans that the movie is worth watching, but it is in a substantially more effective position given that Neil Druckman, the original writer for The Last of Us, will be penning the script for the movie. The history of the medium is going against it, but if the production team understand what makes The Last of Us special, this could be the perfect chance to prove that some games do have the potential to be culturally valuable movies.