Unsaved Progress: The failure of video game adaptations in film

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It should be a slam dunk – a known property with recognizable characters, an established story and plenty of excuse for spectacle. So why has it been so hard for Hollywood to successfully adapt a video game into a good film? Since 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.,” movie studios have tried to capitalize on the billions of dollars of success of video games by bringing them to the big screen. Yet time and again, what lands is a loud thud of a movie, boring to major audiences and befuddling to the devoted fanbase.

Despite the constant critical and/or financial drubbings the films take upon release, producers continue to attempt to adapt video games into successful franchises. “The Angry Birds” movie opened well, but was generally despised by critics, and soon there will be movie versions of “World of Warcraft,” “Assassin’s Creed” and a revamping of “Tomb Raider” franchise. It makes sense why filmmakers and companies are chasing these properties, for all the reasons stated above, but why have they always been such terrible dreck with only occasional flashes of innovation?

The first issue is that video games are immersive properties. Gamers are actively participating in these adventures, instead of watching them unfold passively on the screen. That creates the first hurdle for these films to overcome: how do you create something engrossing enough that it wraps people up in the events and makes it feel like it’s happening to them? Even the best blockbusters struggle with this ability to get audiences to identify and empathize with what’s happening on screen, let alone those made simply for cash-in purposes. Therefore, in order to do justice to these video game properties, filmmakers are already facing an uphill climb.

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