As time moves on and the technology advances to new levels that were previously thought not possible there are genres that thrive and those that die. Genres, such as westerns, have pretty much died out and are seen as a novelty when released, but others really take advantage and are reaping the awards of biding their time, such as films based on graphic novels and comic books.
There can be few arguments that the genre has enjoyed a major resurgence in the last fifteen years and it is arguable the most popular type of film at the moment, mainly thanks to the gritty Christopher Nolan taken on the Batman franchise with his critically lauded Dark Knight trilogy and the highly enjoyable films in the Marvel Avengers universe. The makers of graphic novels and comic book genre (I will shorten to GNCB after this) have found that winning formula that keeps not only fans of the source material going back to it, but also winning new fans due to it’s approach. As a non-reader of GNCB fiction, I only discover these characters based on the films know nothing about them, but they make me want to read the source material and that is the biggest praise I can give them.
It’s a far cry from the GNCB films prior to the 21st century as there was poor release after poor release and it wasn’t until the aforementioned Dark Knight trilogy started with 2005’s Batman Begins that the genre started to regain a bit of a positive reputation in the films. This was soon followed by films such as (in alphabetical order) 30 Days of Night, 300, Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and V for Vendetta, to name just a few whilst not referencing the Marvel Universe.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy’s darker and more realistic approach to the Batman franchise gained critical acclaim and helped majorly towards helping films based on Graphic Novels or Comic Books to become resurgent this millennium.
With numerous stories set in the same universes, crossovers and different visual styles, it’s hard not to get engrossed in the films of the genre, and the pure amount of releases of GNCB films shows exactly how successfully they have turned things around. Although there are only four GNCB films being released in mainstream cinema in 2015 (Kingsman : The Secret Service, Avengers : Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and The Fantastic Four), this is to be followed by considerable more.
All of this is based on current confirmed releases and the numbers could easily increase. In 2016 were will see nine mainstream releases of GNCB films, 2017 will see eleven and then twelve currently announced between 2018 and 2020. That is thirty-two films in a four year period and that is astonishing number and virtually all are likely to make money.
In a previous “Keeping It Reel” I mentioned that the only reason that Resident Evil films keep getting made is because they make money, not because they are good, and whilst the majority of GNCB are good, the only reason we keep seeing the Wolverine character, despite his terrible stand alone movies, is that they make money. By the end of 2020, based on current announcements, there will have been a total of ten films featuring the character and that is too much of one character, but again they keep making money.
In short, GNCB films have turned themselves around and there is another genre that can learn from the example, movies based on computer games. For the sake of this article I am only going to focus on mainstream cinema movies released in the English language and that is for the simple reason that it’s easier this way.
The first computer game to see a major cinema release was Super Mario Bros. The games were very well received (I’m not a fan before anyone asks) but the film, released in 1993, was widely regarded as one of the worst films of the 1990s, and it started a dangerous precedent. At the time of writing there have been 28 cinema releases for films based on computer games as the sole source material, and much like the Resident Evil franchise, the majority only get made because people think that they will make money.
Milla Jovovich stars as Alice in Resident Evil, the first film to be based on the poular computer game franchise.
The 28 films have made (when rounding the takings to the nearest million) a total of $2.71 billion around the world, averaging out to just shy of $97 million per film, which is an astonishing figure when you take into account that not a single one of them gained a rating higher than 44% on Rotten Tomatoes (Final Fantasy : The Spirits Within) and no higher than 58% on metametric (Mortal Kombat). Infact, taking into account the Rotten Tomatoes rating at the time of writing, the average rating across the 28 films is a poultry 18.29% (rounded up).
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy films that are based on computer games. I enjoyed Mortal Kombat, the first Resident Evil Film, Silent Hill and for my sins, I also liked Doom. One thing I briefly mentioned earlier was that one of the reasons that GNCB films regained momentum was because of films such as The Dark Knight trilogy offering a gritty and more realistic take on things. Pretty much all of the previous Batman films from the 1980s and 90s were presented almost like a comic book in terms of presentation, such as the burns to Harvey Dent in Batman Forever. They almost felt silly, for lack of better words. Turning the franchise “gritty” certainly worked for that franchise and rejuvenated the genre, and in 2010 there was a hint that this could potentially be the future of computer game movies.
Whilst most seem to agree that the first Mortal Kombat film is reasonably ok, it is widely considered that the sequel, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, is just terrible due to several factors, including a considerably reduced budget, actors choosing not to reprise their roles from the first film (such as Sandra Hess replacing Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade) and just a shockingly poor delivery of lines, especially by the horrendously bad Musetta Vander as Sindel.
Anyway, I digress. In 2010, thirteen years after Annihilation, a trailer was released for what was described as a reboot of the franchise and it looked considerably different to either of the previous films and looked more set in reality, unfortunately it turned out to not be a trailer for a new film, but Kevin Tancharoen’s pitch to do a reboot of the franchise. This lead to a new online series featuring several famous actors, including Jeri Ryan (Star Trek Voyager) and Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), and whilst a film has been spoken about several times, the last update from Warner Bros, who own the rights, was that the budget for a film would be $40-50 million.
Below is the trailer that Tancharoen created.
So why do computer game movies fail? Well more often than not the main people that watch them are the fans of the games and most VG movies are seemingly made for them. Right there you have an issue because you don’t do what GNCB films do and make sure that the films are not just aimed at the fans of the computer games, but also the wider audience. Just limiting yourself to be there for the fans of the computer games is a big problem because not only are non-fans not likely to watch it, but you are under exceptional scrutiny from those who are fans as they will want want made the games enjoyable.
I’ll give you an example, Doom is one of the most popular games of all time, but when the film came out in 2005 and was largely criticised for it’s virtual non-existent relation to the game, other than a brief first-person perspective scene towards the end of the film. The Resident Evil films have suffered a similar problem as other than a few extremely loose references to the game, the only real connection during the film and the early games are the zombies, infact the first film contained zero characters from the games. This issue did quickly get amended as the films did start following the games a bit more, including using characters from the game, although they were only used in name and appearance only, the personalities were not at all like they were in the games.
To put into perspective how important it is to make your film similar in many aspects to what they are based on, imagine if Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit was made after someone read the novels and then decided to add characters in who weren’t in the books or take other characters out of the books entirely…..oh….wait. Whilst Lord of the Rings was widely lauded, the Hobbit suffered greatly from under-developing many characters at the expense of characters who weren’t even in the book, such as Tauriel.
With an increasing amount of films based on computer games coming out in the next few years, surely it’s only a matter of time before one of them is successful on more levels than money.
So I’m going to end this “Keeping it Reel” with a small pitch for a computer game that me and several friends grew up loving. This computer game series has five entries, and although the fourth and fifth entries weren’t particularly good, the first three were exceptionally enjoyable. They transcend genres, age, gender and so many other factors that I can’t even begin to think of that for me it would make the perfect film. Some will argue that the Pirates of the Caribbean films are a very close to this series, and there are numerous nods throughout that quadrilogy which are obvious easter-eggs for those who played the game that I am going to pitch. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you The Secret of Monkey Island.
The Monkey Island franchise started in 1990 with “The Secret of Monkey Island” and it follows the adventures of Guybrush, a young man who turns up on Melee Island with the ultimate aim of becoming a pirate. As he participates in several trials to prove that he is worthy, he meets Elaine and falls in love, but soon becomes embroiled in a battle with the ghost-pirate Lechuck. This continues through the four sequels, Lechuck’s Revenge, Curse of Monkey Island, Escape from Monkey Island and the Tales of Monkey Island.
Monkey Island was greeted with near universal acclaim due to it’s mix of comedy, romance and action. It was a great all-around game and took nearly three hours to complete, which was exceptionally rare in those days. Even now, 25 years after it’s initial release, I still regularly play the first three games and have conversations with friends about the games on the rare occasions that we see each other. It sums it all up for me about the popularity of the series when the first two installments were given special editions, something which can’t be said about most point and click games, a genre that has been pretty much dead since the early 1990s.
For me there were many reasons why the Monkey Island games, well, the first three anyway, worked and for me the main one of those was that Guybrush was a relatable protagonist. He was a young man with many weaknesses and fears, but tried to overcome those to achieve his dream. That is what a protagonist should be, someone who you could potentially be yourself. The antagonist is also likeable due to the less than serious nature in which his character has been approached.
A Monkey Island film would go down exceptionally well if it paid homage to the games and not someone’s re-imagining.