In recording this week’s especially wonderful “Something Old, Something New,” an interesting question was brought up – and that question was “Adaptation” (but with a question mark at the end.) I’ve always been fascinated by adaptation as it comes with a set of problems totally divorced from normal issues with creating any work of art. Not only do you need to create a fleshed out world that pays tribute to the source material you are adapting, but it’s important to add some kind of flair all your own so that it’s not stale and redundant for those with a familiarity with the original. But even bigger than those two issues is a large looming question that hangs over every adaptation ever made and that is “Does this even need to exist?”
With movies like Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock sitting on the horizon for some time now, there seems to be an unfortunate trend coming of a return to video game movies. Its my firm belief that when this all powerful question hangs over video game movie adaptations specifically the answer is 9 times out of 10 a firm and powerful NO. As anyone who has played through games like Earthbound, Journey, or The Last of Us can tell you, video games have for quite some time proven to those willing to make the investment that they have grown up quite a bit since the early days of Space Invaders and Pong. What this basically means is that video games are totally legitimate works of art (Yes, Roger Ebert, ART) all on their own and don’t need some kind of movie adaptation to make it a worthy narrative. This is especially becoming apparent in world where more and more developers are telling stories that can only exist in a video game. Where would Bioshock‘s themes of choice be without a literal player choice? How could the brilliantly subversive Stanley Parable exist in a medium without the very tropes its subverting? Why would I want to see a movie of Metal Gear Solid or Uncharted when those games are already incredibly cinematic all on their own? If anything, a movie removes the input of the player and thus hinders the experience rather than enhancing it. In the recent Sony email leak we learned that Sony is desperately trying to once again adapt Super Mario Bros into a movie. I don’t need to point to the last time someone tried this to prove why this is a bad idea, I need only to point to the source material. Super Mario Bros isn’t an experience driven by a narrative, but by extremely tight controls and level design to create a fun and engaging challenge for players, a artistic form of expression that can literally not exist outside of video games. People don’t love the plumbers because they tell such compelling stories or because the characters are so interesting, its because its a form of entertainment unique to the art form.
Video Games aren’t the only medium where this problem exists. For years studios have been trying to make an americanized live-action movie of the 1980s anime masterpiece Akira. This movie is a staple of the genre and so entrenched in Japanese themes that this idea to me is completely ludicrous. Sure, there are some pretty universal themes of adolescence in the film, but in removing animation and his rich Japan-specific ideas you are completely robbing the film of everything that makes is so special. Why do we as Americans feel like we can’t truly appreciate something unless we make it about ourselves? Some things just don’t translate, guys.
As Zach Synder proved with Watchmen and every video game movie will continue to prove, sometimes things are just specific to their particular medium and thats okay! We don’t need a movie of House of Leaves or Neon Genesis Evangelion or Watchmen or Earthbound to appreciate how brilliant each of those things are.
Why don’t we try doing exactly what all those brilliant creators did and create something wholly original for the specific medium we are working in?