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The Ugly Face of Video Gaming Crossovers in Film

Anthony Chatfield
It's not the ugly stepchild of pop culture any more, but it is still going to take as little respect from the film industry before video gaming can be truly accepted as a multimedia force. Let's see why...
The pop culture machine, that great big mechanism that pumps out so much mushy claylike substances every year is a peculiar beast. It grows, changes, reforms itself to best match the audience it is trying to reach. It seems like every year there are a half dozen new mediums entering the fray, vying for our attention, and hence our very important dollar.
Then there are the veterans, the long time entries in the pop culture wars like film and television. Those mediums that have been around as long as the concept of a mass marketed cultural fad. Like cockroaches, these classics withstand any and all changes, adapting and changing when needed to meet the needs of the masses and stay around.
It's the new ones you really have to watch out for. When something so new and so entertaining grows so quickly, sometimes it's hard to realize that it is slowly taking over various aspects of our daily lives, infiltrating into our routines and becoming a part of the "the norm".
The Internet has done that surprisingly well in the last 10 years or so, at first a fad, then a tool, and now a lifestyle. But, it's the smaller things that we really don't notice―mediums like video gaming.
Video games have been around since the 1970s, but at the time, they were nothing more than a fad, a hobby for computer programmers, and a very expensive proposition for anyone interested in playing them. And when the programmers tried to turn it into a business, and pumped out failed, broken software, the video game 'fad' almost died completely.
But, something odd happened. Instead of dying off like other pop culture one-hit wonders, video gaming found new life in a little gray box from Nintendo. Nintendo made it fun again, with new technology, easy-to-use interface, and affordable equipment. And the world responded with its eternal love and gratitude.
Actually, despite our overwhelming nostalgia for the days of the NES and Super Mario Bros., not everyone owned one right away, or at all really. The console was an expensive proposition for an unknown product, and the market had just slapped a lot of people in the face.
Regardless, it found success, and as the industry has grown, so too has the idea that video gaming is here to stay, and that when you purchase a shiny new console, you'll be rewarded with shiny new games.
Unfortunately, like any pop culture product, the video game market has grown to the point of crossover. It wants more than anything now to find success in other markets. Video games themselves are not tremendously profitable, unless a game is a massive success.
Development time and costs are outrageous, so why not try and fling a movie or two out? How about a shoddy sequel for a handheld system with a third of the development cost? What about a novelization? Cartoon?
These are not unfamiliar. If you remember back to the days when Mario and Sonic were the only two mascots around (and darn popular), they were everywhere. You could find Mario cartoons on Saturday mornings, Mario books in every book store.
There were Mario lunchboxes and thermos on the first day of school, just days before the release of Super Mario Bros. 3. The market was huge, but the shoddy quality and failed attempts at films made it a bad idea, and eventually Hollywood stopped trying so hard.
Now Video gaming is so common that nearly 1 in 2 households have one (and 2 in 3 adult males). Video gaming, like any other cultural trend that becomes a lifestyle, is still trying to find its place in the world. It is adapting, slowly shifting and turning in its skin until the fit is just right. But, that means we are stuck waiting until it gets it right.
Anyone who has seen an Uwe Boll film, or wondered why Angelina Jolie decided Tomb Raider was a good idea, knows what is being talked of. Video games are born from outlandish ideas. They're over the top and outrageous, that's what makes them good video games. But, when you try and reinterpret that to the screen, you will fail.
The only remotely successful attempt was Doom. Doom had it right because no one pretended it was a film instead of a video game. The director took a game script and put real people in it. It was humorously campy, and that is the only way a game script can work as a film. Unfortunately, other directors have not yet figured that out.
But, as the comic book industry can attest, it's a matter of growing pains. It took 40 years for Hollywood to make a good superhero movie with Richard Donner's Superman, and the only other good one between Donner's film and Sam Raimi's Spiderman was Tim Burton's borderline interpretation of Batman. But, now we get great comic book adaptations every year.
The key is to garner enough respect for these franchises, and for those that own the rights to them to demand the proper treatment of them, that they are not treated like pulp fiction fluff, the kind of slop that gets churned out on a $20 million budget and released in late January every year.
And with the growth, energy, and money that the industry is seeing, it's not unforeseeable that major franchises like Halo might become halfway decent motion pictures. If we're lucky, it will at least be as good as the game.