Video Game Movies

Video games have provided countless hours of entertainment to the world since they first leaped into arcades in the 1970’s. Since then video games have exploded from the arcades into our homes. Successful game franchises will sometimes see a film adaption made, but up until now most of these adaptions have been commercial and critical flops. Why is this? Why can’t Hollywood seem to be able to make a good video game movie? By looking at past movie adaptions we can get a better idea. To start, let’s look at one of the most recent game franchise to see a film adaption: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Currently the highest grossing video game adaption ever, with a worldwide box office growth of $335,154,643, Prince of Persia is also one of the best received video game adaptions with a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. I saw this one myself, not in theatres but on DVD, and I did enjoy it. Nothing magnificent, but it was pretty good. Now I never played any of the Prince of Persia games that this film is based off of; I’ve only played the new Prince of Persia series. The plot of the film and the game are different, Disney didn’t set out to do a straight up adaption. Instead they took elements from the game that they liked and crafted a new story. Most video game adaptions are just that, straightforward adaptions. With that comes the problems of trying to fit the plot to the big screen, and making everything fit in a way that works out well. While the movie was pretty well received, it still wasn’t a big commercial success in the United States. Only $91,695,259 of its $335,154,643 total gross came from North America. Plus, a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, while better then most video game adaptions, isn’t a great score. How can Hollywood fix this?

Ubisoft, the developer behind such video game series as The Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed have taken their first step into the film industry with Assassin’s Creed Lineage, a series of three short live action movies focusing on the father of AC II’s Ezio Auditore, Giovanni Auditore Assassin’s Creed Lineage was released as three short films on YouTube to promote the later release of AC II.

One of the most fascinating things about AC Lineage is the production. Live actors were filmed on a green screen and placed over environments extracted from the game’s engine. Ubisoft hired Hybride, who worked on 300, Sin City, and Avatar, to export and rework the game environments for the movie. Until today I had never seen Lineage, but as research for this article I watched it, and I was quite impressed with its quality. The picture itself was beautiful, mixing the game’s environment with the live actions actors perfectly. After watching it, it was easy to see why Lineage got favorable reviews. While Lineage was only a short film and not an adaption of a video game but a prequel to one, it still got better reviews then most video game movies. If you haven’t seen Assassin’s Creed Lineage, I highly recommend it. It is only 36 minutes and you need no prior knowledge of the series to enjoy it. You can watch it at the end of this article.

This November 15th the next game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise comes out, Assassin’s Creed Revelations. It follows the last years of Ezio Auditore and his quest to unlock an ancient weapon locked away by his ancestor Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. Once again Ubisoft is releasing a short film with the release of AC Revelations, this time available only through pre-order of the game’s signature edition. This short is an animated one, entitled Assassin’s Creed Embers, and it follows Ezio’s later years with his family. With this release Ubisoft takes another step forward into the realm of the film industry, and perhaps one day it will be a major contender standing neck and neck with Paramount or Universal.

Why did it get better reviews? Is it just because Ubisoft is awesome at everything? Yes, but that’s not the answer I’m going to give you. It’s because the creators and writer of Assassin’s Creed II were able to work very closely with the writers and directors of Lineage. I think that by looking at the quality of Lineage, it is clear to see that if the developers of the game are given significant power in the creation of the film, that the outcome is much more likely to be a movie that the fans of the series will like. There are rumors floating around of a Red Dead Redemption movie staring Brad Pitt. This could be very, very good if done well. I suggest that whatever studio develops this movie, that they allow the creators of the game to be involved in the movie.

As another example look at movies based on books. J.K. Rowling was involved in the production of the Potter films, and they turned out the better for it. Now with the movie adaption of the popular post apocalyptic gladiator series Hunger Games, the author, Suzanne Collins, has been on involved in the production and given power previously unknown to authors. With the authors of novels being incorporated more and more into the film adaptions, perhaps it’s time for the same to be true for video game creators. If Ubisoft can create a feature film at or exceeding the quality of Lineage, then maybe studios will allow video game developers to have the same influence over their work that authors have now. It took J.K. Rowling to let Hollywood give this power to authors, perhaps it’ll be Ubisoft that will let game developers get it as well.

Assassin’s Creed Embers trailer:

Assassin’s Creed Lineage:

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2 thoughts on “Video Game Movies

  1. I’m curious, taking Lineage that you saw/I just watched – would you really pay for a two hour movie like that? My point: it was really good, I liked it, I was impressed, but only because 1) it’s free and 2) I go into it know that it is a low-cost tie-in to a video game, so my expectations are lowered (and I think yours are, too, even if subconsciously). The production value was good, but it wasn’t higher. The visual effects and green screen was really well done, and if this 90-minute feature were on SyFy I’d be a fan. Hell, add it to the lineup, but feature films…are such a whole different ballgame.

    Which is why I disagree with the thought of Ubisoft making a full movie. Not just that they would (I think not, they know their field), but that they should. Obviously, I would LOVE to see a really well made game adaptation, and I also don’t deny that the game creators should probably be given more control over those adaptations, but there’s a limit. Game of Thrones, for example, has two producers who are huge fans of the novels (plus GRR Martin himself on the writing staff) along with two producers who have never, never, read the novels. This is a good thing. Maybe not the best example, because the GoT show is literally the books on screen, but the principle is the same.

    To a point, game creators can bring a lot to making a movie out of a game, but there’s also a point where their experience muddies the waters. Because film is not like games. They are two different mediums in the same way a novel must, in certain cases, be changed when being adapted to film. There are tons of reasons for this, but the biggest, in my opinion? Target audience.

    Assassin’s Creed is a big hit. It’ll sell thousands and thousands of copies and make tons of money and be awesome and successful, but that audience is only a percentage of total market share for American, not to mention global, audiences. A movie based on a video game cannot, absolutely cannot, just be awesome and appeal to the fans of the game. Yes, obviously you want it to. Scott Pilgrim does this well. Lord of the Rings MOSTLY does this well. Harry Potter…well, there’s the case in point of problems.

    If you want an awesome movie that only makes sense and is cool to the people who played the game, that’s fine. Sell it to FX or SyFy or hell, Netflix self-distributes now. Feature films, though….phew. I really enjoyed the 35-minute short film, but I wouldn’t have wanted a whole film like that.

  2. From what I’ve read Ubisoft was using Lineage to both promote AC II and to step into the film industry, which is why I talked about it possibly taking a role in feature films. As for the movie adaptions being made to appeal only to the fans of the games, I was thinking more along the lines of the developers keeping the script writers from alienating the audience of the game. When translating the story from game to the big screen certain things are going to be lost. However there are things about games just shouldn’t be changed. Same thing goes with novels. While I agree that having the game developers have to much power over the production could be a bad thing and limit what can be done with the movie itself, I also think that by working with the developers the movie producers can get the best quality product.

    As for the question if I would pay for a two hour movie done like Lineage, I have to say I’m very based towards Ubisoft. I love Assassin’s Creed and will basically buy anything with it’s name, so I would probably go see it even if it looked bad. Do I think the style used in Lineage would work for a two hour movie? I don’t see why not. Also if it came across as me saying the production values in Lineage were better then those in say Prince of Persia or any other video game adaption, then I’ll retract that now. I wasn’t trying to say that, I was simply noting how the shorts visuals were very well done. The biggest issue here is the difference between video games and movies. At no point should game developers be writing the script for the movie or making crucial decisions, they should be more of a source to ask for opinions etc.

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