Video Game Adaptations: A Mixed Reception

By Albert Thai Le

Warner Bros. Pictures will be releasing “Tomb Raider” (2018) in theaters on March 16. As a live action reboot of an earlier adaptation of the video game series, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), starring  Angelina Jolie, “Tomb Raider” (2018) takes inspiration from the style and action sequences from Square Enix’s reboot of the franchise in 2013. However, film adaptations based on video games have gained a reputation over the decades where they tend to be infamously mediocre or insulting for audiences within and outside of each respective fanbase. But why is this the case?

Primarily, many of these films divert away from their source material, causing upset among each affected fanbase. For example, “Hitman: Agent 47” (2015) was an adaptation of Square Enix’s “Hitman” franchise, a series focused on an assassin, where the game rewards the player for stealth and subtlety. However, the film moves away from this aspect of the game by turning the adaptation into another generic Hollywood action flick, thus spawning mixed and negative reviews from audiences and critics alike.

However, the most infamous of terrible video game adaptations comes from those produced by Uwe  Boll. Uwe Boll is a German filmmaker who has made cheap live action game adaptations such as, “House of the Dead” (2003), “Alone in the Dark” (2005), “Bloodrayne” (2006) and more, all receiving extremely negative reviews from critics and audiences. In a 2016 interview with the Toronto Metro,  Boll announced that he would be retiring after completing his latest film “Rampage: President Down” (2016) because he can no longer compete against the market of online streaming services. However, his legacy along with other movies that share the same folly leaves a scar on the image of video game adaptations as being either too generic or idiotic to watch for the masses.

So is there hope for video game companies to step in for industry filmmakers and take control of their own adaptations? Japanese gaming companies such as Capcom and Square Enix attempt to do this through computer animated films such as “Resident Evil: Vendetta” (2017) and “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” (2016). However, quality animation tends to be costly. This in combination with a limited theatrical release and minimal worldwide promotion led these films to profit poorly in box office and DVD sales, as “Vendetta” made $1.2 million, and “Kingsglaive” earned $3.9 million worldwide.   

The co-founder of Riot Games, under the username Ryze,  tackles this issue of potentially moving game companies into making these kinds of adaptations when discussing the likelihood of turning “League of Legends” into a feature film. “We dream of films set in League’s universe and seeing our favorite champions come to life in movie theaters,” he says, “but the track record on video game movies is a humbling lesson. For the most part, they aren’t great. And while the geek in us would love to rush into moviemaking, it’s definitely not something we should rush into.” Granted, that hasn’t stopped video game companies like Riot Games from making cinematic shorts promoting their products, but it’s unlikely to expect full feature films in the near future.

But in spite of the overall negativity behind video game movies, there are films like “Warcraft” (2016) and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001) that, despite negativity from critics, entertained and delighted fans from these franchises. Even with films as horrendous as “Super Mario Bros” (1993), some of these movies left impressional memories for audiences who’ve had the fortune of experiencing and laughing at the poor quality of them.

So in light of “Tomb Raider” (2018), I can’t say that I’m expecting the film to provide an outstanding experience that pairs with the source material it bases itself off of. However, fans of the franchise, including myself, can hope that it can provide a serviceable entertainment experience that attempts to perform its best to respect the game franchise, perhaps shedding a new light on the perception of what a video game movie can offer.