Last week, as I was doing research for the NextLevel podcast, I came upon this article from the website The Playlist about the perennially in limbo Bioshock movie losing yet another director. This movie had fallen off my radar when the first director, Gore Verbinski (of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring fame), was replaced. At that time, the movie people and the game people associated with the firm couldn’t agree on basic issues like rating and budget, and they apparently haven’t gotten much closer in the meantime. This got me thinking about video game movies in general, and how nearly universally terrible they are. So, I went down a checklist to see if I could find any examples of a video game movie that was done well. The Street Fighter movie was terrible. They made a Wing Commander movie that somehow did not include Mark Hamil (who had to have been a better choice than Freddy Prince Jr.). Bloodrayne had so much terrible (despite the fact that it had Michael Madsen in it) that it could not be contained in one movie, and it got a pair of direct to DVD sequels. The Resident Evil movies had plots that I think were functionally impossible to understand, let alone fit into the Resident Evil universe as a whole. I don’t even want to get into the Super Mario Bros. movie. I fact, the only video game movies that I have consistently enjoyed have all been animated in one way or another. The animated prequel and sequel to the Dead Space series (entitled Downfall and Aftermath, respectively) were both interesting, well done, and true to the source material. Resident Evil had a 3d movie entitled Degeneration that (in my opinion) was much better than the live action movies, and much truer to the game series. Even the Street fighter animated movies, while not masterpieces by any standard, were a significant step up from the live action attempts.
So, since they are nearly all bad, why do I find myself feeling more than a little disappointed that the Bioshock movie will continue languishing? One reason is that games have come a long way since some scriptwriter tried to milk 90 minutes worth of story out of Doom, House of the Dead or Super Mario Bros. Those of you who have tuned into the NextLevel podcast know that Bioshock is one of the titles that I consistently tout as being part of a new breed of video game storytelling. Ken Levine and Irrational Games created something that was more than your standard video game environment when they conceived of Rapture. The city, and by extension, the entire game, has a life of its own, fed by its own aesthetic and the personalities of the people that inhabit it. There is so much potential for storytelling here, that it is almost impossible not to salivate at the thought of a well written, thoughtfully cast, well acted, and properly funded movie based on this world. Of course, the catch is that it has to be all of those things to work right, and that seems to have exceeded the capabilities of the vast majority of video game movies so far. But just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I find myself looking to the success of other gaming adjunct properties, like comic book and toy based movies. While there is a lot to complain about with Michael Bay’s film adaptation of the Transformers franchise (and I mean a lot) it is hard to deny that the (fairly) recent reboot of the Batman and X-Men franchises are a marked improvement over what had come before. I will be the first to admit that for every The Dark Knight success there are five G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra failures, but I don’t think that means we should stop trying, and hoping, that it can be better.
Or, maybe I am just insane. Could be either one.
For an example of what could be done with Bioshock, check out this short fan film from Machinima