It’s not exactly breaking news that we’re in the middle of a golden age of comic book movies. Indeed, whatever one makes of a particular year’s release slate, the simple fact is that we’re getting more of them, and on average they are of much higher quality than ever before. But unlike their four-color brethren, video games just can’t seem to catch a break at the box office.
But why not? Why has Hollywood been so successful at adapting material from one medium, but not another? Well, comic adaptations benefitted in large part from having the right people in charge, people who recognized that these concepts have worked for decades and that respect for the source material and fidelity to the spirit, if not necessarily the letter of those stories are net positives. Some game adaptations have that, but most seem not to. And of course, some of it may simply be down to the interactive nature of the medium itself. Despite the well-known pretentions of developers like David Cage, the interactive nature of a video game means that you’re not telling a story in exactly the same way you would in a movie.
But I digress. Clearly, this is a complicated subject and there is no easy answer, no silver bullet as it were. But it’s an issue that anyone who works on a video game movie will at some point have to grapple with. That includes Brad Peyton, director of this spring’s ‘Rampage‘. Speaking with IGN, Peyton offered his thoughts on what he dubs the “video game curse” and how he dealt with it:
“There’s obviously a pressure to deliver on these things and to ground the movie and to deliver on spectacle and all that, but there also aren’t these expectations to what this character’s supposed to be or what this plot is supposed to be. I didn’t know about this quote-unquote “video game curse” until about two weeks after I finished the movie. A lot of times, [studios] attempt to adapt games that have massive followings… When you attempt to adapt something that has an incredibly deep plotline or character or something along those lines, you’re beholden to delivering something. And it’s really a difficult challenge because as a gamer, I know, I play as the hero. that’s an immersive medium, and so, it’s really hard to go up against something that pre-exists.”
As IGN notes, “there were three characters ‘Rampage’ director Brad Peyton knew he needed to get right… for the big screen: the giant gorilla, the giant wolf and the giant lizard.” ‘Rampage’ first arrived in arcades in 1986. When you’re adapting a game of that vintage, “adapt” becomes something of a loose description. The typically paper-thin backstories afforded to games of that era mean that filmmakers like Peyton are getting a premise and perhaps a handful of characters with which they can run wild. It becomes an exercise in capturing the spirit of the game rather than the nuances of a given narrative or a particularly memorable set piece. Compare that to something like ‘Resident Evil’. Whether you loved the ‘Resident Evil‘ movies or hated them, by the time they went before the cameras, the games had developed a rich (and often insane) mythology on which the filmmakers could draw for everything from locations to characters to creatures. Simply put, they have a much more detailed roadmap to follow, should they choose to do so.
Directed by Brad Peyton, ‘Rampage’ stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Joe Manganiello. The movie will arrive in theaters on April 20, 2018.