The Manic Maniac: Why Do Video Game Movies Inherently Suck? (

By:Joe Crosby
Date: Friday, October 17, 2008


If you've been tinkering around with Mania this week, you might have seen the interview with Max Payne star Mark Wahlberg and director John Moore. Standard pre-release publicity stuff, where people involved with the film talk about what a great project it was, how effing awesome the script was, how easy it is to work with so and so, until you get the feeling Beverly Hills Chihuahua is going to be someone's defining work. Sometimes, maybe that is the case, sometimes, maybe it's not. But all the time actors, directors, writers and so on like to veil a project in exclamation points and synonyms for “great,” wrapping it in a neat little bow for a big weekend box office debut. Until now.
Wahlberg started out fawning, proclaiming, "When I read the script I thought, wow this is awesome." “Awesome,” shocking. But in his next breath, he admits that he asked, "where did it come from?" So, no big deal, he's not a gamer. Those of us who aren't particularly big on the gaming scene might, at best, know of Max Payne by name and maybe brief synopsis. And after all, you don't have to have read, say, The Road, for the idea of starring in it to pique your interest. But you figure, at some point, you'd probably read the book before you started filming. You know, bring yourself up to speed, understand who the character is and try to offer a nod to the work in question. So, that's probably how Wahlberg approached Max Payne, which is also probably why Mania asked him, "Did you play the game?"
"No. My assistant is a gamer. He played the game for me from the start of production till we wrapped. I didn't want to play because I have an addictive personality."
Well, that's reassuring. In an adaptation format--video game to film--that already struggles to translate, we have Marky Mark going in blind. That’s like cooking Indian food without curry because your eyes water easily.
There's one school of thought that says once you create something in a new medium, it then stand alone as an independent thing. In other words, Lord of the Rings may have been adapted from the book trilogy, but the piece that was created stands alone as a work, is approached differently by an audience and resonates differently with an audience. Plenty of time, there's merit to that. But even though Aragorn and Frodo exhibited some freedom of character in the films, do you think Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood thought, "Eh, I'm not a big reader, but my assistant is. I'll have him read it, and tell me how it should inform my character."
I'd bet dollars to a gamer's donuts that they did read the trilogy. It's really long, some parts are dense and there's an entirely different language being spoken, but I'd bet they read it because it's necessary. Oh, wait, we'll just ask Viggo (or the official LOR movie guide):
"So there I am on the plane for New Zealand [to shoot], reading that enormous, telephone directory-sized book [Lord of the Rings] and then the scripts, and a couple of days later I'm filming."
You might say the Mortensen is a different tier of actor than Wahlberg, and while I certainly wouldn't argue with you, keep in mind that Wahlberg was nominated for a statue in The Departed. And you might say that adapting a book is different than adapting a video game. Yeah, kinda. But even if you don't regularly play video games--and I don't--you understand how convoluted the storylines are, how real the relationships can ultimately be. These people are creating whole new worlds in a game console, like an author in a book. So what, as an actor, makes you think you can recreate that world without knowing what the hell it was to begin with?
Methinks that's the problem with this genre altogether. The idea of turning a video game into a movie could, at first, seem ridiculous--just a fun three-month vacation, with a good catering van and a great paycheck. Phoning it in for half-assed entertainment. But it takes two to tango. Maybe the audience needs to take these films a little more seriously, and then the creators will, as well. After all, Marky Mark used to produce shitty rhymes and gratuitously drop trow on a basketball court, and now Mark Wahlberg shows up on Oscar night.