Lights, Camera, Press Start!

It’s not just movies and TV shows that gate crash gaming, sometimes it works the other way around.

By Adam Sorice. Posted 01/12/2011 11:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Golden Mario Award masthead

Generally when we think of the behemoth that is licensed properties and the video game industry, we focus in one direction. The annual slew of blockbuster movies and their (dreaded) companion platformers litter our video games stores, column inches, and lives until they inevitably disappear and are replaced by even shoddier equivalents in six months time.

But while we are often mesmerized by the steady drumbeat of painful mediocrity that blights the gaming landscape (I was once tempted to buy a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory merely to use it as bonfire fuel), we shouldn’t forget that gamers, too, have crosses to bear. Just as some movies and television shows make the leap into the electronic world, more than a couple of gaming icons have transcended to the realms of light entertainment with “mixed” results.

That being said, not every video game-inspired film or television series is doomed to failure, even if the gamers have grown disillusioned to yet another failed cash-in on a much loved franchise. Regardless, whether they are brilliant, banal or the bane of gamers’ existence, the field of video game movie and television is an important one that deserves recognition. And that’s exactly what Nintendojo aims to do with its first (not remotely) annual Marios award ceremony! (Y’know like, the Oscars?)

Please see Wikipedia for an exhaustive list of all video game inspired movies and television series “nominations.” (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.)

The “Video Game-Based Film That Didn’t Actually Have Anything to Do With Said Video Game” Award

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within logo

The main problem encountered by many potential video game-film projects is the lack of a rich narrative (although Hugh Jackman has been linked to a Tetris project, joke!). The simple fact that a lot of games just don’t have the plot or dramatic conflict to span 100+ minutes of screen time, as evidenced by the fact that the Mario movie which shan’t be named had to add various padding elements to the script.

While many series would struggle to come up with a belter of a storyline (for a movie, let alone a game) one blockbuster franchise that seems an obvious fit for the big screen has always been Final Fantasy. With iconic protagonists and a string of stories detailing the challenges faced by brave heroes saving foreign worlds, you’d think that a movie made solely by Square would be entrenched in RPG nostalgia and folklore.

But it wasn’t to be. Instead, Square chained its hordes of tech nerds to their desks until they completed Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. One of the first highbrow CGI films in the world, The Spirits Within brought epic drama long before the likes of Avatar and came with the bold claim that was computer generated “actress” Aki Ross. Conceived to be just as profitable as her flesh and blood counterparts at the box office, Aki was originally planned in multiple films as separate characters, offering the kind of longevity audiences expect from any “real” actor.

Whether or not these subsequent films would have anything to do with the Final Fantasy franchise (though it seemed unlikely due to the fact that The Spirits Within seemed to involve ghosts or aliens or something; there weren’t any Moogles) is unclear but unfortunately the project went stupendously over budget and then died a painful, unprofitable death at the box office, dragging down Square Films with it after just one project. Whether Aki was the future of the film industry or not may forever be a mystery, but The Academy is unanimous on this one: you should have just remade Final Fantasy VII, guys.

The “Most Obvious Marketing Ploy That Touched a Generation of Pokémon Trainers” Award

The Pokémon Anime Series

Pokémon anime Hoenn cast artwork

For some amazing reason, some person in the ’80s with a load of unsellable generic action figures came up with the brainwave of making a cartoon based around said action figures in the vain hope that children around the world would instantly desire them. Even if the cartoon slightly misrepresented the product on sale (Beyblade, we’re looking at you!) children and economists were both content as long as the product was thrown into some colour-by-numbers affair based around a spiky-haired teenager chosen one saving the world from the realms of darkness with the help of Product X.

And it wasn’t long before video games joined in on the act with Sonic, Mario, Kirby, Digimon (the anime based on the toy based on the anime of the game based on the anime… actually, never mind) all jumping on the animation bandwagon. All have had various levels of success, but none have come close to eclipsing the worldwide appeal and legacy that is the Pokémon anime, a saga that has spanned over 600 episodes, 12 movies and enough merchandise to turn Luxembourg into a Pikachu-festooned landscape.

While many old-school Pokémaniacs will tell you that the show stopped being any good by the time Ash, Misty and Brock got to Johto, the long running series, which is currently chronicling Ash’s campaign in the Unova region featured in Pokémon Black and White, instills a powerful sense of nostalgia in an entire generation of people, gamers and non-gamers alike. While the episodes may appear tediously repetitive now (though deep down we always got excited when Jigglypuff appeared and started singing) the cast, the momentous battles, the maddening music and leading Pokémon still strike a chord with many people under (and probably over) twenty five who simply wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was.

The “Video Game-Inspired Movie That Was Actually a Decent Movie” Award

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva screen

While we spend all of our time talking about how bad video game films generally turn out to be (the last conversation I had resulted in a dead heat between any of the Street Fighter films and the second Resident Evil film) the genre occasionally produces a downright watchable cracker. Based off the much loved Professor Layton puzzle game series, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva brought the brainteaser-cum-supreme-detective style of gameplay from the DS to the cinema. Set before the events of Curious Village, Eternal Diva charts Hershel Layton’s involvement in a fearsome and mystical adventure fulled of danger, mystery and intrigue. Oh, and puzzles.

Seamlessly blending the series’ unique artistic style, backwards humour and puzzle gameplay into a cinema experience, when the words “PUZZLE 001” flashed on the screen, the audience erupted in a fit of laughter. Eternal Diva took the strongest elements of the series and married them with a slapstick sense of action and a host of unique and likable characters (think Agatha Christie colliding with a Morecambe and Wise sketch at about eight miles an hour). As for accessible, my parents both saw the film and actually found it very easy to follow and rather enjoyable (and they are by no means like Noah’s parents; they utterly slated Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie).

The only downside to this animated masterpiece is that it’s currently only available in select countries (primarily Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Germany) and with no plans to bring Eternal Diva to the US, it looks like my fellow Layton fans on the Nintendojo staff will be without their Diva Eternally. Rather unfortunate, as I received the DVD for Christmas. Oh, well: finally an upside to living in Scotland; it balances out me spelling words “wrong” all the time!

The Best Video Game Movie Never Actually Made Award

Metroid: The Movie

Metroid: Other M live action commercial still

Long before Other M‘s glitzy live action commercial, a studio bought the rights to bring Samus Aran, female bounty hunter, to the big screen, but the project allegedly spiraled into development hell and the license expired. Criminal or a sign from the heavens? Not much is known about the project but everyone from Ridley Scott to Barbara Windsor was linked to the project by British video game magazines (though the second one may have been a joke).

Do you have a favourite video game-inspired movie? Or simply one you love to hurl abuse at as you watch your much-loved franchise be ripped to pieces by the merciless jaws of Hollywood? Let us know in the comments!

One Response to “Lights, Camera, Press Start!”

  • 441 points
    Terr says...

    I want to comment on Spirits Within. This is an awesome film & you are the only person so far, that I know, who didn’t like it. Not have anything to do with Final Fantasy? How can you say that? Every game is it’s own world, how can this not have anything to do with Final Fantasy when every story is a new adventure? I have four copies of this film; the original, the special edition, then the blu ray release twice (as I got the blu ray then my sister said she lost my copy so I bought a new one, but then she found it),

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