(Originally published in Issue #4 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2015. Read that version here, on pages 12-15.)
Why does everything have to be a movie? Don’t get me wrong I like movies, but whenever a book, game or even TV show becomes a hit there’s instantly talk of when the movie version’s coming out. It’s indicative of the steaming pile of sequel factory bullshit the blockbuster movie industry has found itself in, and videogames aren’t far behind either.
For starters there are books that have absolutely no right to become movies, like the unbearable Fifty Shades of Grey. Like any film based on sex, it would have either had to be Pornhub: Extended Cut or two pasty personality sieves gawping at a dildo for two hours in various vaguely hospitable settings. However, the critical issue with Fifty Shades is that the book is absolute putrified garbage, written as fan fiction to fucking Twilight of all things before they changed some character names around and fed it to sex hungry mums whose husbands were too busy eating mud and kicking themselves in the testicles to notice they were married. If a book is lacking in plot, characters, material that can actually be released in a cinema, or general noticeable quality, then it has no purpose being a film. It’d be like trying to make an action thriller based on the contents of my shower drain.
If it’s not just a shit adaptation of shit material then it’s movie execs wringing as much money out of a franchise as they can. Endless sequels, prequels and duringquels effectively split one story into eleventy billion parts for maximum dollar and minimum customer satisfaction. Harry Potter started the trend and sort of got away with it since the book was legitimately too big, but since then films have been all too happy to stall for time like lawyers at a strippers wedding. The second Hunger Games film was the movie equivalent of a fat moggy getting stuck in its own catflap, Twilight existed for about 8 films longer than it should have, the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making movies just because it needs to keep existing, and The Hobbit padded a fairly short book with mine cart races and stoner wizards. Modern movie franchises are like public bus services; short journeys, loads of stops, irritatingly expensive, and a decent chance of finding a homeless man masturbating with a paper bag in the back row.
But while book-to-film adaptations are getting progressively stupid and pointless like when a dear relative passes into their ninth decade, videogames have a much more chronic problem; they’re beginning to think they are movies. Little Jimmy Ubisoft likes to dress in Momma Paramount’s dresses on occasion and is slowly hatching a plan to kill her off in a freak golfing accident so he can replace her in society, even though he’s about 8 and smells of Wotsits and fear.
Games publishers talk bullshit. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it means it has expensive graphics. When a game claims it’s ’emotional’ it means it has an over-complicated, under-acted story. When a game claims it’s ‘immersive’, it means it’s paranoid about being shit and praising itself for doing its job. Listen: if your game is not immersive then your game is bad. Immersion is broken by inconsistencies, so if the players are noticing physics glitches and graphical weirdness or it controls like a crab at the helm of a 747 it’s going to pull you out of the experience no matter what the experience was to begin with. If you advertise a visual media as ‘immersive’ you may as well advertise the fact that it makes pictures appear on a screen.
‘Cinematic’ is even worse. It means nothing and screams of the desperation of marketing departments trying to ride the coattails of a medium they passed by in profitability somewhere in 2009. More worryingly, however, it implies that marketers or developers or whoever think that visuals are the only important part of a film. If this was the case every film would just be a procession of flashy lights, tits, and fireworks. I can’t be certain, but other than some experimental student art films I highly doubt there has ever been a movie that hasn’t at least tried to tell a story of some kind, no matter if it was good or not. A film can look decent while still being absolute shit, such as every single thing Michael Bay has ever done in his entire career, but the best films have more than that: an excellent plot, clever use of music and set design, good dialogue etc. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it’s often artistically good at a level of shallowness not offered by most tea-trays. Controls and gameplay don’t matter since people don’t need to play it, only sit entranced by a giant noisy screen while their body fat slowly fuses to their seat.
Then there’s the insanity of transferring a videogame franchise into a film, which boggles the mind. Videogames aren’t particularly known for their excellent storytelling, and if one is it’s often at the expense of gameplay complexities, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or The Walking Dead series. If a game has an excellent story in its own right then a film spin-off is pointless, as the story has already been told in a visual medium so all you’d be doing is removing any user interaction and throwing Ryan Reynolds in for Nolan North. On the other hand, if it hasn’t told a good story then you’re removing the pop-ups from a pop-up book and leaving behind a story nobody cared about in the first place. Films that tell a different story but set in the same universe are fine and have the potential to be interesting provided they don’t magic up a story out of thin air using a franchise name, of which Battleship is the logical stupidity black hole. If all you’re going to do though is regurgitate the same Mass Effect story with no customisation or moral choice then at least one of the creative teams involved has wasted literally years of their life.
Even ignoring all of that, why is cinema the bastion of quality anyway? There’s nothing intrinsically better about films than games or books, and the industry is now as bloated and overconfident as Jabba the Hutt. The critically ‘best’ films aren’t the most successful and the most successful are normally pretty crap. Transformers 4 grossed over a billion worldwide but is so absolutely atrocious in almost every possible way I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Bay was just seeing what he could get away with without being fired. The reason Marvel has taken over the box office isn’t because their films are universally amazing must-sees, it’s because they deliver a solid, consistent 6.5 out of 10 every time, with the occasional 8 sneaking in there to make up for the hopeless gibberish that was Iron Man 3. Marvel has made a TV series in the cinema, so people want to come back and watch more of their favourite characters get into hijinks in their armoured pyjamas. Unfortunately now every studio wants to do this, and it’s absolutely not going to work.
To sum up – pretentiousness runs through the industry like a clogged artery through an obese dog stuck in a McFlurry machine, the majority of content is trash of the highest degree and the good stuff is either lost in the crowd or swiftly dogpiled by the higher ups for sequels if they made any chunk of money at all. While that may very well be a description of modern Hollywood, it’s also a perfect example of the giants of the videogame industry. Two of the biggest media industries on the planet are circling each other down the drain with blinkers bigger than Quentin Tarantino’s ego, caring little if at all for customer satisfaction or end quality. If that’s not a terrifying thought, then… well, go and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or something. I heard it was scary.