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– by David Kozlowski

The Podcast

In the latest edition of Los Fanboys, Jammer, David, and Eric take a stab at what it’ll take for video game movies to be successful? Why do they, without fail, suck? What can filmmakers do to avoid the typical pitfalls? We delve into that very topic while discussing the latest Tomb Raider trailer.

From there, we hope into the big news pieces of the week, which include topics like Suicide Squad 2’s rumored premise, a potential Black Widow movie, and Rian Johnson debunking a Knights of Ren theory for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

SHOW GUIDE:

00:00:00 – Tarantino’s next: what could it be?
00:31:00 – Suicide Squad 2’s rumored premise is a disaster.
00:38:50 – Black Widow movie in the works.
00:45:20 – Denis Villeneuve calls Dune film Star Wars for adults.
00:50:40 – Rian Johnson debunks popular Star Wars theory.
00:58:54 – Peter Parker will be in Venom (rumor).
01:03:00 – What we’ve been watching: The Crown, Stranger Things 2, Molly’s Game, The End of the F***ing world, iZombie.

The Editorial

Tomb Raider returns to theaters — after a fifteen-year break — but is this the film that finally breaks the curse of bad video game movies? Well, the answer depends on what you expect from this oddball genre and whether there’s some kind of mystical formula for getting them right (whatever that means).

Let’s start with the obvious: live-action video game movies are awful.

Related – Tomb Raider: Lara Croft Is A Survivor In New Trailer Tease, Full Trailer Hits Later Today

If there’s a formula for making a great video game movie, few studios have discovered it. Vulture released a list of all 31 (to-date) live-action adaptations, counting down from least-bad-to-absolute-worst, as follows:

31. Mortal Kombat (1995)
30. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
29. Street Fighter (1994)
28. Doom (2005)
27. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
26. Far Cry (2008)
25. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

I’ll stop there, the evidence speaks for itself. Now, before you (virtually) rip my throat out and argue the merits of Warcraft (2016) or Hitman (2007), I think we can all agree that even the most-accomplished video game movie is deeply flawed. Why is that?

Let’s take a look at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which I contend is a great video game movie — and it’s not even based on an actual video game. Jumanji succeeds because it embraces the goofy nature of multiple lives, power-ups, and overpowered avatars; the film even displays graphical overlays at key points in the narrative… like an actual video game. It works because everyone is in on the joke. Jumanji knows what it is, and freaking goes for it.

Back to the Tomb Raider reboot, which stars Academy-Award winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) as Lara Croft. She’s opposed by veteran character actor Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified), whose star is rapidly ascending. The cinematography is beautiful, the directing seems sharp, the action looks solid, and yet nothing stands out either.

Let’s dig into the trailer and see if we can spot what’s wrong. Croft learns that her late father was pursuing a terrorist organization that was bent on global genocide; she becomes stranded on a remote island, populated by the very terrorists she seeks; she fights back with her wits, fists, and a bow-and-arrow… wait, isn’t this the core premise of The CW’s Arrow?

Video game plots are often derivative so this isn’t Tomb Raider‘s worst sin. However, the film suffers from the same problems plaguing every other live-action video game movie: it takes things way, way too seriously, which misses the entire point of these adaptations.

Consider this early fight scene in Jumanji: Dwayne Johnson’s character — a computer-generated avatar — battles a string of thugs using his unique fighting abilities. He calls out each move in real-time: parry-parry-block-uppercut — you can almost feel the button presses! In that moment, the movie totally nails the feeling of a video game. It’s a crazy fun sequence (and the movie is packed with them).

Tomb Raider is based on an actual video game series, which drops Croft into a survival scenario within a non-linear, open-world environment. Players explore, experiment, and learn through trial-and-error. The film version tells a linear story, wherein the audience passively watches (eating popcorn is not a form of interaction). The game and the movie share character names, visuals, and some set-piece action moments, but that’s about all.

You could apply this analysis to Doom, Silent Hill, or any other recent adaptation.

A final thought: the primary audience for these films are teens and millennials, who live their lives through the Internet and mobile devices. Jumanji essentially employs Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as storytelling devices — progressive filmmaking that jacks right into the unconscious pleasure centers of this audience. Tomb Raider, by contrast, is telling the same, semi-serious, action-adventure beats employed by Mortal Kombat more than 20 years ago. (Feeling old yet?)

The latest Tomb Raider trailer is solid, and the movie will probably be a fun, forgettable time at the movies. However, the filmmakers are missing an opportunity to build on the success of Jumanji: leaning into the silly stuff that makes video games fun. I’m not saying a giant, on-screen health bar or a floating power-up will make Tomb Raider a better movie, but it might make it more fun and representative of the source material.

Do you think Tomb Raider should play it straight or indulge in literal video game tropes? Let us know in the comments down below!

Tomb Raider hits theaters on March 16, 2018.

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SOURCE: Vulture

  • Kronx

    Jumanji is a parody of video games. It’s not the same.

    Video game films fail for a lot of reasons. Chiefly, most video games have relatively simple stories because the real “story” is how I kill 45 aliens with 10 bullets and not whatever nonsense Capt. Generic is saying before I skip the cut-scene.

    They’re a highly interactive form of storytelling, with which we all have a fundamentally different experience playing.

    A video game film is the equivalent of your mom trying to join an inside joke you share with your friends.

    • Kindofabigdeal

      Have you never played Bioshock Infinite?

      • Kronx

        Yes, and I enjoyed it.

        I know what you’re thinking. The time travel hook and the twist are cool. True. But they were also spaced out among a LOT of action scenes whose plots were “Get to the station” and “Find the switch.” Not exactly great storytelling.

        Most of the game is a solitary, silent rage romp on a floating city. When you DO get a partner, it’s still not exactly a strong story. The gameplay IS the story for the most part.

        And, in a film, you will get all of the game’s confusing plot elements in a much shorter time frame intertwined with exposition that has to explain the floating city, the superpowers, the alternate timeline, and so forth.

        It CAN be done, but I don’t know if it would make back the budget it would require given the tone and downer ending.

        • BlackManINC

          Maybe this is the reason why writers are finding it difficult to translate video games onto the silver/big screen? Too much gameplay, not enough storytelling to actually work with. If the gameplay is the story, then that in of itself might disqualify most video games as ever possibly becoming decent movies or TV shows. However, one can cite the Pirates of the Caribbean series as a rebuttal to such an argument, given they made a deep, interesting story based off of nothing but a theme part ride. If they can do that, then their may be no excuse for the sh@tty video game adaptations we have been given.

          • Kronx

            PotC illustrates the problem pretty well. There’s no plot for the ride. So basically they just made a movie about pirates and called it PotC. It’s not really “based” on anything. To the same extent you see that with Clue. Here are some names and props, write a comedic murder mystery.

            A Bioshock film adapting one of the games will have a much harder time than a film that just takes the premise and does its own thing. The Bioshock setting is great. Great stories can be told in that universe, but they need to be new ones. And they need to be good on their own right.

  • J-man The Great

    Stop making them…problem solved!

    • Kindofabigdeal

      No, we need a Halo movie, then we can stop.

      • BlackManINC

        Why make a movie when its been recently confirmed that the TV show is still in the works?

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.