Over at Topless Robot today, David Wolinsky posted a list which got me thinking – why do films get the culture of video games so completely wrong?
Part of me suspects that there’s no love for the upstart medium – it competes for mind share with music and TV, further eroding Hollywood’s hold on teen and twentysomething cash and if there’s one thing that film studios don’t like to do, it’s to share cash. Games are a potential asset to be used as source material for films, but don’t yet command the same level of respect of a
hack popular novelist like Dan Brown.
When film makers do attempt to marry the always-on digital world to the heady realm of populist cinema the frequent end product ends up being something like the wretched Neveldine/Taylor directed, 2009 Gerard Butler vehicle, “Gamer”.
This film features high on the Topless Robot list as an example of how terrible Hollywood films featuring games can be and it’s an object lesson in how to do pretty much everything wrong.
The cast are wasted. Butler’s decent value in action flicks but he gets little to do in a role which should be multi-faceted (family man forced to kill or be killed, separated from his wife, a public enemy number one loved/hated by a global reality TV audience) but ends up being a thuggish stereotype. Amber Valetta gets to essentially be felt up by the camera for 95 minutes as Butler’s missus – thankless isn’t the half of it.
The tech is so ludicrous that it may as well be a film utilising magic for all the sense that it makes – the always on, beyond HD quality, omniscient camera tracking the combatants in the “Call of Duty” alike “Slayers” game in the film – how the chuff does that work, then? There’s some guff in the script, as I recall, about neural net thingymajigs but the fact of the matter is that the game inventor in the film, Michael C Hall, is not Molyneux or Kojima but some plot-assisting analogue of Merlin and Mandrake.
This is what bugs me so much about this film – it would make more sense for the film to occupy the same space as “The Running Man” or an Ice-T vehicle that you’ve never seen, “Surviving The Game”. But no, we’ve got to drag the new-fangled video games into this shoddy hackery because that’s the folk demon which this script has a bee in its backwards baseball cap about.
It doesn’t just stop by having a pop at the 360 console crowd – social media gets a shoeing too in the form of “Society”, a singularly bone-headed blend of “The Sims”,“Second Life” style hipster casual gaming and honest-to-goodness slavery which the Amber Valetta character finds herself sold into – because, for the most part, women in this film exist solely to be ogled, fondled, objectified and generally handled like so much meat.
I hated this movie – can you tell?
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not exactly Roger Ebert (or Mark Kermode, for that matter). I like my B-movies, I don’t mind if they’re dumb as a box of hammers and I only ask that they be entertaining. “Gamer” has a premise that Verhoeven and Bruce Willis would have knocked to the Moon and back in the early Nineties but fails to raise so much as a ‘hoo-rah’ with its eminently miss-able blend of crappy action, murky motivations, sleepwalking performances and a general sense that the Neveldine/Taylor team will do anything to try to shock the presumed target audience for this movie – mouth-breathing 12-year-old boys coming down off a 24 hour Mountain Dew and Doritos bender.
You have to try hard to make a movie like this dull. It takes real, strenuous effort. Wall-to-wall bloodshed, eye candy and an amorality which makes Michael Bay look like Jonathan Demme – and “Gamer” is still as riveting as cleaning your clogged drains.
Neveldine/Taylor – reverse Midas touch, non? It’s enough to make you think that the thick ear thrills of the first “Crank” film were a one-off.
I’m beginning to suspect that the issue is one of translation and the inherent problem in translating from one interactive medium to one which lends itself to contemplation and has been usurped in terms of presenting thrills by its younger sibling.
A final thought – Games excel at presenting on-screen action and have been doing it better since the PS1 and equivalent PC hardware allowed the first steps towards interactive cinematic mayhem on the player’s home television. Hollywood’s on the back foot and probably won’t ever catch up. Beginning to see why they put so little effort into adapting video games?