By David Michael Brown
With Sonic the Hedgehog 2 preparing to speed its way onto every home format known to man, what better time to look back at the finest video game adaptations that have hit the big screen.
And some of the worst.
The classic films that turned frantic 16-bit console classics into masterful reels of celluloid. And the flicks that made us scream game over! And while you’re reading, we’re still waiting for a big-budget Pong movie!
Werewolves Within (2021)
A lupine whodunnit set in the icy climbs of a small Vermont town, a snowstorm traps residents together inside the local inn. When a mauled dead body is discovered hidden in the snow, it’s up to newly arrived forest ranger Finn (Veep’s Richard Splett himself, the brilliant Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) to point the finger at the killer who is hairy on the inside. Full of delightfully observed quirky characters and a tongue-in-bloody-cheek approach to horror, this adaptation of the multiplayer VR game plays with genre, playing like An American Werewolf in London mixed with the Amicus ‘70s werewolf break movie The Beast Must Die and an Agatha Christie murder mystery and is all the better for it.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
The road to the silver screen for Sega’s high-speed talisman has been a long and bumpy one. When a less than satisfactory trailer campaign featured an unrealistic “realistic” version of the world’s favourite interplanetary spikey speedster, Sonic fans were in uproar. But when director Jeff Fowler announced on Twitter that Sonic’s design was going to be altered to make the character “the best he can be,” he was right. He also made one of the best video game adaptations. Ever. With Sonic voiced by Parks and Recreation star Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey going for improvisational gold as Dr. Robotnik, the latte with steamed Austrian goat milk addicted psychotic who is hunting down Sonic, this is high sped entertainment of the highest order. James Marsden plays the benevolent donut-chomping cop who takes Sonic under his wing after he crash lands on earth. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and the breakneck action is exhilarating, especially when Sonic winds up a spin-dash. If you feel the need for speed, Sonic is your guy.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Headlined by a wise-cracking Ryan Reynolds who voices Pikachu, the diminutive yellow Pokémon with the big heart, this often hilarious eye-popping deep dive into the world of the Pokémon made full use of modern-day whizz bang FX to bring everyone’s favourite battling pocket pets to life. The Get-Down star Justice Smith plays Tim, a young man who arrives in Ryme City to look for his detective father who has gone missing. Aided by his dad’s former Pokémon partner, the wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu, Tim begins to realise that this is far more than a missing person case. All your favourites are there: the explosive Psyduck, cute-as-a-button Jigglypuff, the hilarious Mr. Mime and the terrifying Mewtwo. Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
Resident Evil (2002)
The 1996 Playstation game took the world by storm. The gruesome third-person shooter was often credited with kick-starting the survival horror genre and helped gut-munching zombies chew their way back into popular culture. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the intense actioner starred Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez as two leaders of a crack commando team who must break into a vast underground genetics laboratory known as “the hive” operated by the powerful Umbrella Corporation. There, a deadly virus has been unleashed, killing the lab’s personnel, and resurrecting them as the evil Un-dead. An action-packed smash that managed to recreate the thrill of the game, inspiring five sequels, Apocalypse (2004), Extinction (2007), Afterlife (2010), Retribution (2012) and The Final Chapter (2016) and a prequel Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021).
Tomb Raider (2018)
Starting life on PC and the PlayStation and Sega Saturn consoles, the latex-clad, sunglasses-wearing tomb raider Lara Croft was an obvious choice for a cinematic adaptation. Alas, two lacklustre entries in the ‘90s starring Angelina Jolie failed to uncover the truth so it was left to Oscar winner Alicia Vikander to give the catacomb pilfering heroine a film worthy of the game’s huge success. A rebooted origin story with a grittier approach that ditched the fantasy elements of the previous films, Lara Croft (Vikander), is the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer who discovers the island where her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared. Playing Croft as a human being rather than an Amazonian goddess gives the action a far more human edge than its pixelated counterpart.
Mortal Kombat (2021)
The ultimate blood-thirsty fighting game with the bone-crunching, eye-gouging, spine-pulling killer moves, Mortal Kombat has hit the cinema screen twice. The first adaptation, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson in 1995 pulled too many punches but the recent rip-roaring gorefest certainly doesn’t skimp on the fake blood. Shot in Australia, local comedian Josh Lawson has a ball as the brash heart-ripping Antipodean meat head Kano and by casting martial arts experts like Hiroyuki Sanada, this modern retelling features fight scenes that look like they hurt. Much like the game that was one of the first arcade machines to feature graphic displays of violence. The plot? Oh, that’s just an excuse for a royal rumble. Finish him!
Having made his name making the brilliant Sci-fi mind-bender Moon and the twisty Jake Gyllenhaal actioner Source Code, a lot was riding on David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones’s big-budget adaptation of the long-running Blizzard game Warcraft. The film is set in the era of the First War and follows Anduin Lothar of Stormwind (Travis Fimmel) and Durotan of the Frostwolf clan (Toby Kebbell) as the leaders of two warring factions. With a cast that also boasts Ruth Negga, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Clancy Brown, and Daniel Wu and some impressive mo-cap FX bringing life to the Orcs, Warcraft is an epic-undertaking that certainly overreaches but still manages to entertain and exhilarate.
Silent Hill (2006)
Written by Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) co-scribe Roger Avary, directed by Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) helmer Christopher Gans and starring Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Deborah Kara Unger and Alice Krige; this scary adaptation of Silent Hill tries hard to replicate the scares from one of the scariest video games ever made. Inspired by Adrian Lynne’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and the work of Clive Barker, H. P. Lovecraft, David Cronenberg and Michael Mann, Gans terrifying adaptation follows the gameplay of the survivalist chiller but switches gender as Rose (Mitchell) searches for her missing adopted daughter who has been troubled by disturbing nightmares in the eponymous fictional American town of Silent Hill.
The video game Rampage saw players control a trio of humans transformed into gigantic animalistic monsters including a King Kong-like gorilla, a radioactive reptile and a giant bipedal wolf. The film throws The Rock into the mix, teams the muscle man up with a super-powered gorilla and sees them wage war with a giant crocodile and a huge wolf. While it’s definitely more enjoyable punching buildings and colossal beasts in the game than watching the over-abundant CGI FX that has become the blight of the modern-day blockbuster but any film that rides on the charisma of Mr. Dwayne Johnson and boasts Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in its cast, is off to a winning start. Even if the result is a brainless actioner, you can’t make a monkey out of The Rock.
Assassin’s Creed (2016)
Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Ubisoft’s open-world action-adventure stealth video game franchise had everything going for it. Despite the presence of the visionary Aussie director behind Snowtown (2011) and a stunning ensemble including Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and the late great Michael Kenneth Williams, the movie version of the historical actioner that first appeared on the PS3 and the X-Box, was a critical and box office bomb. The action, while handsomely mounted, lacks any emotional resonance and the overstuffed dystopian plotting is a confusing mess as Fassbender’s lost soul Cal Lynch leaps back in time to 15th-century Spain for some perilous parkour!
How not to make a smash hit video game adaptation! Take a globe-conquering console colossus about a “deep-sea salvage expert and action-pro” called Nathan Drake that followed his treasure hunting exploits across four finger-numbing instalments, cast Spidey himself, Tom Holland, and affable action hero Mark Wahlberg and send them on a Goonies-esque adventure. Simple! Alas no. While there is no denying the charm of the young lead, ditching his red and blue spandex for Drake’s trademark white henley shirt and cargo pants, the young actor tries hard but despite his best efforts, Uncharted quickly descends into a CGI mess of flying boats, ridiculous gravity-defying action and Wahlberg-ian eye-rolling. With such winning source material it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t have faith in what they already had and instead made a lacklustre cliché blockbuster.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
There was a lot riding on the cinematic adaptation of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s much-loved RPG console ground-breaker. Not only did Final Fantasy bridge the PC console divide giving Nintendo another smash hit but the animated feature was the first to seriously attempt to portray photorealistic CGI humans and blur the lines between reality and computer animation. Co-directed by the games creator and Motonori Sakakibara, Final Fantasy certainly delivers the eye-candy but it lacks any real heart or spirit, simplifying the complexities of the gameplay with an alien invasion storyline that pits earth against mysterious aliens intent on stealing the energy from all living things on the planet. Despite Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, James Woods and Donald Sutherland lending their voices to the action-packed proceedings, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within suffers from being too close to its source material.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
With Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the world’s most beloved moustachioed plumbers Mario and Luigi, Dennis Hopper as King Koopa and Samantha Mathis as Daisy, Super Mario Bros. aimed high with its cast, but it was game over for the Nintendo heroes when the film was first released. Looking back, with rose tinted glasses firmly intact, there is a lot of fun to be had from this ramshackle adaptation. With a daft as a brush plot and shoddy FX, especially Koopa’s hybrid dinosaur henchmen and a, then de rigueur, crazed performance from Hollywood legend Hopper who had rejuvenated his career with a non-stop cavalcade of bad guy turns since his cloth-sniffing Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet (1986). Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto went on record stating the film tried too hard to replicate the games instead of being a good film. They didn’t trust the fungus.
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