I have been an avid gamer my whole life. Coming from a poorer family I was always one generation behind; got a Genesis when the PS1 came out etc... Because of this I actually started gaming on the Atari 2600. I have watched games progress and improve over 6 generations of gaming technology. What I haven't watched is movies based on games improve with time the same way.
Currently Hollywood can make books or even toys into watchable films, but they still fail to make compelling movies based off of games. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. They don't understand them
Making movies involves a lot of people in the creative process; directors, writers, producers, executives. These are people who are often older and not interested in games. They are interested in making movies and making money. They don't understand the source material and often don't even understand the culture surrounding games, because of this, terrible and nonsensical decisions get made.
In the movie adaptation of Street fighter there is a American soldier named Guile. All common sense would suggest that an American actor should be cast to portray him, but instead they decide to cast Belgium actor Jean Claude Van Damme to play the character. This is an actor who speaks with a very heavy accent.
In Mario Brothers the characters are supposed to be Italian brothers. In the movie instead the brothers are played by a British actor and a Colombian actor. Let's not even bring up the crazy choice to have Mario Bros set in the world of Blade Runner instead of cloud-bushes.
Further proof that the film industry doesn't understand nor really care about game adaptations are the times when obvious perfect decisions are turned down. The biggest one that has come to mind is David Hayter being turned down to write an adaptation of Metal Gear Solid. For those that have no idea who David Hayter is, he is the voice of Solid Snake from the games. No person in the world would be better qualified to write a story about Snake than the man himself. His writing credits include Xmen 1 and 2 and Watchmen.
2. Terrible directors helming them
Sometimes it goes beyond a simple lack of understanding by the filmmakers. A large percent of the worst game adaptations are helmed by one man, he who shall not be named. This man is responsible for terrible decisions like putting actual game footage into a game (House of the Dead), or casting Christian Slater in a lead in the 21st Century (Alone in the Dark). He is perfectly aware that everyone hates his movies, yet he keeps making them and he will beat the shit out of anyone who tries to stop him. There is something to say for his determination, I just wish that he was determined to make a good film.
Another prevalent game adaptation director is Paul W.S Anderson. He started off fairly decent. I consider both Mortal Kombat and the 1st Resident Evil to be guilty pleasures, not great movies but still very enjoyable. He doesn't seem to know when to quit though. He has released sequel after sequel to Resident Evil and the series lost its charm after the second installment.
3. The focus of the games
games are about either shooting or jumping for the most part. They are not about telling compelling stories. There are some recent games that have great stories such as Bioshock or Uncharted, but to date we haven't seen any of them in movie form. Instead we get movies based off games that their stories can be summed up in a sentence. Plumber fights to save a princess from a dinosaur. Or the countless movies based off fighting games (street fighter, DOA).
Movies are at the core about storytelling, they are meant to be watched. A game is interactive, it is about action and interacting with a world.
Games are paced in a way to make the experience last between 6 and 600 hours. Repetition plays into this a lot. To fill out the gaps between cutscenes and boss battles, we set about puzzle solving or fighting off hordes of bad guys. A movie is meant to last between 1.5hrs to 3hrs. That running time is focused on character development and a very linear A to B story arc. A person has a problem and by the end they find resolution.
4. Who they target
People seem to think that videogame movies need to be aimed at 14 year old boys. They lack story and deep characters and fill that void with stupidity. I can't think of a single videogame adaptation that could be called "smart". They are dumb popcorn movies, but they can't even get that right. Directors like Michael Bay make stupid popcorn movies but they know what their audience wants, apparently explosions and comic relief. Game adaptations seem to have no clear demographic that they cater to, they especially don't cater to gamers.
This has always seemed stupid to me. If you are making a movie you are putting a lot of money into it. You spend the money with the intention of making a product that will turn a profit. Most videogame movies don't turn a profit, instead they lose millions of dollars. The games that spawn the adaptations have an install base of millions of gamers. These are people you think the filmmakers would want to cater to. Instead they do things like make Mortal Kombat PG13 even though they know the audience flocked to the games for the uber-violence.
5. Games don't translate well
A plumber defeated little penis monsters by hopping on them and eats mushrooms to grow in size. As said in the title games don't translate well.
Between the worlds that they take place in, the enemies that are faced, the bosses that would be 10 stories high, and the weaponry used; games are unrealistic. A movie works by making the audience believe this could happen, or at least not be so out of the realm of possibility that it detracts from the experience. Games go out of their way to be crazy, they can get away with this by being interactive. Actually bouncing on a enemy to kill it seems more plausible than watching a film hero do the same.
Like all gamers I look towards the horizon eagerly awaiting the messiah, a game adaptation that will be truly good. That day has yet to come but the list of games out there that could serve as good source material has been on the incline. Maybe adaptations of games like Uncharted or Fallout will blow us away, or maybe they will just follow the trend of unwatchability of other game adaptations.