Why are video game movies always total failures?

Sonic the Hedgehog dir. Jeff Fowler 2019

After the recent Sonic the Hedgehog trailer dropped, we're yet again urged to question why video game movies consistently miss the mark.

Video game movies have an incredibly bad reputation, yet video games themselves continue to grow more and more prestigious with every passing year. Technology has improved considerably over the last two decades; video games have become more cinematic, more engrossing and more spectacle-driven. Fans have demanded for properties such as Halo to be adapted to the big screen for quite some time, and one should assume that video games would make perfect material for feature-film adaptations, and yet, we're still waiting on successful examples. 

Why are video game movies always total failures? It's a question worth asking in wake of the new Sonic the Hedgehog trailer. The classic Sega game is a fond favourite of many, and surely bringing the iconic character to the big screen shouldn't be such an unattractive prospect.

Alas, the trailer for Jeff Fowler's live-action/animation hybrid is painfully unappealing, perhaps catering far too much for children below the age of ten. Some have already compared it to 1993's notorious Super Mario Bros., and although it's probably the funniest comparison to roll with, there really are so many failed adaptations to cite. 

As touched upon earlier, you'd think that as games continue to become more cinematic, they'd be more functional to adapt. However, recent examples haven't exactly proven triumphant. In recent memory, there have been two prominent examples which numerous gamers believed would lift the curse; Duncan Jones' Warcraft and Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed.

Both are universally adored franchises, and hopes were, in fact, very high thanks to the filmmakers at the helm. Jones had directed the likes of Moon and Source Code, whereas Kurzel had helmed the striking and still rather underrated Snowtown. Both had the potential to do great things with their chosen projects, so what went wrong?

There may be a few issues to take into account. When approaching something so admired as Assassin's Creed, for example, it becomes hard to pick and choose what to include. What can you leave out? What has to be put in? Sometimes video game movies can stumble when simply trying to capture the essence of the game and how it feels to play it; being two different mediums, sometimes this approach comes across as gimmicky and cheap, and these are words which no one wants to associate with the modern blockbuster. On the contrary, you can try to cram in way too much fan service and narrative, which then becomes convoluted and mistakenly ambitious. 

It really is difficult to determine what would make a video game movie successful, as it totally depends on the game in question and there aren't really any widely agreed upon examples. It does seem, though, that the common mistake is trying to replicate the experience of the game, as then your very competition is the game you're effectively attempting to respect and treat. In essence, you're inviting audiences to compare, rather than immerse themselves. 

It would be best to present the film from a strictly cinematic perspective, but always, it feels like the prior medium interferes with the filmmaker's decisions. But then again, if the director is trying to blur the line between game and film too heavily, will this simply alienate and provoke the film's existing, core audience?

It's a difficult subject to tackle, but one unlikely to be settled until a video game movie comes around and exhibits improvement. Honestly, Sonic the Hedgehog doesn't look like the one to do it, on the other hand, Pokémon Detective Pikachu may have something to add. 

In other news, is Joe Russo right about Disney+ vs Netflix?

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