It Came from the Disk Drive – Vol. 1 – By Timothy Martinez

 For decades the only media source film makers had for plundering ideas was the written word – both books and more rarely, plays were adapted into films. Yes, there was the odd comic book adaptation, but after the serial heydays of the 1940’s these were less and less frequent until more modern times. In 1979 audiences encountered Star Trek the Motion Picture, which of course was based on the original Star Trek television series from the 1960’s. While the novelty didn’t take off for quite a few years, soon enough Hollywood execs were rummaging through all the old TV properties in the studio vaults, looking for something…anything that could be adapted into a film. This trend continues to this day, and doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon. Why, by the time one generation’s favorite TV programs are recycled for the big screen, a whole new batch has taken their place in syndicated hell and are ripe for plucking. Still, these ideas are not exactly new…just re-interpreted. So, imagine the squeals of utter delight that issued forth from the head honchos at the various studios when video games became so damn popular. Here was a whole new field from which to mine ideas. Alas, for the most part video game-based films have sucked really, really bad. Let’s take a look at a few.

5. Mortal Kombat (1995): This film was based on what was then the “the most violent video game ever.” I recall much of the furor stemming from the game, with parents in an uproar over it’s contents. That of course only fueled it’s popularity and sparked interest in a film. Alas, the film, while probably being one of the video game-based productions that was most faithful to it’s source material, wasn’t exactly the bloodfest that many thought it would be. Naturally, being targeted towards kids, it could not really afford to be too violent. Yet, the movie does manage to entertain on numerous levels. There are all the requisite fights and matches with martial arts, and while these moments are not as frenetic as some Eastern action films, they are still passable action fare. Aside from the fighting, the only thing the film really has going for it are many of it’s grandiose characters, portrayed by some of the best scenery-chewing actors around, and the set design which manages to evoke a primitive, otherworldly if not somewhat claustrophobic feel. The music isn’t too bad either, with a few themes lifted for use in trailers for other films (Godzilla 1998). Still, to balance the barely good with the bad, the film is saddled with some horrendous acting at times, some godawful FX at others and a few characters that the viewer would like to see dropped kicked out of a 747 at twenty thousand feet.

4. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001): Yes, the computer animation in this film might not seem as awe inspiring or groundbreaking as it did just a few years ago, but it is still pretty darn good. The problem with this film is one you’d think would have been caught at the script approval stage: it doesn’t have anything to do with any of the Final Fantasy games! True, there seem to be a zillion Final Fantasy games out there, popping up on darn near every game system imaginable and yes, it would appear that many of the games have little or no connection to one another…but you would still think the producers of this movie would have at least made some type of association between their film and one of the games. Instead, we get some new age mumbo jumbo about the spirit of the earth wrapped within the trappings of a science fiction film that seems equal parts alien invasion and post-apocalyptic nightmare. While the story is somewhat weak and the voice work ranges from passable to dreadful, the real highlight of the film is the animation. There are some shots that are absolutely amazing, while others look like they were rendered on an old Atari 1200 computer. This film is a good way to waste time once or twice, but anything beyond that and you’ll find yourself itching for a game controller.

3. Wing Commander (1999): I will be the first to admit that this particular film is a guilty pleasure of mine. I have a soft spot for what is termed “Space Opera” in both print and film so this movie, featuring a wealth of outer space action centering on young space pilots and their efforts in a war between Humanity and some evil aliens, was right up my alley. The problem is, this film is an absolute mess. There is not a single likable character in the entire lot. David Warner’s Admiral Tolwyn is an exception, but he is in the film far too little to really matter. The lead character played by Freddie Prinze Jr. shows all the life of a petrified forest. Sidekick Matthew Lillard is his usual annoying as hell self. Romantic interest Saffron Burrows is about as sexy as week-old cheese. To top off an assemblage of idiots like this, the “plot” has them engaging in all manner of truly moronic behavior with dialogue that seems to have been written by those same Monkeys trying to pound out Shakespeare. Gee, if this is what stands between mankind and obliteration at the hands of the alien Kilrathi, then we are royally screwed! The only thing about this film that rates a “neato” is the cool spaceship scenes. While I question the mechanics behind their design and the way they maneuver and fight in zero-g, they still look pretty spiffy, which is all I need in a film like this.

2. Resident Evil (2002): Zombie films have been a staple of the horror film genre for decades. So when it came time to develop a horror-themed video game, the inclusion of zombies was a no brainer. With the success of this new type of survival horror game, came the realization that it was only a matter of time before a game so entrenched in cinematic accouterments was adapted for the silver screen. This film takes the core ideas present in the first couple installments of the game series and bases a whole new story on them. Ironically enough, this new plot seems to be a perfectly suited for a game rather than a movie. Despite that fact, this movie still has it’s share of good points, even if they are balanced by the equally bad ones. Yes, there are lots of zombies, but sadly we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like. There are other monsters, but the CGI work used to bring them to life is just dreadful. There are some gruesome deaths, but we don’t really get to see them too closely. The story unfolds gradually, slowly revealing bits and pieces about the characters and their history, but many of those same characters are morons who do some truly stupid things. Throw in a few more elements, such as zombie dogs, homicidal computers, corporate intrigue and wisecracking commandos and you wind up with a film that tries to focus on too many things. In the end, the movie seems more like a collection of great ideas that were not really realized as well as they could have been in the hands of another.

1. Tomb Raider (2001): A female Indiana Jones. That is how Lara Croft, the main character in the Tomb Raider games and cyber pin-up gal for a legion of horny geeks, has been described. After the first two massively successful games in the series, talk of a big screen version was a natural progression. The only problem was, who was going to play Lara? Who could effectively balance Lara’s ultra hotness with her physical prowess? Enter Angelina Jolie. I admit that when Ms. Jolie first came on the scene, I didn’t think she was that attractive. Now I have difficulty not tripping over my tongue whenever she is on TV. Jolie turns in a pretty decent performance in a film that is basically Raiders of the Lost Ark-lite. When taken as a whole, this film really doesn’t stand up too well to similar movies. The plot is rather thin and predictable, the action sequences are not overly thrilling, the villains are not very interesting and Croft herself, while looking great as she goes globe-trotting in search of some ancient gizmo, isn’t exactly a riveting heroine. Yet, there is an elusive X factor that makes it imminently watchable time and again for me. At the very least, I don’t end up cussing up a storm and throwing things in frustration like the video games had me doing on more than one occasion.

There you have it. Not exactly the cream of the Hollywood crop…and these are the better movies! You didn’t think this was a list of the bad ones, did you? Just wait until next month when we take a closer look at some of the stinkers. I have just two words for you: Uwe Boll. And on that ominous note, I bid you farewell until then. Now I have to get back to Resident Evil 4 on my Gamecube.