WANDER DOWNLOAD: World Exclusive

For those wondering where I’ve been the last year, I have been extremely busy as a video game programming student at the Art Institute of Vancouver.

I’ve come back today to release the exclusive game download of Wander.  For the Android device, this game puts you out the real world with a game that utilizes the GPS coordinates of your mobile device and allows you to walk to destinations and engage in combat with a dynamic gameplay mechanic in a gypsy-themed world.  Click the link below to download Wander for your mobile device.

Download:

Wander

Trailer Release: NEED FOR SPEED

Aaron Paul Need for Speed

In just 3 days, Aaron Paul closes a significant chapter of his career as critically-acclaimed Breaking Bad ends its epic run on AMC.  In an effort to capitalize on Paul’s increased media exposure this week, Need for Speed released it’s first trailer this week, featuring Paul almost exclusively.  The film is based on the incredibly successful video game series of the same name in which players race various automobiles in tracks and cities with some instalments focused on evading the police.  In the film, Paul seeks revenge against his former friend and fellow racer.  The film also features Dakota Johnson, who made headlines in recent weeks when she was cast as the female lead in the big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.

 

From the look of it, the film looks to capitalize on Paul’s brooding nature and inherent badass-ness along with some flashy chases and explosions.  Still, we know very little about the film at this time and audiences have yet to take to video game movies without major Hollywood stars.  Paul certainly has audiences’ attention at the moment and Johnson adds another layer of intrigue, but it is unclear if they are enough to put audiences in the seats for what may end up being a Fast and the Furious clone.

 

Need for Speed hits theaters on Pi Day (3.14) 2014.

 

Game on.

Player Profile: WALT DISNEY

Disney

Player Profile is a series that highlights major Hollywood personalities that could and should change the status quo for video game movies.

Not long ago, Disney was synonymous with 2D fairy tales and memorable and marketable princesses.  But as animation entered the twenty-first century, the company needed to make major changes in order to keep up with the changing times.  In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar, the studio behind instant classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.  In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel, their comic book properties, and most importantly, the film rights for many of their properties.  Since 2012, Marvel films The Avengers and Iron Man 3 have combined for over $2.7 billion in ticket sales.  Sound investments such as these gave Disney the flexibility and confidence to make perhaps their most significant investment to date.  In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm for just over $4 billion and immediately announced several Star Wars sequels in the works.  In a span of just a few years, Disney extended their kingdom from not just a monopoly on children’s animation, but to a significant portion of nerd culture.  And while these moves made significant headlines, some other shrewd moves may lead to an even stronger foothold on all things geek.

Flying under the radar in 2010 was the Disney film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on the video game of the same name.  And while the movie did not make headlines the same way Avengers did, it made $335 million at the box office and holds the record for the highest Tomato Meter score for a video game movie on rottentomatoes.com.  The Jake Gyllenhaal film may not have the recognition of some of Disney’s bigger franchises, but it was a start for a studio looking to capitalize on the success of video games.  In 2012, Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph was a commercial and critical success that incorporated several iconic video game characters, but itself was not a video game adaptation.  But Ralph made it clear that Disney recognizes our love for the genre and its cornerstones.  In 2014, Disney’s Need for Speed starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is set to be released.  Need for Speed is an iconic Electronic Arts car racing game with seemingly-countless sequels and a feverish fan-following.  Add an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and an up and coming director, and you have the makings of another Disney success story.  But what about some of the most iconic game characters of all time?

Wreck-it-Ralph

Should Disney find success with their latest video game adaptation, it is conceivable that they might set their sights on some of the more commercially successful video game entities.  We saw that a Super Mario Brothers live-action film is a difficult task to accomplish.  Perhaps a Pixar-produced CG Mario adventure could find the same success Wreck-It Ralph garnered.  The Legend of Zelda could be a more attractive Pixar option as it has more fantasy elements and is less constrained to nonsensical themes like plumbers using magic mushrooms and dinosaurs to help them save a princess from a fire-breathing turtle monster with a crown.  Maybe even Donkey Kong could get the CG treatment.  Live action adventures are a possibility as well, especially for the likes of games like Metroid, Skyrim, and Fable.  Given the questionable status of Nintendo consoles in North America, a film deal between Nintendo and Disney could lead to many of these and other projects becoming a reality that would benefit both companies.  Regardless of what action Disney may take in its future video game projects, it is difficult to ignore their recent film successes and hope for the future of video game movies.

Game on.

KILL BILL: The Game

Kill BillFor a long time, the video game industry has struggled to turn box office juggernauts into quality video games.  Most often, this is because the games are used as a tie-in to capitalize on a movie’s success by coming out at the same time as the film.  Given the secrecy surrounding most blockbusters these days, the games have little to do with the actual plot of the film.  In addition, quality video games are born from an original game mechanic.  Shoehorning a film concept into a video game concept is unlikely to work in most cases.  For these reasons, it makes sense to revisit films years later as a way to rejuvenate the franchise and rekindle our imagination with a film or franchise we fell in love with.  Ghostbusters attempted this when the makers of the films came together to make a video game in 2009 featuring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis.  While the game may not have sold as many copies as they would have liked, it inspired the filmmakers to revisit the idea of another sequel and Ghostbusters 3 continues to be discussed as a film in the works.  But what other films deserve the video game treatment?  The first franchise that comes to mind is Kill Bill.

Kill Bill was originally intended to be one film, but Quentin Tarantino shot so much footage that the studio decided to turn it into two movies, Volume 1 and Volume 2.  While it is unlikely that we will ever see a Volume 3, Tarantino has at least kicked the idea around.  Regardless of the film future for the Bride, a video game adaptation of Beatrix Kiddo and her list makes sense for a variety of reasons.

 

Crazy 88

 

First, gamers more and more are drawn to the story of video games.  Games like Halo 4 even come with entire episodes of story without gameplay.  Whether the game would focus on Uma Thurman‘s character and her list or another vengeful woman (perhaps Nikki, Vernita Green’s daughter?) is up for debate, but the story lends itself well to the video game genre.  The Bride hunts down each of the people responsible for the death of her friends, fiancé, and unborn baby and each culprit represents a different stage of the game complete with their own obstacles: the Crazy 88, unique henchmen, and boss battles galore.

Second, the gameplay seems pretty obvious.  Samurai swords, hand to hand combat, endless hordes of henchmen, stealth missions – all of which are staples of the video game industry.   Add some interrogations, loot/clue gathering, and in-depth training from a ninja who wipes away his crazy-long beard when he is disgusted or intrigued.

Third, thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s choice of washed-up actors for this franchise, getting most of the stars to do the voice acting seems pretty darn easy.  Thurman would likely be the most difficult.  Okay, David Carradine would be the hardest (too soon?).  But Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, and Michael Madsen could all be had on the cheap.  And if not, they’re pretty replaceable.

 

Kill Bill Nikki

 

Many films have failed to make the transition into video games, but Kill Bill would work easily because the story easily moves from one “level” to another, the gameplay mechanics are proven to be popular and engaging, and getting the band back together would be easy.  If there is any concern about rehashing the same story, then maybe go the vengeful daughter route and have Tarantino write the video game script?  That may be a stretch that an Oscar winning writer and director would attempt writing in a “lesser” medium, but given his love of his characters and their story, he can make an unofficial sequel without going through the entire filmmaking process.  Ghostbusters attempted this, and while it was not as successful as they had hoped, it created this interesting idea of video games as sequels.  Will it take off?  Who knows.  But if it does, Kill Bill (or Kill Beatrix) is a great place to start.

 

 

Game on.

Dream-Casting: MASS EFFECT


Mass Effect

JJ Abrams has officially cornered the market on all things “nerd.”  The success of Lost spring-boarded him into all sorts of other projects that fans of television, film, and geek culture can appreciate.  Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and now Star Wars have each called upon Abrams to rejuvenate stalling franchises.  Many were shocked (and still are) that Abrams is jumping from one sci-fi powerhouse to another when Star Wars came knocking just months before the latest Star Trek was set to release.  But how could he not?  Every sci-fi fan has dreamed of adventures in space involving alien races, future technology, and intense action.  But modern audiences are almost too familiar with the subject matter to the point that the anticipation almost always sets up the movie for failure.  And while there have been several imitators over the years, Star Trek and Star Wars are the Superman and Batman of the sci-fi genre; no one will ever compare, but they may be able to succeed if they find a way to stand apart.

Enter MASS EFFECT.  Mass Effect is a video game released in 2007 and was proceeded by two successful sequels.  A movie was announced in 2010, but few announcements have been made since.  The game focusses on the adventures of Commander Shepard, a protagonist whose gender and appearance is determined by the player at the beginning of the game.  With the help of a ragtag group of soldiers and crew, both human and alien, and his ship, The Normandy, Shepard embarks on a mission to save the galaxy from a race of mechanical aliens calling themselves “the Reapers.”  While the combat is somewhat familiar to fans of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (also made by BioWare), the reason this game endears itself to so many is because of the depth of the characters and relationships you form with your AI teammates.  Like Star Wars and Star Trek, this is a true ensemble cast and its lasting appeal has more to do with the wide cast of memorable characters rather than the action, explosions, and fight scenes.

No casting announcements have been made to date, but given the importance of the characters to this franchise, I imagine this will be a point of emphasis for the producers.  If I were to make this film, this is the direction I would go:

 

Ashley Williams

Ashley Williams Evangeline Lilly

Williams is only 25, but she is an accomplished soldier that is constantly plagued by the mistakes of her grandfather and his checkered past as a soldier.  She is a possible love interest for Shepard.  I find it difficult to avoid casting Jennifer Lawrence in every early 20’s action role these days because it’s the easy way out.  Going too young here might be a bad choice.  My inclination is to go with 30’s to 40’s male Shepard, so Lost’s Evangeline Lilly could slide right into this roll at 34.

 

Liara T’Soni

Liara Rose Byrne

I could go in any direction here.  Liara is of the Asari race and she is a scientist and advanced in bionics (think “The Force”).  She is another romantic interest of Shepard whether Shepard is male or female as Asari are all female and can reproduce with both genders.  Rose Byrne would be believable as a scientist and has proven quite capable of playing strong yet reserved characters.

 

Kaidan Alenko

Kaidan Alenko Joe Manganiello

Skilled in both tech and bionics, Alenko is a human male and a member of Shepard’s crew.  Joe Manganiello of True Blood would fit the role nicely as he was built to be an action star that will put women in the seats.

 

Garrus Vakarian

Garrus Liam Neeson

One of the most popular characters in the franchise, Garrus could be completely CG or a combination of makeup effects and CG.  A Turian, Garrus is a bit rash, but is a loyal member of Shepard’s crew.  Liam Neeson‘s voice is perfect for the character as he is both tough and dignified.

 

Tali’Zorah nar Rayya

Tali Hannah Simone

Tali is a female Quarian and skilled technician.  She has to wear an environmental suit due to her weak immune system, but she is still useful in a fight.  Hannah Simone of New Girl fame is my pick even though she is a relatively fresh face in the industry.

 

Urdnot Wrex

Wrex Sean Bean

Wrex is a Krogan bounty hunter and mercenary.  He is a little rough around the edges, as are most Krogans.  Sean Bean can play grumpy and tough as Game of Thrones fans can attest.

 

Miranda Lawson

Miranda Lawson Yvonne Strahovski

Depending on your level of Mass Effect knowledge, you are either thinking “Damn, Brett.  She looks just like her.” or “Damn Brett.  That is completely lazy.”  Yvonne Strahovski of Chuck and Dexter played the role of Shepard’s second-in-command in Mass Effect 2.  Unlike most of the other Mass Effect game actors, Strahovski has a variety of live-action film experience and name recognition.  Although, her inclusion may have to wait until the sequel with so many other strong female characters already included.

 

Jeff “Joker” Moreau

Joker Seth Green

Seth Green voiced the Normandy pilot in all three games and would provide comic relief for a series that is mostly void of comedic characters.

 

Dr. Karin Chakwas

Karin Chakwas Helen Mirren

The resident medical doctor of the Normandy almost seems to be inspired by Helen Mirren.  No-brainer.

 

Admiral Steven Hackett

Steven Hackett Keifer Sutherland

Hackett is the one giving the orders to Shepard and crew, and a veteran actor the likes of Kiefer Sutherland would be perfect.  He is a fine actor with a background in action films, so he would naturally slide into the role of an Admiral quite well.

 

The Illusive Man

Illusive Man Mark Ruffalo

A villain in Mass Effect 2 and 3, the Illusive Man is the leader of Cerberus, a pro-human terrorist group.  Mark Ruffalo looks the part and is on the verge of stardom after his surprising take on Bruce Banner in the Avengers.

 

Saren Arterius

Saren Michael C Hall

Saren is a “by any means necessary” type of villain who hates humanity and is focussed on enslaving organic life.  Yet another character that would be CG, Saren would be played by Michael C Hall who does cold and devious regularly on Dexter.

 

Commander Shepard

Commander Shepard Tom Hardy

The player has the option to play Shepard as male or female and can modify their appearance, giving me the freedom to cast virtually anyone in the role.  Casting a woman as Shepard would be interesting, especially since Star Wars and Star Trek rely heavily on male characters in the lead roles.  However, given the multitude of strong female characters already present in the Mass Effect mythos, a strong male lead would balance out the cast more.  A younger Brad Pitt would work, but the 50 year-old is not ideal for what hopes to be a long-standing franchise.  Channing Tatum fits the profile, but is still a little too comedic and obvious.  Tom Hardy is equal parts action star and respected actor.  With The Dark Knight Rises under his belt and a Mad Max remake on the way, Hardy has the star-power and fresh face needed to invent this franchise.

That will do it for this edition of Dream-Casting.  I would be shocked if the studios go with any of these choices, but you never know.

 

Game on.

Player Profile: MICHAEL FASSBENDER

AssassinsCreed

As fans clamour for a passable video game movie, producers are actively searching for the right pieces  to make it happen.  In the coming years, we will see adaptations of popular games like Need for Speed, Angry Birds, and Warcraft hit the screens.  But without the right creators and actors, these films will meet the same fate as their predecessors.  Today, we profile one of the most important figures behind the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film: Michael Fassbender.

 

According to Variety, Fassbender will star and co-produce this tale of Desmond Miles, a modern-day bartender that comes from a family of assassins.  In the film, Miles is forced by mega-corporation Abstergo Industries to relive his ancestors’ memories to discover the location of ancient artifacts.  This is done through a machine called “Animus.”  Each of the games focuses on a different moment in history whether its the Crusades, 15th Century Italy, or the American Revolution.  Each time, his ancestor is an assassin that relies on stealth to achieve their objectives.

 

Fassbender, while maybe not a household name, has a strong presence in nerd culture.  After a minor role in 300, Fassbender’s first big break came as Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds.  This role as the faux German soldier who doesn’t know how to show the number “3” with his fingers led to perhaps his most iconic performance as Erik Lensherr, AKA Magneto, in X-Men: First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Throw in a few action and sci-fi roles like Haywire and Prometheus, and Fassbender is on a roll.

 

 

Fassbender

 

 

This is why fans are excited to see the German-born actor take up the mantle of Desmond Miles.  While he has already played some iconic roles, he has yet to have a mainstream hit that defined both the character and his career.  Magneto, the closest he has to a career-defining roll, is shared with the great Sir Ian McKellan, who played the role in the first three X-Men movies, a cameo in The Wolverine, and shares the role with Fassbender in Days of Future Past.  Assassin’s Creed is unique enough to stand out from other video game movie failures and Fassbender provides a nice balance of star power, nerd-cred (trademarked), and a career direction that is not yet defined.  Jean-Claude Van Damme was a star before Street Fighter and the role did not follow him.  At the time, Lara Croft appeared to be perfect for Angelina Jolie and vice versa, but Jolie went on to bigger things and Croft did not.  Jake Gyllenhaal was Prince of Persia.  That’s just difficult to type.

 

The point is that often the timing of casting is just as important as the accuracy of the casting.  Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky,  Harrison Ford as Han Solo; the right actor for the right role at the right time makes all the difference.  The time is now for Michael Fassbender to find a breakout role.  The time is now for the video game industry to break through the walls of cinema.  The partnership of Fassbender and Assassin’s Creed could be the break that the industry is looking for to become respectable and successful in the motion picture industry.  Let’s just hope that, should AC become a trilogy, Fassbender has learned his lesson about the right way to show the number “3” in Germany.  For his sake.

 

Wheelchair

 

Game on.

Troubleshooting: STREET FIGHTER

SF PosterWhat if I told you that there is a movie in development that is:

  • Written and directed by the screenwriter of some of the best action movies of our time
  • Starring one of the biggest action stars on the planet
  • Based on one of the most popular video game franchises in history

Excited yet?  Now rewind back to 1994, nearly 20 years ago.  The filmmaker is Steven E. de Souza, writer of Die Hard, Commando, The Running Man,  and 48 Hours.  In the 90’s, that was quite a resume.  Throw in Jean-Claude Van Damme, and you have the makings of a hit.  And if I told you the game is Street Fighter?  You just lost your mind.

As we all know now, this movie was a steaming pile.  While it made a profit, it was a joke of a movie and was one of the main reasons video game movies got off to such a slow start.  Before Street Fighter, there were 2(!) video game movies in existence: Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon.  Many today may not even realize these movies exist, but they do and they’re dreadful.  While Street Fighter may be a step up, it is by no means good.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  Street Fighter was a hugely popular arcade game that also sold a lot of Super Nintendo consoles.  It was essentially one of the first tournament-style fighting games and was popular both in the East and West.  It utilized a colorful and diverse cast of characters and button-mashed its way into our homes.  It paved the way for games like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, DOA, and many others.  In 1994, it was hard to find a more popular video game.  JCVD was a huge star and antagonist Raul Julia was fresh of his success as the lead in the Addams Family franchise.  The rest of the cast were relative unknowns, but the film had all it needed to be a monumental step forward for video games as movies.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

 

What Worked:

The look of most characters was spot on.  M. Bison‘s look was a direct port from the game.  It took a while, but Ryu and Ken eventually donned their normal attire.  Guile, Zangief, and the rest were very accurate as well when it comes to their look and costume.  While mostly unnecessary, the idea of Bison as a terrorist leader with henchman and Guile leading a freedom force was a nice way to bring the characters together and explain their presence in this conflict.  It set up the fights and different character interactions.  In Raul Julia’s last film before his untimely death, he delivers the best performance of the movie by far by playing M. Bison as a diabolical figurehead that thinks he’s doing what is right.  There’s also some great 80’s action movie dialogue to be found:

 

Stuffy government suit-type when advocating paying M. Bison’s ransom: “Guile, have you lost your mind?”

Guile: “No.  You’ve lost your balls!”

 

 

Zangief

What Didn’t Work:

While de Souza does his best to bring these characters into a conflict that justifies their actions against one another, it seems completely unnecessary to ditch the fighting tournament element in favor of this anti-terrorism approach when you are just going to stay with the game’s cartoonish tone anyway.  Remember, this film came out a year before Mortal Kombat and there were no video game films like it.  And most of the one-on-one fights were found at the end of the movie after several gunfights and near encounters.  

 

About those fight scenes.  When playing the video game, each fight takes place at one of many exotic locales.  In this film, all the fights come in M. Bison’s layer as the building is falling apart and our heroes are helping hostages escape.  Also, its as if the fight choreographers were limited to moves the characters performed in the game.  And I’m not talking about the good moves (I’m staring at you, Ryu’s “Hadouken”).  I’m talking about watching JCVD do a round house kick several times IN SUCCESSION, much like a player taking advantage of a lesser opponent or bad computer AI.  I’m sure there’s a drinking game in there somewhere.  

 

And while we are on the topic of JCVD, a Belgian as Guile?  I am all for portraying American diversity, but this is a man with the US flag tatooed on his tricep.  Van Damme doesn’t try to disguise his accent at all and it is often difficult to differentiate his pronunciation of “Charlie,” his missing military buddy that would become Blanka, and “Chun-Li,” the Chinese woman posing as a journalist.  It took me half the movie to realize that I was getting the two confused.  Add the sexist way in which Guile sizes up Chun-Li by circling her and looking her up and down before implying they should date, and JCVD quickly becomes annoying and unnecessary.

 

 

photo

What the Movie Industry Can Learn:

First, don’t pigeon hole a star into a role he’s not suited for.  See: Prince of Persia and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Second, if it ain’t broke…you know the rest.  How can this movie be called Street Fighter when there is no street fighting?

 

What’s Next:

Hopefully nothing.  Rebooting this franchise is a bad idea.  After two Street Fighter movies, two Mortal Kombat movies, and DOA, it is almost impossible to make an original-feeling movie based on a tournament-style fighting game.  But if you are forced to make one, I would pick Mortal Kombat.  It has an edgy quality that resonates with audiences.  Street Fighter simply feels outdated at this point.  

 

Game Over

 

Game on. 

 

 

Dream-Casting: HALO

Halo

Introducing a new feature here at Game of PWNs: Dream-Casting.  In this feature, I will explore casting video game movies that have yet to be made.  Today, everyone’s favorite shooter: HALO.

Halo follows the adventures of Master Chief, a cybernetic soldier called a SPARTAN, as he fights to protect the human race from a group of unified alien forces calling themselves the Covenant.  The title “Halo” refers to a space station shaped like, well, a halo.  The game firmly established Microsoft’s XBox line as a competitor to Sony’s PlayStation line of consoles.  For years, a Halo movie has been in development but hit a significant roadblock when potential directors Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) and Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) backed out.  Despite the delays, a Halo movie in inevitable.  It is one of the most popular video game franchises in history and sic-fi epics tend to do well at the box office, especially ones with a built-in fan base.

 

The purpose of this feature is not to write the story (which for this franchise has practically been written as each game feels like a movie already), but to cast some of the most popular video game characters in history.  Let’s give it a go.

 

Cortana:

Cortana Jessica Chastain

As the AI sidekick of Master Chief, Cortana is one of the most popular characters in the franchise.  She is one of many characters that may be portrayed using CGI only, so finding a woman that looks the part is unnecessary.  However, given that Cortana is the most central female character in the series, using a commercially appealing actress would help reach a wider audience.  One could go in any direction when casting Cortana.  She is not of any particular ethnicity, so finding an actress with a strong voice and good acting chops would be ideal.  Cortana has an American accent and, of course, is intelligent.  While this is not a narrow field, Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) is a two-time Oscar Nominee and has yet to try her hand at a blockbuster.

 

Sgt. Avery Johnson:

Johnson Foxx

A marine that leads the humans into battle, Johnson is a close ally to Master Chief.  Johnson is a grizzled veteran and a no-nonsense guy, but what marine isn’t?  The ideal choice is Denzel Washington, but at this point in his career it may be difficult to persuade him to take a supporting role.  I could see Jamie Foxx taking the role because while he is now a serious actor, I could see his fun side persuading him to accept this challenge.

 

Captain Jacob Keyes:

Captain Keyes Willis

As a high-ranking leader in the United Nations Space Command, Keyes is the effectively the leader of the good guys in the first Halo game.  He is old enough to have a daughter in the UNSC (see Miranda Keyes) but fit enough to see combat from time to time.  Bruce Willis is an ideal choice, and given how high-profile this project would be, I don’t think it would be much of a reach to think Willis would embrace the role.

 

Commander Miranda Keyes:

Miranda Lauren Cohan

Miranda is the daughter of Captain Jacob Keyes and is an instrumental figure in Halo 2 and 3.  Given the fate of her father and the lack of female characters in the first Halo game, including Miranda in the first film would help round out the hero cast.  Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) is the kind of fresh face that is lacking from this cast so far.

 

Voice Actors:

Given that the following characters will either be CGI or never show their face, distinguished voices are key from here on out.

 

High Prophet:

High Prophet Hopkins

While there are several High Prophets, there need be only one as the central villain in the first Halo movie.  They are the leaders of the Covenant and go by names like Truth, Mercy, and Regret.  Sir Anthony Hopkins has the star power and critical success to add even more credibility to the cast.

 

Arbiter:

Arbiter Diesel

The Arbiter is a title given to a Covenant Elite soldier highly regarded for their bravery and skill who are sent on suicidal missions.  An eventual ally of Master Chief, the Arbiter could be used as the MC’s primary antagonist in the first film as he is a match in terms of skills and abilities.  Vin Diesel‘s voice fits the profile perfectly as someone who could both be a villain and a hero.

 

343 Guilty Spark:

343 Pegg

A robot who plays a significant role in the Flood storyline, 343 Guilty Spark is like a twisted C-3PO.  On one hand, he can provide comic relief.  On the other, he will burn you alive if it means accomplishing his mission parameters.  This would be an interesting part for Simon Pegg (Shawn of the Dead, Star Trek, Hot Fuzz) who is primarily known for his comedic acting.

 

Master Chief:

Master Chief Elba

This one is a doozy.  How do you cast the face of your franchise when you never actually see his face?  The voice and the man in the suit need not be one and the same, but at the same time you need someone who can carry the film with his voice while still playing someone who doesn’t show much emotion.  If I were picking the an actor to build around, I would choose someone who isn’t necessarily a household name, but isn’t completely raw either.  I’m thinking someone who would forever be known for playing Master Chief, but would still have a career post-Halo.  Idris Elba (Luther, Thor, Pacific Rim) gets the nod here.  While a rising star in his own right, he has yet to have a career-defining role.  This could be it.

 

Game on.

 

Troubleshooting: DOA

doa_dead_or_aliveThere was a time, not long ago, when the video game industry was defined by fighting games.  Games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter dominated the console and the arcade.  Gamers button mashed their way to victory using a unique combos and finishers, and Hollywood was quick to capitalize.  The 1990’s saw movie adaptations of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and fans flocked to theaters.  While the films were profitable, they were far from original.  And as the video game industry advanced, North American gamers shifted their focus to shooters and the film industry lost interest in the tournament-style martial arts movies that made Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Ralph Macchio household names.

 

Fast-forward a decade and video game graphics had advanced significantly.  The fighter game still had an audience, especially in Japan. Enter DOA: Dead or Alive.  While I have never played the game, I formed an opinion on the franchise somewhat early based on what I had seen in magazines and TV shows.  For the sake of this blog entry, I decided to brush up on the game by checking out their Wikipedia page.  Rather than trying to paraphrase, I think I’ll let you read the most significant part of the description:

 

In addition to its innovative countering system, the franchise is arguably as well known for its cast of busty female characters and the animation of their breasts.

 

The boob physics were so popular that this fighting game actually inspired a sports game based on several of the main characters: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.  You can’t make this up.  Girls in bikinis playing volleyball aimed at a market of consumers with no interest in purchasing a volleyball game.

 

Naturally, when I heard that a DOA movie was in development, I did not purchase my tickets to a midnight screening.  Instead, I waited seven years and only watched it because I was writing a blog based on video game movies.  And it was free on Netflix.  Otherwise, it wasn’t going to happen.

 

Starring Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl, I Love You Man, Not Another Teen Movie), Kevin Nash (Pro Wrestler), Eric Roberts (Julia’s far less successful bro) and a bunch of people you’ve never heard of, DOA follows the simple video game fighter movie formula: the world’s best fighters enter a tournament to see who is the best in the world.  The story follows the Pressly and the other beautiful women of the tournament.  Eric Roberts is the bad guy who is in charge of the tourney.  That’s really all there is to it.

 

What Worked:

Surprisingly, Pressly and the two other female leads are more than just a pretty face.  They can’t act worth a lick, but each is well-versed in martial arts and its clear that they are doing many of the stunts and combat scenes without much aid from doubles.  And while the video games focused on larger-than-life chests, these women appear fit and (mostly) natural.  The fight scenes are well-choreographed and I didn’t fall asleep in between the fights.  Also, it was clear that the filmmakers knew the limitations of their subject matter and embraced it.  The film was cheesy, but in a good way.  There is no way to make this subject material Oscar-worthy, so why bother trying?

 

thumbs down

 

What Didn’t Work:

The story was a little tired as fans of the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter film franchises can attest.  There was far too much wire work for my liking; I was half expecting Peter Pan to join the leading ladies as they feverishly “climbed” a structure early in the film.  The violence was very PG-13, which isn’t always a bad thing, but considering all the hits, kicks, and tumbles, I expected one person to at least have a cut or a bruise.  Sadly, a volleyball scene was included and while there was no excessive boob-gawking, there were quite a few camera angles that started at a wedgie-bearing tush and panned to the rest of the action.  And while the tournament was fast and entertaining at first, the competition was abandoned in the end so the women could team up and take down Eric Roberts, who downloaded each of their fighting styles to his sunglasses.  Riiight.

 

What the Movie Industry Can Learn:

This film was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.  There was a little bit of fan service as the women were objectified to some degree, but each actress held her own as a combatant and they were not chosen simply for their appearance.  It is difficult to say that any fighter game will make a good movie because the formula has been utilized several times now.  But games without much depth of story can learn from DOA by embracing the fun of the game rather than trying to conform to movie industry standards.  If a script is severely lacking, fill your movie with action and fun and you can have an entertaining movie-going experience.

 

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What’s Next:

Hopefully, nothing.  I can’t imagine that a sequel or remake of DOA would help change the film industry’s perception of video games in cinema.  For now, take what worked and focus that into making a new Mortal Kombat film in the spirit of The Expendables.  But more on that soon enough.

 

Game on.

Troubleshooting: RESIDENT EVIL Franchise

Resident-evil-afterlife-originalOver the past week or so, I watched all 5 Resident Evil movies to date.  There were some positives and a lot of obvious negatives.  To date, this is my favorite video game movie franchise, but I hesitate to call any of these films “good.”  In this edition of Troubleshooting, we will explore what the film industry can learn going forward as it pertains to adapting video games into movies.

 

What Worked:

The franchise learned from early miscues and eventually became a respectable series within the action horror genre.  The first Resident Evil was clearly inspired by the works of Ridley Scott (Alien), George Romero (____of the (Living) Dead films), with glimpses of John Woo action-ers.  The second expanded to a dark, city-wide romp with heavy emphasis on action, less emphasis on horror.  There were some more memorable characters, but they lacked depth.  The third saw the T-Virus all but wipe out the human race and improved greatly in terms of the scope, action, and character depth.  The fourth, while not making any significant strides forward, maintained the momentum of its predecessor as Alice and friends attempted to escape a prison to a ship called the Arcadia.  The fifth chapter saw Alice meet up with a group of characters made popular by the video games while escaping another Umbrella facility and took bad acting, bad writing, and mindless (in a bad way) entertainment to new levels.  In other words, the series improved from film to film, with the exception of the last instalment (so far).

 

Resident Evil should get credit for revisiting the zombie horror drama before the likes of The Walking Dead could get their hands on the genre.  If Resident Evil came out now, it would be seen as a sad and pathetic alternative to the character-driven AMC series.  As it stands, Resident Evil was ahead of the zombie curve, but eventually resorted to being an action-driven horror franchise with few scares but lots of bullets.

 

The one clear standout from the Resident Evil films has to be Milla Jovovich‘s Alice.  She was a character created specifically for the first film never having appeared in the game.  Director/Writer Paul WS Anderson (the future Mr. Jovovich) utilized Jovovich’s experience as Lelu in The Fifth Element and added a little humanity to create Alice.  As a result, a film franchise devoid of interesting characters hitched its wagon to the star power of its main character.  The result was a profitable formula of cheap action movies with a strong female lead.

 

What Didn’t Work:

While each film improved from one film to the next, many of the early mistakes felt like the result of amateur filmmakers learning on the job rather than attempts to find the right formula for portraying the video game on the big screen.  Most of the problems (writing, acting, low budget special effects) had less to do with the game and more to do with the studio’s confidence in the subject material.  The first film felt like the studio acquired the rights to a popular video game franchise and made a conscious effort to get the least talented people possible to make a film for the lowest amount possible with the only aim to sell tickets to pimple-faced gamers that just want to see girls, guns, and guts.  But they stumbled upon a strong character in Alice and used her to pump out sequels without learning from their mistakes as it pertains to the talent they hired.  Instead, the same directors and writers stuck around and improved their skills, but only marginally.  Sure, the budget increased, but most of that went towards special effects.

 

resident_evil_afterlife_34

 

While Alice is an interesting character that deserves a lot of screen time, it seems as though a series based on a video game would attempt to utilize the star power of the game’s characters a bit more than just as a supporting character for fan service.  With the exception of Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller, most of the game’s characters were portrayed by actors you may never see again.  And their performances were far from memorable.  Out of the five films, few central characters appeared in more than two films (and I am not including mind-wiped clones).

 

While there were clear differences in setting and plot in each of the films, some felt as though they were a thirty minute story told over the course of 90 minutes.  The fifth film, Retribution, definitely fits this description as it is a simple “escape from Umbrella facility” script.  One of the franchise’s weaknesses is that at the end of each film, the give a glimpse at what is to come, but the next film usually fails to deliver on that promise.  Alice clone army? All of them killed in the first scene.  Umbrella planes attack survivors, Alice, and Redfields?  Survivors play no role and Larter and Miller are nowhere to be found in the sequel.  I like the idea, but it loses its significance if you don’t deliver on your promise.

 

What the Movie Industry Can Learn:

If you acquire the movie rights to a successful video game franchise, don’t rest on your laurels and expect to make a profit on the existing fanbase.  To be successful, you need to hire talented professionals who know how to make a good movie.  Otherwise, what you have is a mess of what filmmakers think fans want and what they think will sell tickets.  To date, that formula has not made a coherent film that critics and fans can enjoy.  Resident Evil failed to garner critical success because the studios hired filmmakers with little in the way of experience and talent and it showed.  To the filmmakers’ credit, they improved drastically within the first few films, but they had little ability to maintain that momentum and could not reach outside their established fanbase.  With a lot more emphasis on script and production value, Resident Evil could be a huge summer blockbuster with fans from the outside of the gaming community.

 

What’s Next:

Anderson indicated that the sixth Resident Evil will be released next year.  Hopefully, this will be the last chapter as the franchise is on its last legs.  With any luck, there will be a satisfying resolution that sees Umbrella taken down and a group of scrappy survivors that will live on.  Perhaps Alice dies, but the point is the franchise and Jovovich need to move on.  And since the franchise largely ignored some of it’s more integral characters from the video game, a reboot is the logical step after the sixth instalment.  After all, after the first film, it became all about Alice.

 

Ideally, a reboot would revolve around a larger cast of characters and would be grounded in the horror genre a bit more.  There would be more thrills and suspense rather than bullets and slow-mo.  Less telekinesis and more human interaction.  I would start with a few main characters like Leon S. Kennedy, Chris and Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, and Albert Wesker and tell a few short stories that intertwine within the film.  Think Pulp Fiction with zombies and soldiers.  And while many of these characters are well-versed in combat and weaponry, they may be paired or grouped with survivors who are not, adding a dimension of vulnerability and less emphasis on constant fighting and increased emphasis on scares and suspense.  This first film of the rebooted franchise would have three parts, each focusing on a different group of characters, and a fourth part where these three stories come together.

 

Part 1: Olivia Munn as Ada Wong

Ada_Wong_RE6Olivia Munn

In this part, Wong is portrayed as an Umbrella researcher who is in a top secret Umbrella laboratory when the T-virus spreads.  She, along with other survivors, run for their lives as their friends and colleagues begin to change into mutated zombies.  They reach out to the police for help and are guided by Special Tactics and Rescue Services (STARS) Captain Albert Wesker via telephone.  At the end of this chapter, Wong proves to be resilient and is the sole survivor of her group.  She is apparently rescued by STARS and Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield.

 

Part 2: Stana Katic (Castle) as Claire Redfield

Claire_RedfieldStana Katic

Claire is working as a school teacher when news breaks of a city-wide quarantine of Raccoon City.  Claire, a natural leader, attempts to lead several students and faculty to safety, but all along is concerned about her brother Chris.  He is her only living relative and as an officer of STARS, is in the middle of all the danger and likely has more answers than the local news.  As the chaos spreads through the city, Claire goes to STARS headquarters with a small group of survivors looking for answers and for her brother.  What she finds is Captain Albert Wesker, who takes in Claire’s group.  But when members of the group start to become even more mutated versions of the creatures outside, Claire begins to question if there isn’t something more sinister afoot.  In the end, Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield arrive with Ada Wong in handcuffs, each of them battered and bloody.

 

Part 3:

Ryan Gosling as Leon S. Kennedy and Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire) as Chris Redfield

Leon_S.Kennedy_Resident_Evil_4Ryan Gosling ChrisRedfieldTaylor Kinney

 

Albert Wesker calls upon his two best officers, partners Kennedy and Redfield, and orders them to rescue the survivors of a what appears to be a terrorist attack at the Umbrella Corporation.  Kennedy and Redfield lead their team into the corporation’s top secret lab below Raccoon City and what they find is much more than a simple terrorist attack.  While at first they just find zombies, they eventually encounter several large, mutated creatures that want nothing more than to tear their flesh from bone.  Along the way, they uncover clues as to what happened.  It seems Umbrella was working on a method of regenerating dead cells, a way to accelerate healing.  In the process, they developed a virus that could wipe out an entire population.  Umbrella’s leaders, seeing potential for a significant profit if sold to the right bidder, kept the virus locked away until they could find the right buyer.  Unfortunately, the virus got out and spread to all the researchers and employees.  Kennedy and Redfield fight their way to the control room in an effort to lock down the facility as it appears there are no survivors and they need to contain the virus.  When they arrive, they find Wong and are instructed by Wesker to get her to the surface for questioning.  They escape only to find that the T-virus has already reached the surface.  They soon realize that Wong is not all that she seems.  Wong is an operative for another company that wants to acquire intelligence regarding Umbrella’s research.  Wong was simply dressed as a scientist, but is actually a trained spy that can infiltrate top secret facilities and is a trained martial artist.  Eventually, Redfield and Kennedy subdue her and return with her to STARS headquarters for questioning.

 

Part 4: Conclusion featuring Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) as Albert Wesker

Albert_Wesker_RE5Alexander Skarsgard

 

Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and Ada Wong arrive at STARS headquarters to find Albert Wesker and Claire Redfield waiting.  While Kennedy interrogates Wong about what she knows and how to stop the virus from spreading, Claire expresses to her brother Chris that blaming Wong for the days events seems illogical.  While its true that Ada lied about why she was there in the first place, releasing the virus does nothing for the company she works for.  She has no motive to release the T-virus or to put herself in a locked facility with flesh-eating zombies.  Kennedy is getting nowhere with the interrogation and Wesker decides to interrogate her himself.  Outside STARS headquarters, the streets are empty as most Raccoon City residents have fled or turned.  STARS is spread thin all over the city trying to help the survivors.  Kennedy is itching to get back out there and help, but Chris Redfield says he has an obligation to protect his sister.  They argue about their duty to the people of Raccoon City and Claire’s ability to fend for herself.  Just as they are about to come to blows, they hear a loud thumping coming from outside.  A hideously-mutated zombie the size of the Hulk is at their doorstep and trying to charge through the door.  Kennedy and the Redfields fight it to the death and are victorious.

 

Meanwhile, in the interrogation room, the interrogation appears typical, but then Wesker removes a needle from his coat pocket.  He reveals to Ada that the Umbrella Corporation intentionally released the virus as a demonstration to potential buyers of the T-virus’s power and value.  Wesker is employed by the Umbrella Corporation and was instructed to use his resources to contain the virus within the city and make sure there were no survivors that could reveal what really happened to the outside world.  He attempts to inject Wong resulting in an engaging game of cat and mouse as Wong is still handcuffed.  When the raging battle outside spills into the interrogation room, Kennedy and the Redfields discover Wesker’s involvement in the days events and attempt to defeat him.  In the struggle, Wesker is injected with the virus.  He reveals that he has already taken an experimental antibody that prevents infection, only to learn that once injected with the virus, there are unexpected results.  Wesker becomes, strong, fast, and nearly impossible to defeat.  The four eventually escape Wesker and manage to flee the city.  Umbrella uses their power to cover-up the infection as a terrorist attack and Ada Wong is arrested.  Without proof of Umbrella’s involvement and Wong’s innocence, Kennedy and the Redfields go into hiding fearing the Umbrella Corporation with attempt to silence them.  The film ends as Wong escapes with the help of her newfound allies and we see a crow perched upon the roof of the Washington Monument.

 

The action would be less-stylized and more realistic.  The zombies would be faster, but hidden for much of Ada Wong’s story.  There would be more emphasis on suspense and less on bullet-time.  It would feel more like a horror movie with action elements rather than the opposite.  Alice could make an appearance in sequels, but perhaps as a different character entirely.  I would find it interesting if she were the daughter of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield.  By no means am I a screenwriter, and these ideas may just be the musings of a naive fanboy.  But it is difficult to argue that what we have seen so far in the franchise is much better than this.

 

That will do it for this edition of Troubleshooting.  Please feel free to post your ideas below.

 

Game on.