In 2011, I won a year’s worth of movie passes to a new theater opening up nearby, specializing in independent film.
I think I used six of them before I and a vast majority of the local population gave up on the place as a simple flash in the pan, the trendy new hotspot.
During one of the final times I went, I remember thinking that despite my free access to anything I wanted to see, I would rather be playing a game.
While 2010 was a great year for movies, it was one of the last that made me want to go to a theater instead of stay home with a controller in hand. Black Swan and True Grit were released that year, but so were Bioshock 2, Heavy Rain, God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII. Not only did these games have production values rivaling major films, they carried with them emotional attachments typically associated with acting in motion pictures. Today marks the release of Bioshock Infinite, and if the reviews are any indication, Hollywood may want to consider a brain drain.
To be fair, films have had a much longer time to ingrain themselves into the culture of people, whether they are fans, critics or asshole writers like myself. The combination of moving pictures, a soundtrack of music and eventually spoken word used to tell a story has existed for many more decades than the concept of a video game, a phrase that would sound alien in the golden age of Hollywood.
Why, then, have movies found a way to fuck it all up so easily? How did we go from a time when “movie stars” came alive and made us feel as if we were in the room with them, as if men like Humphrey Bogart were pouring us a drink and telling us in Hayes Code to go fuck ourselves all in one thought? Naturally, the easy answer is money, but their may be a bigger influence than you think.
Consider this choice: given the options of watching the Normandy Beach invasion scene in Saving Private Ryan or inserting yourself into the battle via Call of Duty 2, which would you prefer? Both are scripted and based on historical events, but the movie, however historically accurate it may be, requires an outsider’s view. With a controller or mouse and keyboard, you become the character. You take aim at enemy soldiers, you take cover behind a sandbag to avoid gunfire, you watch your partners in battle get killed.
Not a fan of war? Let’s try epic Greek mythological tales. Was it a coincidence that the remake of Clash of the Titans came out almost simultaneously with God of War III? Curious or not, it was no surprise at all that the game received universal acclaim while the movie was considered not only shit, but one of the worst uses of modern 3D in movies.
I am always going to be a proponent for independent material in all forms, but just as there is a place to throw action and giant set pieces at you to see what sticks in movies, so too does such a place exist in video games. The problem is that games have been doing it better for a while, and Bioshock Infinite solidifies that statement.
Have a look at Metacritic and you’ll find that the latest entry in Ken Levine’s visual drug binge is raking in every heap of praise that its original did in 2007. I will be able to offer my own opinion after I get the game in my hands (Amazon Prime is fucking fantastic), but I see no reason why I won’t be knocked on my ass yet again. I don’t expect the same feeling of isolated enchantment that the first trip to Rapture gave me, nor do I want a simple rehash that felt I received with Bioshock 2, although you shouldn’t take that as a complete condemnation of the sequel.
Ken Levine has a creative mind for which executive producers in Los Angeles would kill. The same could be said about writers at Rockstar, SquareEnix and Ubisoft. Outside of Martin Scorsese, the greatest crime stories of the past decade have revolved around the Grand Theft Auto name. Lara Croft’s new tale in Tomb Raider puts anything that Disney, Steven Spielberg or George Lucas have crapped out to shame. Alternate takes on history have been proposed and executed wonderfully by the Assassin’s Creed games without subjecting former presidents to vampires. Not only should it be no surprise that filmmakers would want to emulate the success of games, it should be encouraged.
The similarities between the industries don’t end there. Take a look at an upcoming release list of movies and count how many 3D re-releases, remakes, sequels and/or reboots crop up. While opinions on the need and want of such a glut in video games can vary, more often than not they end up being a better experience. Developers can let players do things they were technologically incapable of imaging, much less programming years ago. Characters can be visually re-imagined and stories presented through full acting rather than simple text readouts. Computers are essential to the medium of games, so it would follow that the more powerful they become, the better a game can be.
Movies, on the other hand, have suffered because of it. Rather than linger the camera for a few more seconds on someone’s facial expression to establish an emotion, a CGI shot of a building exploding and falling to a million pieces can generate more money thanks to the international market. I’m not going to waste my time lamenting crap like the Transformers films; others have done it better than I can.
While Jurassic Park gets set for a 3D release, Gears of War: Judgment further established the history of the Locust Horde and made for a better story about how the human race suddenly became a species of secondary victims. In such an action-packed series that gives us plenty of brotastic moments with Marcus Fenix and the only object of the game is shooting at enemies with guns (and occasionally chainsawing them in half), they still manage to insert depth into characters like Cole and Baird while giving us moments to pause and think about our fellow human beings as a whole.
Seeing as both games and movies are viewed by bankrollers as businesses, I’m not holding out hope for some kind of renaissance or return to form. Both will continue to be seen in terms of profitability and marketability, but while movies have degenerated, games continue to achieve greatness in spite of it. People keep asking when there will be the gaming equivalent of Casablanca or Taxi Driver. I want the question changed to when we will see the film version of Bioshock.
Motorized Patriot: Bioshock Infinite Website
Transformers Dark: Morethanmeetstheiris.wordpress.com