Recently I’ve had cause to watch a few movies that I knew I shouldn’t (not that kind). Even though I knew they were terrible, I’ve forced myself to watch them. Some not even for the first time, just to revel in the cinematic effluence (the less said about that metaphor, the better).
It got me thinking about movie adaptations of other media. Now everyone has that book that they love that they will never forgive a film maker for “hollywoodifying”, but there’s numerous reasons for changes from books to screen. Usually because condensing an 80,000 word novel into a 2 hour movie is like condensing an elephant into a hot dog bun, it’s not easy and someone always complains about the mess.
Video games, however, especially early video games, don’t have that excuse. Their adaptations are almost invariably terrible (feel free to correct me if you’ve seen a good one). I’d just like to illustrate this point with a couple of well known movies based on video games from the 2D era that Hollywood could not have missed the point of more.
Street Fighter (1994)
I find that the 1994 movie adaptation of “Street Fighter” is best summed up with the words “…for some reason”. Which is to say that every sentence used to describe its casting, plot or even the fact it was released at all can be followed by the words “…for some reason”.
I present to you some examples:
– The writer and director, Steven E. de Souza decided to replace the street fighting martial arts tournament with a convoluted story-line involving an unsanctioned UN invasion of an asian country to rescue some hostages… for some reason.
– A game arguably most famous for its supernatural fighting moves features none, except one pathetic nod to Ryu’s Dragon Punch… for some reason.
– The personification of the all-American hero, Guile is played by the world’s most famous Belgian… for some reason. (And in typical Hollywood style, the “American” is shoehorned into being the main character.)
In fact, most of the problems are to do with casting. British agent Cammy is Australian, Japanese martial artist Ryu is Chinese-American and Japanese Sumo Wrestler E. Honda is Samoan.
I can only assume that De Souza’s exposure to the Street Fighter franchise was briefly looking at the box art in a shop. And even that doesn’t explain why he decided to make the world’s most well known Japanese Sumo Wrestler and Yokozuna a Polynesian broadcast engineer. Speaking of occupations, singer and breakdancer Dee Jay is made the head of Shadaloo’s IT department and Indian alturistic defender of the poor Dhalsim is made a Doctor because apparently De Souza likes smashing down and reinforcing stereotypes.
Returning to nationalities, Russian bear-grappler Zangief is dumber than a bag of hammers and presumably sickles since he’s also completely brainwashed into M. Bison’s ideology. Even in 1994 America couldn’t resist that last cold-war dig at the “commies”.
I mean absolutely no disrespect to Raúl Juliá when I say that if the best thing about your movie is the performance given by an actor suffering from stomach cancer you should probably rethink your career as a director.
It’s interesting to note though that De Souza also wrote Die Hard and Judge Dredd. Which leads me to believe that “Die Hard” is actually an adaptation of a novel about a chartered accountant who has to fight his way through a Sainsbury’s taken over by a Hungarian dry-cleaner. It was just a lucky fluke that De Souza’s adaptation turned out to be good.
Having said that, “Street Fighter” is quite an enjoyable movie as terrible movies go… For some reason.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
What can I say about the Super Mario Bros. film? I’m assuming most people are familiar with the much-loved sewer jockey and his ‘shroom chomping hi-jinks. If you live somewhere developed enough to be reading this you can’t really not be. Mario has been featured in games as diverse as go-carting and galactic exploration and had his moustachioed mug slapped on everything from soft-drinks to ceiling fans. If somehow you don’t know about Mario though, it can all be explained thusly:
Plumber meets princess, rage turtle kidnaps princess, plumber scarfs down mushrooms to get the strength to stomp on rage turtle’s also-mushroom henchmen. Plumber kicks rage turtle’s ass. Princess turns out to be in a different castle.
Now the only words in that that are in any way related to “Super Mario Bros.” are “plumber”, “Princess” and “henchman”. I don’t think the writers had even be blessed with a view at the box art. I assume they got their information about Super Mario by overhearing a bloke in the pub and even then it must have been obscured by the Juke box blaring out 2 Unlimited’s 1993 hit “No Limit”.
Like “Street Fighter”, “Super Mario Bros.” suffers from casting problems, mainly the casting of Bob “Apples and Pears” Hoskins and John “Just not Luigi” Leguizamo. I like Bob Hoskins as an actor, he’s very talented, but he’s as suited to playing Mario as Meryl Streep would be to playing Lara Croft. Dennis Hopper is another particularly awful casting as rage turtle Bowser. He’s not so much a rage turtle as a business man with hair like a 90s boyband trapped in a wind tunnel. You can’t just gel his hair in ridges and claim he’s a reptile, well, unless you’re David Icke.
The setting is awful too. Rather than making it the cartoony, slightly cute world of the games, or going the whole way and making it a gritty surreal representation of the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s another rubbish cyberpunk dystopia. Covering a dirty city in brown fungus represents a mushroom kingdom in the same way covering Lil Wayne in gold chains represents Mr T.
I could go on and on about this feature length car crash. Suffice to say if you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it. It’s like drinking a pint of Soy Sauce. Worth doing once just to see how bad it is, but you wouldn’t want to do it again.
What is it about video games that doesn’t translate well to the big screen? There’s plenty of dusty old media and narrative theories that explain some of it, but I prefer to think it’s just that the sort of people who make them are old men, desperate to be down with the kids like a politician claiming to love “the Radioheads.” I will never understand why studios pay a fortune for the rights to a game just to adapt it into a movie that at best ignores and at worst urinates all over, whatever it was that made people want to play the game in the first place.
To (mis)quote Evan from cult sitcom “Black Books”: “Making movies is a game, and like any game, it has rules. Hollywood needs to get serious about those rules, because it’s not a game!”