One of the last great undiscovered countries for cinema, in many respects, is the video game movie. While we have seen adaptations for roughly the last quarter century, in quite significant numbers, there has never been a video game adaptation in cinematic terms which has been truly considered amongst the best of the art form. Many have made money, many have enjoyed sequels, and many have made stars or names of those involved, but Lights, Camera, Game Over: How Video Game Movies Get Made shines a light on the stories behind this much maligned corner of the movie industry.
Author Luke Owen primarily uses interviews with a wide range of creatives behind these pictures to tell the stories of films we know, films we don’t, and even a few stories about the films which never saw the light of day. Did you know John Woo came close to adapting Metroid? Or that Peter Jackson wanted Neill Blomkamp to take on Halo? Though these are not newly uncovered stories or factoids about video game cinema, Owen props them up into chapters with a significant amount of detail, also marked by the thoughts and in-depth musings of writers, producers, directors and actors involved with each of these pictures.
What becomes clear throughout all of these stories—whether its the fustercluck that was Super Mario Bros or the chronic disappointment that was Hitman—is a common denominator: studios and producers who fundamentally do not understand the property they are adapting. Owen doesn’t really draw it as a common thread in the book but the interviews make it plain as day; the majority of these pictures which ended up not even close to the skill of the games they adapted could have ended up in far, far better shape were people who had a strong grasp on the source material been allowed to realise their visions. Time and time again too many compromises are made, almost always to save money or appeal to an ego, which made these films worse.
Game Over does a good job of bringing that to light and through these interviews deliver a comprehensive history to the creation of films which the book actually makes you want to revisit – even the ones you know are awful. I ended up with a genuine respect for Paul WS Anderson (who also provides a foreword) and his lamentable Resident Evil series, given how he gets across his passion throughout this book, and that’s just for starters. Owen will make you want to look again at this sub-genre of cinema and indeed make you wish some of the projects which never came to fruition ended up happening in the first place.
It’s just a shame the Game Over itself lacked a final proof because it is littered with errors when it comes to the names of many of the people involved, to the point I was yanked out of the reading process on multiple occasions. Attention to detail should be paramount when it comes to publishing and someone, somewhere, didn’t hold to that. It’s glaring, it’s sloppy and it’s unfortunate, but thankfully doesn’t sully what is a genuinely interesting, engaging and in-depth read.
Lights, Camera, Game Over: How Video Games Get Made is now available.