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Arts & Culture

Rants And Raves: Video Game Movies

Milla Jovovich starred in the latest "Resident Evil" film "Retribution."
Screen Gems
Milla Jovovich starred in the latest "Resident Evil" film "Retribution."

What Hollywood's Missing

"Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" comes out on DVD and BluRay today. It is based on the highly popular video game. As video games start to outpace movies in terms of revenues, Hollywood is trying to figure out how to cash in. Here's why they are failing.

First up for comparison: "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" movie trailer.

"Silent Hill: Revelation 3D"

And the video game trailer for "Silent Hill: Book of Memories."

"Silent Hill: Book of Memories"

I am not a gamer. I occasionally play video games but not with the same passion and dedication as my son Tony Weidinger. But I have been noticing something about video games and movies: the games were becoming more like movies with their increased numbers of cut scenes and narrative style of game play, and movies seemed to be trying to be more like a video game in terms of pace and action. But why were the games getting better and the movies getting worse? Just look at the list of video game movies -- "Mortal Kombat," "Doom," "Tomb Raider" -- and you get films that imitate their source material without finding a way to bring the games to life on the big screen. Only "Resident Evil" has found a way to build a film franchise on a video game but even fans of the films will admit they are crap. "Resident Evil Retribution" was the latest film in the franchise to hit theaters at the end of last year and "Resident Evil 6" is due out in theaters in 2014.

In order to investigate this more thoroughly I decided to ask my teenage son, who's a gamer and wants to go into game design, to tell me why he thinks video games are succeeding where films are failing. He looked to the "Resident Evil" franchise as a example. Here's the trailer for the last "Resident Evil" movie, "Retribution."

"Resident Evil: Retribution"

And for comparison, here's the trailer for the last video game, "Resident Evil 6."

"Resident Evil 6" Game Trailer

Here's what my son Tony Weidinger wrote:

In 1996 Capcom changed video games forever by creating a new genre: survival horror. They did this with the release of “Biohazard” or as it was called in the U.S. “Resident Evil.” Now sixteen years later "Resident Evil" is one of the most well known franchise and best selling video game ever. "Resident Evil" is also one of the few video games that has a successful movie franchise. Even though the movies have about as much in common with the video games as an apple and a frag grenade, they are still successful and have the "Resident Evil" name. 2012 was a big year for "Resident Evil," it marked the release of the sixth entry in the main series of games and the release of the fifth "Resident Evil" movie, "Retribution."

"Retribution" looks as nonsensical and mundane as the last four movies. I say "looks" because I refuse to see it. I am turned off to the film franchise because the first film tried and failed miserably to rewrite the entire story of the video game franchise. On the other hand “Resident Evil 6” the game, which I have played and beaten, has a story that is far superior to any of the "Resident Evil" movies. I am not sure if this is because of the evolution of the storytelling in video games or just bad filmmaking on the part of the director and writers of the movies. Anyways, the reason "Resident Evil 6’s" story was so great is because it is able to use gameplay to connect the player to the the story’s protagonist via the controller. Something no other form of media can do.

Video games have come a long way from the days of the NES when plot in a video game was a few lines of text at the start and end of the game. "Resident Evil 6" epitomizes how storytelling in video games has evolved and the way video games should keep evolving. "Resident Evil 6" showed me that you don’t need excessively long cut scenes like a “Metal Gear” game or an insane amount of endings and dialogue options like an “Elder Scrolls” or “Mass Effect“ in order to tell a good story. Don’t take that the wrong way "Metal Gear," "Elder Scrolls," and "Mass Effect" are great franchises but I cared more about what happened to Leon, Chris, and the other "Resident Evil 6" protagonists then my own custom made character in "Elder Scrolls: Skyrim." "Resident Evil 6’s" ability to tell such a great story all stems from its use of four separate but intertwined campaigns, each with its own protagonists. Although there is one over-arching conflict throughout the game, each campaign follows a different character who faces his/her own smaller conflicts within this bigger picture. Each campaign features certain parts where the stories intersect. This adds an interesting element to the game because you get to play through the same parts of the story but through different perspectives. By using this method of storytelling, the player begins to feel like the characters in the game, unraveling the mystery behind the major conflict one small piece at a time.

In addition to the evolution of storytelling in the "Resident Evil" franchise it has also come a long way from the clunky controls and pre-rendered backgrounds of the 1996 original. But all of these changes have been intuitive, and improved the game with each successive installment. These changes have all culminated and formed “Resident Evil 6.” These changes have not destroyed what "Resident Evil" is. Instead they have only made the game better. Allow me to explain why "Resident Evil" has not lost its identity.

Let's start with all of those doubters who think "Resident Evil" is no longer scary and that survival horror is a dead genre, you're wrong. Try playing Leon’s campaign without having some flashbacks to the original "Resident Evils," or have a little anxiety build up as you push yourself to turn the next corner. Adding to both the horror and the connection to the earlier games is that the original zombies make a triumphant return. Now for all those pessimists out there who refuse to check out the game because you think "Resident Evil" has become just another action shooter like “Call of Duty” or “Uncharted," you're wrong as well. Try to play Chris’ story like another shooter and I bet you either get killed or run out of ammo and supplies before you reach the second checkpoint. Finally to anyone who has been looking for that constant fear that comes from being chased by a god-like enemy, such as Nemesis from "Resident Evil 3," try out Jakes campaign.

Hopefully when you see all of the new gameplay mechanics, like the dodge feature, melee combat, or the ability to dual wield pistols, you will realize it is not to turn the game into just an action game or kill off the survival horror genre. The reason for the improved gameplay is only to give the player a chance to survive the horrors that make up "Resident Evil 6."

When all is said and done "Resident Evil" is a great franchise and "Resident Evil 6" is a great game. "Resident Evil 6" gives you a story far superior to any of the movies, and the best gameplay/controls the franchise has ever had. But what makes "Resident Evil 6" so special is how it mends the gameplay and story together giving the player an experience that few games or movies can deliver. And while a video game may cost you $60 and a movie only $10 or $15, a movie is over in 2 hours and you can get dozens and in the case of some games, hundreds of hours of entertainment. So Hollywood is looking to the wrong elements to imitate from a video game while the game industry is making strides in using games to weave a compelling story.
You can check out part 1 of a 6 part web series about gaming.
All Your History, Part 1