Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 2: 2000-2004)

You can watch a video version of this article here.

The 1990s saw the beginning of video game adaptation to film and had a couple big hits such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. However, in the next decade video game movies saw an increased mainstream acceptance with huge hits from equally big gaming franchises like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. The early half of the 2000s doesn't feature the glut of game adaptations that we saw in later years, but it definitely set the course for what was to come.

The first one of the decade was in 2000, with Pokemon: The Movie 2000, an animated version of the incredibly popular RPG series published by Nintendo and developed by Game Freak. It was the second animated film based on Pokemon. In Japan, the film was released in 1999, but it came out in American theaters on July 21, 2000. Kunihiko Yuyama was the director and he was mainly known for his work in the Pokemon franchise.

The first live-action video game adaptation came in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie in the title role. Tomb Raider also featured her father, Jon Voight, and Iain Glen, who later played Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones. Daniel Craig also appeared in one of his earlier roles.

At the time, Tomb Raider was the highest grossing action film with a female lead, unless you count Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The movie made $274 million worldwide on a budget of $115 million, easily making it a success.

Despite the film's financial success, the critical reception was much worse. On Rotten Tomatoes, its score is currently at a rather low 19 percent, and it was even nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Actress.

As far as video game adaptations go, it was one of the better ones. It was decently entertaining as a summer popcorn flick and that's all it ever intended to be.

There was another big game movie in 2001, but it was made entirely with computer-generated animation. That film was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Like Pokemon and Tomb Raider, this was based on an incredibly popular series in Final Fantasy.

It was very expensive, with a reported budget of around $137 million, but flopped at the box office, making only $85 million worldwide.

Part of the large budget went to paying the big names that supplied the voices, such as Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, and James Woods. Another big chunk was surely spent on the state of the art computer animation, as it was considered to be the first feature film with "photorealistic" CGI.

The Final Fantasy games are, for the most part, unrelated to each other except for thematic connections, and the film was the same in that it wasn't directly related to or based on any specific Final Fantasy game. In my opinion, this may not have been the smartest decision; it might have been better to adapt one of the games directly.

A couple other minor game adaptations came out that year as well. One of them was the third Pokemon film, Pokemon 3: The Movie - Spell of the Unown. Like the previous entry in the franchise, it was directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and featured a twenty minute short at the beginning called
Pikachu and Pichu.

The other was Sakura Wars: The Movie, based on the visual novel series of the same name that has appeared on the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo Wii.

The only big video game film of 2002 was the smash hit Resident Evil, adapted from the famous survival horror series by Capcom. The director was Paul W.S. Anderson, who had also directed the 1995 video game adaptation Mortal Kombat, as well as the 1997 science fiction film Event Horizon. He would later go on to direct Alien vs. Predator and two sequels in the Resident Evil franchise. Anderson is also scheduled to make the 2017 film Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

Interestingly, the original director was intended to be George A. Romero, who gained fame for directing the seminal 1968 cult film Night of the Living Dead. Unlike the film we got, Romero's script prominently featured characters from the games like Jill Valentine, although she did appear in the sequel. Sadly, Sony did not like Romero's script, so they eventually went with Anderson instead.

The cast included Milla Jovovich from The Fifth Element as the main character Alice (who was not in the games), as well as Michelle Rodriguez and James Purefoy. Resident Evil was popular with audiences but it has a rather low score of 33 on Metacritic.

2002 also saw the American release of Pokemon 4Ever. Yuyama again returned to direct and this entry was the first in the series that was released by Miramax in the US as opposed to Warner Brothers.

The biggest example of 2003 was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, a sequel to the 2001 movie. Angelina Jolie of course returned as the title character. The supporting cast included Gerard Butler in the early stages of his career, Til Schweiger, who later appeared in the Quentin Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds, and Djimon Honsou.

The sequel had a smaller budget than the original at only $95 million, but also made less money, grossing $156 million compared to the first's $274 million. Furthermore, it was much more ridiculous than the first one, as it featured a scene where Lara Croft punches a CGI shark in the face, and then rides it to safety.

The worst video game adaptation of this era was in my opinion clearly House of the Dead, directed by the infamous Uwe Boll (his first American film). House of the Dead was actually the first of many painfully bad video game movies that Boll would become known for making, such as Alone in the Dark, Postal, BloodRayne, and Far Cry.

Everything about this movie was terrible and over the top, from the cringeworthy acting to the cheesy dialogue. Additionally, the editing is exceptionally painful to watch. It currently has a god awful IMDB user rating of 2.0 out of 10 and an equally pathetic Metacritic score of 15 out of 100.

One unique thing in House of the Dead is that it used clips from the game itself in the film.

The series it was based on was a rail shooter from Sega that started in 1996. The original House of the Dead game was for arcades but eventually ported to Sega Saturn and Windows PC.

2003 also had yet another animated Pokemon movie, Pokemon Heroes. Yuyama directed yet again and the film only got a limited released in the United States. It featured an opening short called Camp Pikachu.

This was followed in 2004 by Pokemon: Jirachi Wish Maker. This one came out in Japanese theaters in 2003, but only got a direct-to-video release in America in June 2004. Jirachi Wish Maker was the first Pokemon film in the "Advanced Generation" series.

Finally, we come to the 2004 film Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The director of the first film, Paul W.S. Anderson produced and wrote the sequel, but it was directed by Alexander Witt. This was his only feature film as director, but he also worked as a second unit director on Casino Royale, Skyfall, and Terminator Genisys.

Milla Jovovich returned as the main character Alice, but this film also featured the film debut of the protagonist of the game series, Jill Valentine. Valentine was portrayed by relative unknown Sienna Guillory.

This was originally supposed to come out in 2003 but was pushed back to September 10, 2004 because of the possible perceived similarities with the ongoing SARS outbreak.

Like the first one, Apocalypse was a financial success as it almost tripled the $45 million budget with a worldwide gross of $129 million. As with many video game movies, the critical reception told a different story as it has a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the IMDB user score is a much more respectable 6.2/10.

In Part Three, I'll discuss video game films such as Doom, Silent Hill, and Max Payne.

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