Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reciprocal Influence

Motion pictures have been influencing video games for decades.  Look no further than the concept of a cut scene for an obvious example of cinematic techniques. To create the look and feel of digital environments, visual styles in film have also been borrowed by video game developers extensively, especially the works of directors like Ridley Scott and James Cameron.  In some cases the visual aspects are pretty much one-to-one, but more often than not games are a mishmash of influences such as in the case of Splatterhouse (an amalgamation of practically every slasher flick ever made).  Perhaps a more interesting question to ask though is, how have video games influenced movies?

Obviously adaptations of Silent Hill and Mortal Kombat spring to mind, but those aside, it's not so common to find a film that is clearly drawing from video games.  Even when one is made it can be tricky to detect the influence.  Take for example the art house movie "Jerry".  By the director's own admission a lot of the cinematography was inspired by third person video games.  This little insight explains why a lot of the shots in the film are over-the-shoulder chase views and even camera angles pointed at the sides or front of character's faces are kept in close enough that it could be achieved on a console video game controller by rotating the 3D perspective with the left analogue stick.   There are also very few cuts in the film which in turn leads to shots that tend to go on, and on...and on.  The longest is over a full seven minutes in length!  It makes sense though when you consider in video games getting from point A to point B involves watching the whole journey (unless some kind of fast travel system is in effect).

Camera placement aside, "Children of Men" stands out as a film made whole cloth from the aesthetics sensibilities of Half-Life 2.  Granted Gordon Freeman isn't in the film, nor are there any headcrabs, but the oppressive, rundown dystopian future of the movie matches extremely well with City 17.  A number of dynamic single-take shots are done throughout the film which help immerse the viewer in much the same way video games do.

Sometimes the influence of video games on film can take on a very roundabout form.  "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" started off as a comic about a Canadian youth sub-culture built around indie rock and the Sega/Nintendo era.  The property was eventually adapted to a retro beat'em up game and a live action motion picture.  The latter of which presents a rather hilarious  big screen take on gaming culture.  "Edge of Tomorrow" is another example of this phenomenon.  Originally a Japanese sci-fi novel entitled "All You Need is Kill", the premise involves a soldier who is repeatedly KIA only to wake up each time on the eve of the same battle.  The film changes a lot of the details.  For example, the location is moved from Tokyo to London and the protagonist is rewritten as an American conscript rather than a Japanese volunteer.  However, the basic time-loop premise remains relatively unchanged and the author freely l;admits in the back of the book that he got the idea from playing difficult video games during his childhood.

Perhaps the most bewildering example of all though has to be Sword Art Online.  Originally a web novel, the story takes some cues from "Tron" in that the plot involves people becoming trapped in a video game where the stakes are life and death in the real world.  Unlike the vector graphics of "Tron" though Sword Art Online is a virtual reality MMO.  The IP was so successful it spawned a series of print novels and was adapted to a prime time anime TV mini-series in Japan.  True to its video game roots, certain HUD elements such as character stats and HP bars are used for dramatic effect or storytelling purposes.  Even more mind boggling is the fact that actual video games have been published under the Sword Art Online license, thus making this Japanese oddity a case of franchise fiction becoming reality.

With the increased reliance on digital effect such as motion capture and 3-D model rendering it's easy to see how video games and motion pictures are gradually becoming one in the same.  The barrel ridding sequence in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" feels like it was ripped straight out of a video game QTE.  Then again playing certain games, such as Metal Gear Solid, feels a lot like watching a movie.  Of course the one big difference between the two is film watching is a passive experience while playing a video game is an interactive one, assuming you're not just watching a someone else play on Youtube or Twitch.  Regardless, I think if these two forms of media feed off of each other excessively there is a real danger of both becoming a kind of cannibalistic ourobors.  I'd argue a major reason why the Resident Evil movie adaptations are not good is because the games they were drawing on were in turn influenced by old George A. Romero zombie flicks.  Hang on...maybe that's why there are so many zombies in media these days...soylent green is people!

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