In search of success, Hollywood is returning to video games

LOS ANGELES – For 28 years, since “Super Mario Bros.” Arriving in theaters with the slogan “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood tried and most importantly failed – epically, famously – to turn blockbuster video games into blockbuster movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001) that made Angelina Jolie an A-List action star, there has been an absurd “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia”. ”(2010) and a“ Warcraft ”that makes you wince (2016).

If video games are the comics of our time, why can’t Hollywood manage to exploit them accordingly?

It can finally happen, fueled in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established and compelling intellectual property on a global scale naturally drove gambling,” wrote Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist and former head of strategy at Amazon Studios, last year in an essay entitled “7 Reasons Gaming IP Is Finally Taking Off In Cinema / TV. “

After years of inaction and false starts, for example, Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered brother Sony Interactive are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into blockbuster movies and TV shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big jump from virtually none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $ 120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old (over 40+ million) PlayStation property. million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is set to hit theaters on February 18.

Sony is launching production of “The Last of Us”, a series directed to HBO and based on the post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning miniseries “Chernobyl”, is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who spearheaded the creation of the game Last of Us.

Sony games like Twisted metal and Ghost of Tsushima also receive television and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, The one who is do not, at least not anytime soon, according to a spokesperson for Sony: God of War.)

In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated like strongholds, with creative control – it’s mine; no, it’s mine – which hinders adaptation efforts. When he took over as CEO of Sony in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. The PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has over 114 million monthly active users.

“I have witnessed a drastic change in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the business,” said Sanford Panitch, president of Sony film.

The boom in game adaptation extends far beyond Sony.

HaloA series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alien alliance (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the streaming service Paramount + early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate adapts the Borderlands games (around 60 million sold) into a sci-fi starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Building on its success with “The Witcher”, a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix offers shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed, “”resident Evil, “”Splinter Cell“and”Cuphead”Games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld”, are developing a sci-fi show for Amazon based on the Fallout video game franchise.

And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, are releasing an animated Mario movie in theaters next year – another new collaboration between a game publisher and a movie company.

Still, Hollywood’s history of adapting games is terrible. Why should future projects be any different?

For starters, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more complex and cinematic. “The games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they were before,” Mr. Panitch said.

There are also signs that Hollywood has figured out how to make game-based movies that satisfy both audiences and critics. “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” which paired animated creatures with live-action actors, raised $ 433 million worldwide in 2019 for Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment – and was the first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two other adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.

“The quality has definitely improved,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game rewards, an Oscars-type ceremony for the industry.

The game’s most recent entry to the movie, “Mortal combat(Warner Bros.), has received mixed reviews but has grossed $ 41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly high total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters still operated with strict coronavirus safety protocols.

Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game films have a checkered history.” But he added: “Failure is the mother of invention.”

Game adaptations, for example, have often failed in trying to rigidly replicate the action and storylines that fans know and love. This approach invites comparison, and movies (even with fancy visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off non-amateurs, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.

“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular fighting game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when playing the game. It has to be about characters that you care about. And then you can insert the Easter eggs and the stories that will delight the fans. “

“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. Hopefully, such a storytelling will satisfy fans by offering them something new – while also inviting the non -amateurs, who might otherwise be afraid of not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)

“It’s all about the balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior executive at Sony Interactive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity created in 2019 and based on the Sony film bundle in Culver City, Calif.

Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive committed to working together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “carries weight because there is a victory for everyone,” Qizilbash added. “We have three goals. Increase audience size for games. Bring the product to Sony Pictures. Highlight collaboration. “

The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could damage the franchise of the game.

“It’s risky,” Qizilbash admitted. “But I think we can do it.”

About Douglas Torres

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