Comparing a film to a videogame is usually a form of abuse. Yet, argues Tom Chatfield, the boundaries between the two are breaking downby Tom Chatfield / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
The new Tintin videogame was developed in conjunction with the Steven Spielberg film
Today, when you sit in a cinema, it can be hard to tell whether a trailer is for a film or a videogame. The Adventures of Tintin: The Game uses many of the same computer-generated sets, characters, sounds and scenes as Spielberg’s film, which came out recently to much fanfare. On 20th December, the gaming event of the year—Star Wars: The Old Republic—seems likely to be a far more impressive addition to its franchise than the last three films combined, with a rumoured budget of over $135m.
Yet the creative history of the crossovers between games and films is a largely wretched one. From the joyless trainwreck of the Super Mario Bros. movie in 1993—described by its star Bob Hoskins as his single biggest regret—to the more recent inanities Tomb Raider (2001) and Prince of Persia (2010), game adaptations have given cinema little more than noise. Nor have many videogames based on films impressed—most remain generic cash-ins.
The winter blockbuster season, then, raises a nagging question. If the relationship between our two great kinetic visual media is creatively so inert, would both film and videogames be well advised to steer clear of each other?
When it comes to films’ influence on games, the answer is a resounding “no.” We owe to cinema, after all, the development of almost the entire modern aesthetic of moving images. From panning shots to close-ups, zooms, fades, reverse angles and slow motion we see and describe the world today through minds trained by the conventions of cinematography—and modern videogames remain more indebted to these techniques than perhaps any other art form in our culture.
Indeed, when games skilfully ape cinematic expertise, we praise their artistry. Yet the reverse is far from true. Describing a film as “like a videogame” is critical shorthand for senseless, emotionless frenzy: the province of the Michael Bays of this world, a director described by the New Yorker as “stunningly, almost viciously, untalented” for his work on the Transformers movies.
Yet this should not suggest that an interactive medium has nothing to offer cinema. Rather, critics and filmmakers are largely misreading what games have to offer. And moving on from this problem means understanding what is, and isn’t, unique about an interactive art form in the first place.
Watching someone play a videogame can be an ineffably…