July 30, 2017


By Luke Owen. Forward by Paul W.S. Anderson. (2017, 317pp).

"Basically I felt that there was a fundamental rift between these two art forms."

The quote is taken from a comment made by filmmaker Gil Kenan in one of this book's later chapters. While he may be partially correct, does it encompass everything wrong with video game movies?

Of course, nobody sets out to make a terrible film. Every movie maker - from the Steven Spielbergs to the crowdfunded novice - has high aspirations of creating a Hollywood blockbuster. And just about all of them end up with at least one film that didn't turn out at-all like they hoped...scripts revised to death, epics sabotaged by reduced budgets, adult-oriented films neutered to appeal to kids.

Nowhere is this more true than with films adapted from video games. Nearly every one of them has been a critical failure, if not a box office bust. What is it about video games that, so far, hasn't really translated effectively to the big screen? And why does Hollywood keep plugging away at it?

Luke Owens' Lights, Camera, Game Over! is a detailed look at the young and sometimes dubious history of this subgenre. Beginning with the 1993 debacle, Super Mario Bros, the book discusses the film industry's love/hate relationship with video games and their efforts to adapt several of them, often with unfortunate results.

It isn't too long before the reader notices a pattern. All of the movies covered begin life with an enthusiastic producer, a writer bursting with creative ideas and a studio eyeing the brass ring. But nearly every production gets compromised by massive script revisions, budget problems and way too many producers, writers & directors playing tug-of-war with the creative direction. The end result is usually a homogenized product that feels almost contemptuous of its target audience.

Whether your a fan or not, these troubled productions make fascinating reading, and even though the author makes it clear he's a huge fan of both mediums, he wisely writes objectively and lets history speak for itself. Each film (though not all of them) is extensively covered, with interviews & commentary from game creators, writers, producers and actors taken from various sources. Even a few abandoned ideas are given their own chapters (such as an aborted Pac-Man movie). The films which ended up being the most successful (like the Resident Evil franchise) have the least tumultuous backstories, and aren't quite as interesting to read about as the total trainwrecks in the book (though one has to admire Paul W.S. Anderson's enthusiasm).

Lights, Camera, Lights Out! tells a familiar Hollywood tale over and over, mostly with the same "tragic" results. But what makes it so fascinating is how often each of these films are beset by the exact same production problems. The book concludes with a brief look at future video game adaptations in various stages of production or proposal. After reading this, it might even be possible to predict which ones fail, fly or fall by the wayside, since it appears that Hollywood has yet to learn from the past.


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