Video game movie director hates video games

Let’s get this out of the way: I am not a licensed movie physician, or even a video game doctor. Usually, I’m about as much of an idiot as can be. I’m about as intelligent as a stick of gum.

But apparently I know more than Jerry Bruckheimer, action movie master, about making movies!

Rule #1 of making anything, doing anything is that you recruit passionate people. People who care about what you’re doing, and want to make it work as much as you do. Sure, they might be lazy, inarticulate, and mediocre human beings, but if they care about the project, then it’ll succeed.

Wondering why the Prince of Persia movie was an unwatchable mess? Well, it’s director, Mike Newell, also known as “that guy, what what directed the Harry Potter movie with Edward Cullen in it!”, hates video games. Says they can’t have a human drama, and that they’re vapid, brainless entertainment.

Come with me on a magical ride as I make fun of a guy who will do anything for a paycheck.

Actually, no, now that I’m under the cut, I’m going to be a bit more generous. I’m sure he’s a fine director. Goblet of Fire was an okay film made out of a pretty shitty book, and it’s not his fault it wasn’t fantastic. I’ve never seen any of his other films. Four Weddings and a Funeral is supposedly his best movie, which has the plus of being pretty well received and the minus of being a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant.

And his point is both more and less nuanced than just, “I hate video games”. He says video games lack a human drama, a penchant for the serious. This, of course, means video games can never be serious. He says that he appreciates that gamers and game developers want more movie people working in video games, but he doesn’t think they can make a difference.

What he suffers from, I would say, is looking at a specific selection of video games, and as a novelty. The Brainy Gamer (a pretty fantastic blog, if I do say so, and I do!) offered a musing on this earlier in the year: people who don’t play video games usually think of video games as a fourteen year old. That is, they watch their children play games intended for twelve year olds, they get the big media games, they get the mainstream flavor.

What frustrates me about Mr. Newell is that he doesn’t realize the mainstream isn’t the sort of thing that inspires anyone. No one was inspired to make films by, say, Bad Boys 2. You might be inspired to act from those films, but they don’t have any human drama. The films that inspired directors were the works of Ingmar Bergman, Frederico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock. No one (except maybe Michael Bay) was inspired by vapid explosion and romance movies.

And it’s the same with video games, so it’s frustrating to see these important people in film not realize the potential of the medium by looking at the Gears of Wars and Worlds of Warcraft of the world and saying, “This is all video games can be!”

I mean, let’s think about it. The greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane: no one cared about it when it was released. It didn’t even make a million dollars in theaters. Mike Newell had to have grown up in an atmosphere where most people thought the best movies could be was schmaltzy entertainment and action. Escapist material. Sure, he saw different things, but that’s because he wanted to be a film maker. Someone, probably in the late 1950’s, probably told him films could never better than they were then. Nothing could get better.

Of course, then films changed. They evolved, into something we would likely call, on the whole, better. So for a director who grew up at a time when films were something of an amusing novelty, to call out video games for being an amusing novelty, always to be an amusing novelty, is high comedy.

Even higher comedy for him to make a movie out of something he considered an amusing novelty, then try to call his film an engaging human narrative. I’ve never seen the Prince of Persia movie (I’ll rectify that when robots make fun of it), but I’ve read enough on it that I am fairly certain it never leave Michael Bay explosions and bad guys level. It’s a vapid movie about a game that didn’t have any emotional content. No wonder it was an unemotional mess.

And we haven’t even added in the director who thinks he’s making a novelty film for a check.

Here’s what I want to see filmmakers do one day: I want to see someone passionate about a video game make a film using a video game as source material. There’s a reason the Silent Hill movie was the best video game movie by a fair margin: while its creators weren’t the most talented people, they cared about the franchise, and the emotional center of the work.

If Prince of Persia had had a director who thought the series had an emotional center, and didn’t think of it as a toy brand being adapted to the screen, I bet we would have seen a much better film.

One Comment

  1. Fernando Cordeiro

    I disagree that Mike Newell not liking videogames have anything to do with the fact the movie sucked. In my opinion, that’s actually desirable. I rather have some one that is good with movie crafting, hates videogames, but is able to develop the core of the game’s story in a movie; than somebody that is excited about games, but has the reversed Midas touch and turns whatever he touches it into poop, like Paul Anderson.

    The problem is that Mike Newell was always mediocre at best and the script of PoP was abysmal – and while you can have a poor film with a great script, the reverse is NEVER true. If Four Weddings was any good, I give the rewards to the screenwriter Richard Curtis, because Newell’s direction is, as always, apathetic and bland (which is the exact kind of direction Bruckheimer likes). Newell’s Goblet was a mess, his Love in the Time of Cholera simply shouldn’t be and man, don’t get me started on Mona Lisa Smile – it killed Julia Robert’s career!!

    Besides, if a director likes Videogames, I rather have him direct a videogame. John Woo is a good example. His movies suck because they are nothing more than action videogames, yet his Stranglehold was pretty cool. Not a great work of art by any means, but a nice little action game.

    Here is the thing: there is probably only one guy that could make awesome games AND awesome movie: Werner Herzog. Give something as banal as Prince of Persia (good Prince vs. Evil Vizier, camels and a hot chick in the middle) to Herzog and you will get a masterpiece.

    (Btw, while I agree that Silent Hill was the best game adaptation, it is still a pretty lame movie exactly because it is the movie that best follows the game)