Even though I’m a filmmaker by profession, it’s my firm belief that videogames will be the dominant artform of the 21st century. The adaptation of videogame hits into big spectacle movie blockbusters seems like a logical, straightforward and businesslike endeavor with little room for failure. So how come ALL of the videogame movie adaptations so far have been so aggressively pathetic? Let’s not get started on Uwe Boll, bless his heart – he’s too easy a target – it’s just so disappointing when films we think (hope) are going to be at least decent (Silent Hill, I’m talking to you), turn out to be such barely competent, affect-free drearfests.
Maybe it’s because mainstream videogames are produced by teams of hundreds of incredibly smart, creative, hardworking, dedicated enthusiasts, whereas videogame film scripts are produced by ones of talentless sellout writers, arrogant cokehead directors and greedy, clueless studio suits. Who can tell? (N.B. no disrespect to the indie game devs working alone who are doing incredible work – and absolutely total respect to the cast and crews of these films, who are all experts doing their best – but they can only work with what they’ve got).
In my humble opinion, there has only been one successful video game movie so far – it’s not even based on a videogame, but it encapsulates everything that those countless game films ought to have delivered and much, much more – and that’s the amazing Run Lola Run written and directed by the wonderful Tom Tykwer and featuring star-making performances by Franka Potente as the eponymous heroine, and Moritz Bleibtreu as her fuckup boyfriend.
The fundamental structural difference between videogames and film is that games offer the promise of an active, immersive sandbox experience of infinite possible variation, whereas movies are, of necessity (thus far) passive “on rails” spectacles. That’s fair enough – people love movies because they allow them to sit back, relax, and let someone tell them a story. Tykwer’s genius has been to create an on-rails experience that somehow manages to capture the energy, liberation and spontaneity of a sandbox environment through a stream of ceaseless cinematic invention, structural design flair and, above all, a sincere belief in the values of humanism, empathy and kindness.
I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who have not yet seen this masterpiece, but in brief, the story goes like this: Lola receives a phonecall from her boyfriend Manni who has accidentally left a bag containing $100,000 on a train which has been picked up by a homeless guy. His life depends on delivering the money to the mob by noon, so Lola has 20 minutes to somehow find the money and get it to him.
The theme of the movie is the concept of free-will, the causal consequences of our most trivial decisions, and the radical differences of outcome that can result from the tiniest variations of deterministic factors. Tykwer illustrates this philosophical conundrum by replaying Lola’s 20 minute challenge three times, each time with small modifications of choice which lead to completely different outcomes.
From a design point of view the pleasure lies in experiencing the non-stop flow of crazed visual invention. Tykwer throws everything and the kitchen sink into the pot and swirls it round and round with a manic glee – animation, black and white, slo-mo, undercrank, flash-forward polaroid photomontages, you name it, it’s all grist to the mill – but the end result is a completely coherent and committed artistic statement that grips from first frame to last.
I’ll be keeping an open mind about some of the upcoming Hollywood videogame adaptations – Sam Raimi is one of my favorite directors, and Warcraft might just be that first adaptation masterpiece we’ve been eagerly awaiting for so long. But until then for me there’s only one videogame movie worthy of your valuable time, and that’s RUN LOLA RUN!