There’s a long list of failed attempts to successfully bring video games to cinema with any semblance of quality: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Max Payne, and many others have all failed to varying degrees since Hollywood began adapting video games. Is it because video game stories don’t hold up to their cinematic counterparts? Are games simply unadaptable? Will we ever see a truly good (dare I say great) video game adaptation?
The first stills released from the upcoming reboot of the Tomb Raider film franchise, based on Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the gaming franchise, look promising. No, I’m not crazy enough to even insinuate that this is definitely going to be the first good game adaptation.
But it could be.
2013’s Tomb Raider tells Lara Croft’s origin story, and Alicia Vikander looks to be lifted directly from the game in recently released photos. This is a good thing. A very good thing. The game provided a depth to Lara Croft not present in previous entries, and Vikander, an Academy Award Winner, is an immensely talented actor who can surely bring that depth to screen.
Lara begins the story as a capable but vulnerable young woman and quickly grows into the strength and confidence of the titular role. It’s an arc with thematic similarities to Vikander’s role in Ex Machina, though likely with more action and mystery and a bit less being a robot. An actor is only part of the equation for quality, of course, as last year’s Assassin’s Creed fared terribly with critics, poorly with fans, and faltered at the box office despite the presence of Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender and Academy Award winners Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons.
Most, if not all, of the problems with video game adaptations started with the scripts. Many adaptations have completely ignored what made the games they were based on popular in the first place. Others have taken a ham-fisted approach to transferring stories to the big screen. 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, along with both previous Tomb Raider adaptations, put far too much emphasis on action and too little on story. Assassin’s Creed went in the opposite direction, putting too much emphasis on plotting and failing to capture the real magic of the series—historical action.
Tomb Raider writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet doesn’t have any produced credits, but she is attached to a number of other high profile projects, including Dungeons & Dragons and DC’s Gotham City Sirens. She’s had two scripts appear on the annual Black List: Hibernation in 2012 and Ares in 2015. While none of these are direct indicators of ability to successfully adapt a video game to the big screen, there’s a lot of promise in what she has accomplished so far.
Director Roar Uthaug’s most recent film, 2015’s The Wave, is a well-received disaster movie. Tomb Raider, which is built upon disaster after disaster befalling its hero, is a logical next step. It helps that Crystal Dynamics’ game is largely cinematic to begin with, including several major set pieces that are fairly memorable—anyone who’s played the game will likely recall the wolf encounter, climbing the tower, and/or the ascent to the final battle as truly breathtaking moments in gaming.
This is all ignoring the most important question about video game movie adaptations, though: Do games even need to be adapted to film?
No. Of course not.
Games, unlike books and comics, are already very similar to movies in presentation. Interactivity is a huge difference, but they still feature moving images on a screen. Games have featured quality voice acting for nearly two decades, and many recent games feature full motion capture performances.
Video games undoubtedly do not need to be adapted to the big screen, but they’re going to be. There will always be people who are interested in a video game but don’t want to play it themselves or watch someone else play it. There will be fans of games who will, despite mounting reasons not to, continue to see gaming adaptations. Film is a captivating medium in ways that gaming isn’t, and there will always be a place for other media—games, comic books, and whatever else may be out there—to be adapted to it. So if it’s going to keep happening, we might as well skip the argument of necessity and hope that what we do get is good.
Will Tomb Raider be the first good video game adaptation? Only time will tell—and kind of a long time, too. Tomb Raider, which also stars Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, and Dominic West, hits theaters March 16, 2018.