Over the years the film industry has endured a rather shaky relationship with the world of gaming. Consider the likes of TOMB RAIDER, STREET FIGHTER, HITMAN, SUPER MARIO BROS (to name but a few) and it becomes pretty clear that successful transitions from pixel to celluloid are few and far between. But is there more to this relationship than failed adaptations? With these two mediums sharing many significant similarities, it seems almost inevitable that influences would eventually cross the divide and you only need look at titles like ‘L.A. Noire’ to see the radical impact cinema has had on the design and execution of the gaming experience. But this mimicry works both ways. Though it may not be immediately obvious, there are a growing number of films drawing inspiration from their bit-based cousins, demonstrating that ‘ones and zeroes’ are starting to influence not just content, but concept. And, perhaps because they’re not constrained by the limitations imposed by adapting existing source material, this more subtle melding of like minds has actually resulted in some real cinematic gems.
RUN LOLA RUN (1998)
Almost all computer games involve a certain degree of repetition and your average determined gamer will happily attempt the same challenge over and over again until they get it right; a pattern of play that’s somewhat reminiscent of the unusually structured German hit RUN LOLA RUN. When the eponymous Lola (played by Franka Potente) is given twenty minutes to find 100,000 German Deutsche Marks to save her boyfriend, it’s clear that even the slightest slip up will have disastrous consequences. Or at least it would, were the film not constructed like a non-participatory version of ‘Super Mario’. Thankfully for Lola (and especially her boyfriend), when things don’t quite go to plan, the film simply rewinds twenty minutes and resets, giving her another bite at the cherry. So if she runs out of time, doesn’t get the money or even gets shot, Lola just tries again; like any good gamer learning from her previous attempts. Add to this a thumping soundtrack, kinetic pace and the iconic red hair/blue vest ensemble (giving her a sort of punk Lara Croft vibe) and you could be playing some early version of ‘Mirror’s Edge’.
In Mark Cousin’s superb series THE STORY OF FILM, Gus Van Sant is open about the influence of gaming on his Palme d’Or winner, ELEPHANT. Loosely based on the Columbine massacre, the director was aware that the real life killers had played video games and his long, steady-cam shots following students through sprawling corridors are a clear nod to third person shooters like ‘Tomb Raider’. Instilling the film with a dreamlike quality, these mesmeric sequences make the hallways and classrooms appear increasingly alien and otherworldly, generating a tangible sense of impending dread. But what makes ELEPHANT truly disturbing, is the fact that this trailing POV is so familiar. Recalling the participatory nature of computer games, it’s incredibly effective at drawing the viewer into the action and by putting the audience in the ‘driver’s seat’, you become both victim and killer—an immersive technique that, at times makes you feel almost complicit in the grim events on screen.
While the majority of this unsettling Korean thriller may bear little resemblance to the world of video games, OLDBOY’s most famous sequence is surely rooted in the 8-bit universe. After Dae-su Oh (played by Min-sik Choi),who was imprisoned for fifteen years without reason, returns to his makeshift jail, he promptly works his way through a corridor of assailants using nothing more than a hammer and his bare hands. Executed in a near three minute single take tracking shot, the sequence follows the action along the hallway as if you were progressing through a level on some old school platform beat ‘em up. Surely owing a great debt to Sega classics like ‘Streets of Rage’, this bold, pixel inspired approach is undeniably what makes this standout scene so memorable.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)
If you’re a fan of Edgar Wright’s classic sitcom Spaced, you’ll already be familiar with his long running console based love affair. But never have his gaming references been so abundant or deeply ingrained as they are in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Being based on a graphic novel about a lovelorn musician who must defeat his girlfriend’s ‘seven evil exes’, the source material lends itself naturally to the video game aesthetic and Wright goes all out to construct a film that genuinely feels like it’s part of that universe . With the use of gaming sound effects, zany CGI, ridiculously over-the-top action and even on-screen points and coins awarded for every ‘kill’, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is like 500 DAYS OF SUMMER meets ‘Soul Calibur’ — but somehow it works!
Channelling the spirit of the infamous ‘Grand Theft Auto’ franchise (itself heavily influenced by the likes of SCARFACE), Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE is, for me, the ultimate in gaming influenced cinema. From the titles (thank you ‘Vice City’) and choice of music, to the hallucinatory, hypnotic vision of a city seen through the window of moving car, the world of computer generated carnage is woven into the very DNA of Refn’s breakout hit. Like RUN LOLA RUN, DRIVE is built on a similar, though less obvious structure of repetition, that follows a nameless driver (played by Ryan Gosling) who goes out, drives around, completes a ‘mission’ and returns to his flat — a sort of substitute ‘save point’ that is strangely reminiscent of a blank, soulless computer generated interior. A man of few words, the enigmatic lead is the sort of tooth-pick chewing, strong silent type, clad in an instantly recognisable costume, that we’re used to seeing in almost every instalment of Rockstar Games’ ground-breaking series. Gosling even appears strangely stiff, moving slowly, purposefully, as if he’s made of the same polygons that brought us the mute protagonist in ‘GTA 3′. So Hollywood execs, take note. If, and I sincerely hope this never happens, thoughts ever turn to a big screen adaptation of one of the most successful games of all time, save yourself the trouble. Because DRIVE has beaten you to it.
Know of any other examples of gaming inspired cinema? Let me know in the comments below...
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