Why Don't Video Game Film Adaptations Seem To Work? / by Keith LaFountaine

Silent Hill.jpg

If there’s one video game adaptation I would revisit, it would be Christopher Gans’ Silent Hill. While the film struggles to tell a coherent narrative, it succeeds visually. The eerie shades of grey, the flecks of ash, and the imposing darkness all work together to create an atmosphere engulfed in foreboding and dread. While many video game adaptations struggle to create their own memorable identity, Silent Hill is immediately striking in the way it presents its narrative’s horror.

Yet, as a film, it still fails for a number of reasons. Aside from the imposing task of creating a coherent narrative out of the Silent Hill games (which are notorious for being surreal, illogical, and strange), there is another huge reason why these films often fail. Put simply, they lack the immersion that video games offer. Furthermore, audiences who have spent tens of hours in a video game (nowadays, campaigns can run anywhere from 10 to 20 hours on average) are often thrown off by the compressed nature of a 2-hour film.

It’s not just Silent Hill, either. While video game adaptations are generally popular at the box office, they flounder in both critical and commercial reviews. In other words, while people feel comfortable spending money on these films, they don’t feel as though the experience was worth their time.

Top 10 Highest Grossing Video Game Film Adaptations (Millions)

Critical and Audience Consensus of Top 10 Films (out of 100)

Metacritic & IMDB

As is to be expected, audiences tend to enjoy these films more than critics. However, it’s notable that audiences aren’t exactly ecstatic about these films, either.

I think ultimately this discrepancy can be explained by the inherent differences between film and video games. Video games are experiences, which a person can control (to a certain degree). It’s easier to become attached to characters when you are the one controlling their movements. Still, that does not mean that video game adaptations can’t be good. They just have to find their own personality beyond the game; they need to assert their own personality.

This may seem like blasphemy to some, but in many ways adapting a video game is akin to adapting a novel. Yes, there is a lot that will be lost in translation, but that’s okay. I’ve personally never been fond of films that strive to be visual carbon copies of their source materials. Filmmakers should embrace the differences in these mediums, and strive to create something that stands up on its own two legs. Until that happens, I think we’ll continue to see the pattern we’ve been seeing.

That doesn’t mean these films are without merit. I still adore the visuals in Silent Hill. It’s just a matter of creating a well-rounded film, which still eludes many filmmakers.