One professor attempts to explain why video game movies are always bad

There's a reason the new Need for Speed movie wasn't very good, says academics.

No good movie films? What about 1993's Super Mario Bros.!
No good movie films? What about 1993's Super Mario Bros.!

Speaking to USA Today, one professor has attempted to explain why movie adaptations of video games are almost always awful.

"[Games and movies] completely different animals," says Kirk Kjeldsen, assistant professor in the Cinema Department at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Vancouver.

Kjeldsen was speaking in an article pondering why EA's movie adaptation of Need for Speed didn't do better at the box office, even though the film made back its production budget after its opening weekend.

The problem? Most film narratives follow a traditional, time-tested three-act structure, whereas videogames don't fit nicely in that mould. "Translating a non-linear narrative into a linear three-act structure is like making a song out of a painting or a sculpture," says Kjeldsen.

If any film came close to impressing critics, Kjeldsen says, it was 2010's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a Jake Gyllenhaal adaptation that did $90 million and earned praise from about a third of critics.

Over the next few years, we'll be seeing movie adaptations of Assassin's Creed, World of Warcraft, and Angry Birds.

Kjeldsen said Ubisoft's 2010 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was the way to go about adapting a game into a film. "[Prince of Persia] is probably the best way to go with a video game adaptation--take the best parts of the game, discard the rest," he says.

But Wheeler Winston Dixon, professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says the best part about games is the, you know, games. "There's a very simple reason that nearly all video game movies fail; they're not interactive," Dixon says.

"With video games, the player is really the star of the movie, directing the actors, deciding what plotline to follow--and most importantly for most games, whom to shoot down to get to the next level. When this aspect of the game is missing, viewers no longer feel like part of the action."

Dixon adds that the day "may soon come when video games are played by audiences in movie theaters. But until that time, movies will never be able to replicate the gaming experience."

But are game movies all bad? Even James Cameron says the first Resident Evil flick is one of his guilty pleasures.

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