With Tron – Legacy, the sequel to a movie about video games, scheduled to open in theaters this coming December and Tron – Evolution, a video game based on a sequel of a movie about a video game scheduled for release in November, now seems like a perfect time to look at the Ouroboros-like nature of film and video games and film.
In the early 1980s, Hollywood still sometimes made films that weren’t re-makes, adaptations or sequels and before there were movies adapted from video and computer games, there were movies about video and computer games. Tron (1982) was the granddaddy of them all. The Wizard (1989), WarGames (1983), Joysticks (1983), Cloak and Dagger (1984) and The Last Starfighter (1984) soon followed.
In a culture where toys (Rubik the Amazing Cube anyone?) and sugar cereal are fleshed out into serialized children’s narratives (Cap’n Crunch – available on DVD), it was perhaps inevitable that video games would be adapted into cartoons. About the only thing memorable from Saturday Supercade (with segments including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr, Pitfall Harry, Space Ace and Kangaroo) was the excellent theme song. I have little memory of Pac-Man (1984) but was a big fan of Pole Position (1984), a show that really fleshed out the narrative of the game, which just featured a race car… racing. A couple of years later, the first film based on a video game appeared – in Japan – Super Mario Bros. – Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (1986).
By the early ‘90s, American filmmakers were more often adapting films from video games rather than making movies about them. Old fashioned films about video games like Double O Kid (1992) and Arcade (1993) sank without a trace.
The many films adapted from video games included Fatal Fury – Legend of the Hungry Wolf (1992), Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury 2 – The New Battle, Samurai Shodown – The Motion Picture and Super Mario Bros. (all 1993), Double Dragon, Fatal Fury – The Motion Picture, Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals, Street Fighter and Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie (all 1994), Mortal Kombat (1995), Battle Arena Toshinden (1996), Mortal Kombat – Annihilation, Tekken – The Motion Picture, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer and Welcome to Pia Carrot (OVA) (all 1997), Pokémon – The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back and Welcome to Pia Carrot 2 (OVA) (both 1998), Pokémon – The Movie 2000 – The Power of One, Samurai Spirits 2 – Asura Zanmaden, Sonic the Hedgehog – The Movie, Street Fighter Alpha – The Movie and Wing Commander (all 1999).
At the same time, the ominous possibilities of the world wide web, the wide open information superhighway, and the promise of virtual reality has captured the imagination of several north American screenwriters, which led to cybertech-films like Lawnmower Man (1992), Ghost in the Machine (1993), Brainscan (1994), Hackers, Johnny Mnemonic and Terminal Justice (all 1995), eXistenZ and The Matrix (both 1999).
Once again, after a short time, this variant, like movies about video games, was played out by the the 2000s and, like the Double O Kid and Arcade in the 1990s, cybertech-films in the 2000s including BrainJail and Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (both 2001), X-Treme Fighter (2004), Hellraiser – Hellworld (2005), if they registered with anyone at the time, are completely forgotten today.
Meanwhile, movies based on video games only grew in number, including Pokémon – Mewtwo Returns, Pokémon 3 – The Movie – Spell of the Unknown, Sin – The Movie and Welcome to Pia Carrot 2 DX (all 2000), Lara Croft – Tomb Raider, Sakura Wars – The Movie, Shenmue – The Movie, Pokémon 4Ever – Celebi, Voice of the Forest and Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within (all 2001), Nakoruru – Ano hito kara no okurimono, Pokémon Heroes, Resident Evil and Welcome to Pia Carrot – Sayaka’s Love Story (all 2002) House of the Dead, Lara Croft Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life and Pokémon – Jirachi Wishmaker (all 2003), Pokémon – Destiny Deoxys and Resident Evil – Apocalypse (both 2004), Air, Alone in the Dark, Doom, Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, Kirby – Fright to the Finish!!, Last Order – Final Fantasy VII, Pokémon – Lucario and the Mystery of Mew and Street Fighter Alpha – Generations (all 2005), BloodRayne, Dead or Alive, Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Crossing), House of the Dead II, The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon, Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, Silent Hill and Siren (2006), BloodRayne II – Deliverance, Clannad, Hitman, Pokémon -The Rise of Darkrai and Resident Evil – Extinction (all 2007), Dead Space – Downfall, Far Cry, In the Name of the King – A Dungeon Siege Tale, Max Payne, Pokémon Diamond & Pearl the Movie – Giratina, The Sky’s Bouquet – Shaymin, Postal and Resident Evil – Degeneration (all 2008), Alone in the Dark II, Street Fighter – The Legend of Chun-Li and Tekken (2009).
With the 2010s having just begun, so far audiences have been treated to Prince of Persia -The Sands of Time but games including Bioshock, Castlevania, Deus Ex, Driver, Everquest, Fatal Frame, Fear Effect, God of War, Hunter – The Reckoning, Kane & Lynch, The Legend of Spyro, The Neverhood, Nightmare Creatures, Pac-Man, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Silent Hill 2, The Sims, Spy Hunter, The Suffering, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Warcraft are in development. However, with Tron – Legacy getting so much hype, maybe we’ll see a return of movies about video games instead of adapted from them. Is it too much to hope for a sequel to Joysticks?
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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