Video game adaptations have a long history of stumbling on the big screen, to the point that many fans feel there may be a curse on them. Sure, some are remembered for being just plain strange (Super Mario Bros.) and others are remembered for corny fun (Mortal Kombat), but many more just fall flat (Prince of Persia, Assassin's Creed). There are a number of factors that contribute to each particular case, but regardless of what causes it, the track record of video games movies means that every new adaptation is an uphill battle for the creators.
The next big video game adaptation, Rampage, might not have that problem, at least according to its director. Brad Peyton took the helm for the film, based on the classic 1986 arcade game starring a trio of giant monsters, and while he's now aware of the so-called "video game curse," he claims he wasn't while he was making the film. Why? Well, because at least in his eyes, Rampage is a different kind of video game movie.
If you played the original arcade game, you'll know that Rampage is blissfully simple. You play a giant gorilla, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf, and you destroy cities and eat people while fending off military intervention. That's it. That's the game. To make it into a film with a real narrative, Peyton and company created primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) who befriends the gorilla, George, when he's in his normal primate state. Then, when George begins to mutate into a giant monster, it's up to Davis to stop the monster outbreak and save his friend. The creation of the Davis character serves to give the audience a human point-of-view in the story, but for Peyton the real goal was to tell a cohesive story while still maintaining the city-stomping monster fun of the original film. That, according to him, is where his film differs from other video game movies.
"There’s obviously a pressure to deliver on these things and to ground the movie and to deliver on spectacle and all that, but there also aren’t these expectations to what this character’s supposed to be or what this plot is supposed to be. I didn’t know about this quote-unquote 'video game curse' until about two weeks after I finished the movie," Peyton told IGN. "A lot of times, [studios] attempt to adapt games that have massive followings. ... When you attempt to adapt something that has an incredibly deep plotline or character or something along those lines, you’re beholden to delivering something. And it’s really a difficult challenge because as a gamer, I know, I play as the hero. That’s an immersive medium, and so, it’s really hard to go up against something that pre-exists."
While we don't yet know if Peyton has achieved his goals with Rampage, he does make a good point about so many other video game movies. If you're a big fan of Assassin's Creed, and you've spent hours and hours immersing yourself in that world and its characters, you want to go and see a film that delivers something that gives you that same feeling. When it doesn't, you're disappointed. With Rampage, there's much more room to improvise and riff on the central concept. Is that the secret to a good video game movie? Time will tell.
Rampage hits theaters April 20.