Can Video Game Cutscenes Make a Movie?

Can Video Game Cutscenes Make a Movie?

In 2001, you were probably bright-eyed and optimistic about the upcoming release of a little computer-animated movie called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And then you actually saw the movie, and a little bit of your innocence dove heavily into the pit of your stomach and died.

“That was awful,” you said once the credits started rolling (if you made it that far). “You know what Square needs to do? Square just needs to take the cutscenes from Final Fantasy VII and make a movie out of those.”

It’s a pretty common suggestion. Not just from Final Fantasy fans, but from anyone who has been burned by a game-turned-movie–which is pretty much everybody. When a game-based movie is developed and inevitably flops, blame falls on the writers and directors for not honoring the source material.

Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick thinks he has a solution. Do you like the cutscenes in StarCraft II? Think they’re worthy of some popped corn and dimmed lights? If Kotick gets his project off the ground, he plans to meld StarCraft II’s cutscenes into one 90-minute “movie” and distribute it digitally sometime within the next five years. Oh, and viewers will pay somewhere between $20 and $30 for the show.

Why does Kotick want to charge us for something we can access on a game disc or download on YouTube? Not to mention is talking about a project that might not be done until five years down the road. By then, we’ll probably be able to plug YouTube videos directly into our heads. But at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in California last week, he spoke of the venture confidently. Over-confidently, maybe.

“Unlike film studios that are really stuck with a model that goes through theatrical distribution and takes a significant amount of the profit away,” he said, “if we were to go to an audience and say ‘We have this great hour and a half of linear video that we’d like to make available to you at a $20 or $30 price point,’ you’d have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever.'”

Whichever way you look at it, Kotick’s idea is a little bizarre. Nobody’s going to pay that kind of money for cutscenes siphoned directly out of a game. At least, not as he’s selling the idea now. Maybe there’s some fantastic incentive he hasn’t yet mentioned. Until then, he’s not going to find too many buyers–certainly not enough for that record-setting opening weekend he’s crowing about.

There is, however, a kernel of intrigue in his idea. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was rendered entirely on computers, and it flopped hard. Game movies featuring live actors tend to fizzle because, among other problems, the actors have no instinct for what the characters are about, whereas gamers are practically intimate with them. But what if movie studios stayed true to a game’s story, and gave the computer graphics thing another try?

Okay, so they already did. It was called Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and it wasn’t too hot. But we’re entering an era where the kids who grew up with video game heroes are learning how to express themselves beyond crayons and Play-Doh. The result is cool little bits of work like this recent Half-Life 2 “movie trailer,” and other fan media.

Problem is, few fans seem to get around to finishing their projects, and so far none of them have presented their work to a major motion picture studio. Still, who knows what might happen in five years? We actually might get a video game-based movie that’s worth a $20 purchase, instead of a bunch of regurgitated cut scenes that are stitched together and sold as a new product.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. Did you know that the cutscenes from the last Onimusha game were compiled into a full movie? I think the biggest problem with it was that the transitions between the scenes were a bit choppy. If they spent a bit of time working on the transitions, I think it would have made for a decent flick. I might have even paid for it. I played through the game before, but just sitting back and watching the beautifully rendered cutscenes (without all the interruptions in between) has a totally different feel. You actually get to enjoy the art a bit more. Why wouldn’t people buy a movie from blizzard? Why do people buy DVDs of movies they’ve already seen? Is his idea original? Nope. Will it make money? I’m sure it will. What do they have to lose? It could be good exposure to people who don’t already play the game. Heck, it could even lead to a new business model! It’s pioneering and I’m all for it. It’s smart business sense. They’re reusing existing assets to find new ways of generating revenue. Even if they gave away the movie for free, it’d be like free advertising!

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