With a number of recent video game adaptations faltering on the big screen, you might think they’re doomed to fail. Look at the utter mess around the proposed Uncharted movie; it feels like a hundred different directors have been cycled through before the thing’s even reached pre-production.
Yet while there have admittedly been a number of woeful adaptations in recent years, there is hope for these films in the future if they follow the path of The Witcher.
The Netflix series bases its story on the novels, but is clearly influenced by the games from the franchise and shows future filmmakers that the key to success is to not take things too seriously. Embrace the games with all their weird and wonderful features rather than shying away from them. The Witcher has a number of faults, including a pretty illogical storyline and some very questionable dialogue, but there is a joy to its self-awareness. It pokes fun at the gruff grunts of Henry Cavill’s Geralt, the insane range of characters in the show and the general ridiculousness of its entire genre, but it makes the series more entertaining as a result. There is fan service aplenty from a cast and crew who clearly enjoy the games themselves, which has led to an instant cult following and overwhelmingly positive response from the people that really matter: those who play the games.
This is the complete opposite to 2016’s Assassin’s Creed, a snooze-fest so devoid of enjoyability that it makes The Da Vinci Code feel like a comedy. The film introduces new characters to which audiences have no prior affection and attempts to develop a fresh storyline with depth and mystery. But it doesn’t appreciate the history of the game and its lore, and fails to acknowledge the wit and humour in the series. It considers itself better than the game it’s inspired by and is more focused on a mass market than the actual fans of the franchise. As a result, the film struggled at the box office and was mauled by audiences who felt betrayed by the direction it took.
So the lesson for filmmakers is this: if you are making a movie based on a game, embrace it. Don’t consider yourself better than the game developers and don’t take things too seriously. Video games and their stories are often weird, bizarre and flawed, but that’s what makes them great. Make these films for the fans and it might just become a success. The Witcher showed filmmakers how it’s done. Here’s hoping they listen.