By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
A brief return to a certain family reuinion
he use of cinematic techniques in videogames is, if not always successful, usually at least an interesting experiment in technology, genre and storytelling. Up to this point I have been discussing games which pay homage to, reference, borrow and outright steal material from both the symbol archives of previously existing cinematic genres and the actual structure of specific films. These games push both ways, depending on what came before to provide some foundation from which they then seek to create their own worlds. But what of games which are completely based on films, that do not attempt any independence from the original source because the sole reason they came into being is due to the fact that the movies upon which they are based were very successful. These games cannot (and do not) hide the fact that they are the product of a specific industry machine.
There is a twisted purity about their silence. In my very first piece envisioned the film and the videogame as distant siblings who, at some slightly sinister family reunion, mated to produce the cinematic videogame. A game based directly on a film, with no pretense of original storytelling, could be seen as the severest, although purist, result of this inbreeding. It is the mute older child standing in the middle of the room at the reunion, glassy-eyed, indifferent to the routine it follows, oblivious to the blueprints already drawn which completely chart its existence.
Both Independence Day, developed and released by Fox Interactive and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, developed by Dreamworks and released by Electronic Arts, share this strangely zombified existence. The difference, however, is that where one completely gives itself over to the film, the other finds a way to downplay its enslavement.
Independence Day, the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin film, was the major movie going event of the summer of 1996. It raked in truck loads of cash and proved a great success, financially if not critically. It follows that a videogame, another satellite in the marketing universe, would follow close on the heels of such a triumph. The game's developers, conscious of the power of name recognition and visual identification, made sure that the cinematic portions of the game were entirely drawn from the film itself.
The player watches as a series of images used in the film unfold, basically retelling the premise of the story (aliens have come to conquer earth) and establishing the threat. The game then begins. What is so curious, and a little eerie, about the setup is that while the visuals are just digitized copies of the original scenes in the film (creepy in itself), they are also just set to music and feature a complete lack of explicit character reference. So Will Smith is no where to be seen even though many of the objective special effect shots used in the game, particularly the canyon duel between an alien and Smith, were originally intercut with shots of Smith himself. It is an eerie opening sequence, devoid of a "human" presence and built entirely out of ghostly fragments.
This lack of originality, or at least creative use of existing material, only serves to re-enforce the image of the game as marketing slave to the Independence Day phenomena. In all honesty I don't think that the developers ever envisioned the game as anything else and that is disturbing in itself. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is another example of a game based entirely on a film franchise, but one which takes a "quieter," and therefore more successful, approach.
The game's only cinematic section involves a series of computer images reminiscent of many shots in both films. Images and text slide in and out of the frame with startlingly rapidity. An animated stream of text, illustrations of a massive DNA strand, the static haunted image of a diminutive dinosaur and various rotating maps, flash by the viewer. There is a wonderful urgency to the images, and although the text and visuals are similar to the many computer sequences in the films, they work beautifully in the context of the game. It is a "quiet" little snippet, a successfully subtle rehash of previous material which helps the player dive right into the game.
In general the cinematic sections of videogames rely on film traditions and techniques on a basic level. When a game bases its entire life on a film, not trying to separate itself to any great degree, it is up to the creators to decide how to manipulate the material so as not to disrupt the viewers' marketable identification with the specifics of the film but still take an inventive approach. Hopefully one can avoid the strange moments one encounters when coming face to face with the hollow "shudder of soulless commercialism.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.