x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Games win over cinema

As Wreck-It Ralph lampoons the 1980s arcade culture, we look at how the world of cinema has been changed by the gaming revolution.

A scene featuring Ralph, voiced by John C Reilly, in the film Wreck-It Ralph. Courtesy Disney
A scene featuring Ralph, voiced by John C Reilly, in the film Wreck-It Ralph. Courtesy Disney

Today sees the release of Disney's new computer animation Wreck-It Ralph, a film where a character from a fictitious arcade game interacts with a number of characters from real-life computer games. It's one of the first movies to directly reference the growing heritage of the games industry, but how directly has Hollywood been influenced by this relatively new form of entertainment? Are the big, computer-animated blockbusters of today influenced by their console-bound counterparts?

Initially, the answer to this question may be no, at least on any superficial level. As any cinema lover will tell you, decent adaptations of computer games are few and far between and even movies that deal within the world of computer games (such as Tron) have not always been met with favourable reactions. However, look closer and the hallmarks are beginning to show: over the past 20 years, CGI has become commonplace in filmmaking, allowing characters both human and pixelated to explore environments far more fantastic and limitless than any movie set, almost like levels on video games. If one looks at the city-destroying climaxes of the Transformers movies or this summer's hit The Avengers, there is more than a passing resemblance to many final levels on video games (dispatching weaker, more numerous minions before a final showdown with one main "boss" character). Aesthetically, one could argue, the studio blockbuster has as much to thank the games industry for as any other cinematic genre.

Aside from what you see on the screen, games may have also crept into the themes and stories of great movies. Video games such as Grand Theft Auto have been blamed by some for a rise in violence, sexuality and profanity in film and on television. However, outside of any moral debate, the innovation in technology is also present in the story of perhaps one of the most influential films of the past two decades: The Matrix. The film features human beings living outside our world - revealed to be a simulation controlled by machines to keep us docile. Once entering "The Matrix", the heroes can do seemingly anything - defeat a number of opponents single-handedly and instantly learn skills and abilities far beyond their own capabilities.

As anyone who has scored the winning goal in a Fifa computer game or joined the front line in a Call of Duty adventure will know, a key attraction of gaming is to live out adventures or personas that would be impossible in real life, making the central premise of the Wachowski siblings' sci-fi masterpiece more than familiar to anyone who's picked up a control pad.

Of course the fun, colourful icons that appear in Wreck-It Ralph are a tribute to another era. Modern computer games are far more advanced in look and narrative, arguably taking as much influence from the film industry as the other way round - the complex world of Halo, for example, has yet to find a filmmaker able to adapt it to cinema. So, as the lines between the two become more blurred, it may become more and more likely that what attracts us to the video game store will directly affect the coming attractions at the multiplex.

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