Hollywood Goes Gaming

| November 5, 2007

If you’re tuning into Hollywood Goes Gaming, hoping for nothing more than a sneak peak at upcoming video game crossovers like Hitman, then think again.
There’s no denying the fact that Hollywood and the video game industry have developed a close relationship in the last few years; I’m pretty much convinced that one of the Tomb Raider movies is being aired at any given time on cable. This installment of the Starz Inside series takes a close look at not only Hollywood’s association with the gaming industry, but also gives a decent history of an industry that was once viewed by the studios as nothing more than a novelty. Hosted by Richard Roeper, we see the transgression of film and games; the ups and downs; the successes and failures; a definitive look at a relationship that I’m sure will continue for years to come.
Starz takes a good look at not only the advent of video games, but more importantly, their introduction into popular culture. The grandfather of this revolution, Pong, is given its just due, and the implementation of home gaming systems–specifically the Atari 2600–is equally honored. At 30 years old, I grew up as a part of a generation that has had video games as a part of our lives from almost the beginning. I was privy to a flooding of memories as they recounted the early days of games, complete with arcades packed with kids with feathered hair and aviator-style glasses.
The program discusses not simply game and film titles, but industry trends and events–the 1981 purchase of Atari by Warner Brothers identified as a crucial step in this process. The failures, Disney’s 1982 release of TRON wasn’t everything that was hoped for. Roeper’s initial description of the film as a ‘cult classic’ is proof enough of that. While TRON is currently viewed as being ahead of its time, even with its computerized special effects and a high tech storyline, it was never even in contention for any awards…let alone looked at as a possible blueprint for a future relationship between games and films. I vividly recall release of TRON, and I loved the action figures and the accompanying arcade games, which is rightfully recognized as one of the first successful crossovers from film to game.
I do, however, confess that my six-year old comprehension of computer hardware and system networks that made up the plotline of the film were as foreign to me back then as they were to the rest of mainstream America. While there is no denying the ingenuity of the film, this Starz special fails to mention that one of the main reasons that it wasn’t as well-received as they would have liked was the result of a storyline that dealt with concepts to complex for the time. However, Starz does go on to make an observance that is truly laughable by current Hollywood standards: many in the industry felt that TRON had cheated by using computers for special effects!
Hollywood Goes Gaming goes through it all in an informative and enjoyable way–paying special attention to specific instances that greatly impacted this crossover. The stumbles of the early years as games were made from movies (there was actually a Kramer vs. Kramer game) and movies from games (Super Mario Brothers truly set the revolution back more than a few years) are looked at with honesty and candor.
One of the most enjoyable things about Hollywood Goes Gaming is that it is geared towards everyone from the casual gamer to the hardcore video game junkie to those of us who will finally understand after watching this what ruined Atari (hint: think of a really bad game that revolved around an alien without a calling card). This program doesn’t make any assumptions about your knowledge (or lack thereof) of video games and ends up being an informative and entertaining examination of the two. When you look at it from afar, this program echoes the very premise that these two industries are currently utilizing in marketing their products.
You don’t have to be a fan of the Resident Evil video game to enjoy any the films; I’ve never played it and enjoyed the first two films quite a bit. I’d played and enjoyed the Surf’s Up video game months before ever seeing the movie. Sure, there’s a built in audience for the fans of a game that has been developed into a film or vice versa, but both Hollywood & the gaming industry have tried to make their endeavors a bit more user friendly & accessible for anyone to enjoy. Starz looks at this relationship and shows us the underlying similarities that have developed between these two industries has developed to such a point that the line between the two is now more gray than anything else.
The advent of plot-based games with true characters and in-depth storylines allow games to emulate films not only in basic outline, but even insofar as camera angles and celebrity voiceovers and endorsements. We see that the similarities in marketing strategy that the game industry has adopted from Hollywood. We see the importance of licensing and how it has yielded tremendous successes for companies like Electronic Arts. George Lucas’ own Lucas Arts has found successes employing technologies from filmmaking and game design in a legacy of popular games that shows no signs of slowing down. It has even gotten to the point in which famous action director John Woo is creating a sequel to one of his most famous films–Hard Boiled–that will go not straight to video, but straight to video game (titled Stranglehold).
The same issues and controversy that surround many of Hollywood’s most successful endeavors can also be found with games. Sex, drugs and excessive violence are now as forefront in games as in films. Parental groups have now expanded their realm of objections from music and movies to games. Has it gone too far?
Hollywood Goes Gaming doesn’t really try to answer this question, and nor should they. Theirs is an evaluation of the relationship between these two animals of entertainment–not a judgment of morality on either.
When all is said and done, Hollywood Goes Gaming is an engaging look at not only the connection between films and video games, but also how it all came to be. Whether you are a fan of video games, movies, video games made into movies or movies made into video games–or none of the above–it is more than worth checking out.
Hollywood Goes Gaming premiers on November 26 at 9:00pm et/pt exclusively on Starz.

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