Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Art of Translation

As we all know, the transition from disc (or, for the old school, cartridge) to screen when talking about movies inspired by video games has been a taxing experience for fans of both games and film. While debates enrage about the few (if any) successes, we can agree that there has not yet been a The Dark Knight-level validation for movies based on video games.

Many games have indeed been labeled as cinematic, creating an experience for the player that has been described as an interactive film. Games such as those from the Metal Gear Solid series, Mass Effect, God of War, and Halo (among many others) have brought inspired speculation and argument from fans as to the type of brilliance these games could be if properly transcribed onto the silver screen. Coincidentally, all of the aforementioned games have been rumored to be in the process of cinematization (or whatever the word is).

But with all the talk about cinematic games, there are also brilliant video games that aren't necessarily cinematic but still fantastic experiences nonetheless. Games such as Psychonauts, Katamari Damacy, Little Big Planet, etc. are notable because they test the boundaries of gameplay, of storytelling. One such game was Shadow of the Colossus, brought by the developer of the equally esoteric game Ico. To be succinct, Shadow of the Colossus could be described as a game comprised only of boss battles, but where the bosses were four stories tall and they did nothing to provoke you.

The story, what there is of it, involves the protagonist––named in the booklet as Wander but never explicitly referred to that in-game--and his unconscious lady love (named Mono) whose slumber, Wander's told, can only be cured by defeating 16 colossi. Wander and his trusty, hard to maneuver steed--Agro--must traverse the gigantic map (in terms of Playstation 2 limitations) and defeat these monstrous beings on their home turf. Each colossus is different in look and weakness. There are no towns, shops, random battles, or side quests of any kind. Needless to say, it's an equally strange and beautiful game.

Recently, it was announced that a movie based on Shadow of the Colossus has been announced and I couldn't be more skeptical. After completing a game like Metal Gear Solid, I immediately considered how good a movie it could make. Not the case with Shadow of the Colossus. It's an experience that I'm not sure the hired help are not quite able to tackle, not because of talent (though that's highly questionable), but because it's a game that is not easily translatable into a cinematic experience. To be honest--if it were a literal translation--it'd be boring. Then again, the game's progression focuses on the "growth" of Wander, a symbolic progression that continually causes the player to question the motives behind his actions.

Plenty of video game movies that had a certain amount of cinematic flair have been made to less than satisfying results (though that is debatable, I readily admit). Perhaps adapting a more abstract game such as Shadow of the Colossus is the answer. Before, it was like translating an English book into Spanish before translating it back into English; it makes no sense. I'll leave my opinions open, though I can't help but outwardly express my skepticism.