I think we are all pretty sick of video game movies these days, and whether this is because most of them suck, I couldn't tell you. But like it or not, there is a never ending supply of lazy executives who look no further than their home console for inspiration. But that is a rant best left for another time, because today's Cinematical Seven is all about the movies that aren't based on video games, nope, these are movies all about the cult of gaming.
If you watch enough movies centered on the world of video games you start to notice that a theme emerges: the desire and the peril of getting trapped in your favorite game. Granted it's a theme that isn't much of a leap considering that since the dawn of the gamer, there have been worried parents, teachers, and clergy convinced that those pixels are the work of the devil, and what better place for a cautionary tale than the movies? But, it's not all doom and gloom and there are also stories of how a gamer can save the world -- there really is something for everyone at the movies.
After the jump are seven movies that delve into the pros and cons of gaming...
This Running Man homage (or rip-off depending on your point of view) arrived on DVD this week, and if you missed out on the madness that is a Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor action movie in the theaters, here's your chance to make up for lost times. The story centered on a futuristic online game that let your average pimply faced teen control convicts in a death match, and the champ gets to set their convict free. Of course, it's all a bit more complicated than that. Even though there is an attempt to work in a message about turning off the console and joining the outside world, really, there are only two reasons to watch this movie: explosions and Gerard Butler without a shirt on. Frankly, the whole film is a little ridiculous but I don't mind, and we should expect no less from the men responsible for this.
The Wizard/Joystick Heroes
It might have not been much more than a 90 minute Nintendo commercial, but the 1985 flick, The Wizard is probably one of the few movies to feature video games that actually existed in the real world, and even tried to pass them off as a source of family bonding. The story of an emotionally damaged boy on his way to a video game tournament was pretty much universally hated by critics, and while I don't disagree with them, for some reason when you ask people about movies set in the world of gaming, this one is bound to come up -- I guess Super Mario 3 really was a popular game.
David Cronenberg's attempt at an alternate reality story had the usual trappings of his films -- creepy sex, plenty of ooze, and a barely comprehensible plot (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). The film starred Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the participants in what can only be described as one of the crappiest games ever designed. I guess we have to give Cronenberg credit for creating something a little different than your usual video game story, and while I understand that this film is much more concerned with debating reality and identity than blowing things up, the problem with Existenz will always be that I can't figure out why anyone would even want to play this game in the first place.
The Last Starfighter
Look no further than this 1984 sci-fi actioner if you want to see the wish-fulfillment of every high-scorer since we plugged in our very first Coleco Vision. The movie (along with Tron) was one of the first films to rely heavily on computer imagery, and while I will admit those F/X haven't aged all that well, I still have a soft spot for those crazy geometric spaceships. The film centered on small town guy (played by Lance Guest) who is obsessed with being top dog on a game by the name of Starfighter only to discover that he has unwittingly signed up for an intergalactic recruiting program. In the end, things work out for our hero and he leaves the crappy trailer park behind -- and they say playing video games won't get you anywhere in life.
In spite of the fancy new 3D remake on the way, for me there is only one Tron, and that is the 80's timepiece about a disgruntled software programmer (played by a young and hunky Jeff Bridges) who gets lost in his own game and a power struggle with the mainframe. As a kid the plot made little sense, and if I was going to be 100% honest I would tell you that to this day I'm a little shaky on the details -- and if you can find a message in this movie, you are a better man than I. But if we are going to talk about the world of video games on the big screen, Tron is kind of the film that started it all.
When I saw this movie as a child, I was terrified that I would inadvertently cause the next nuclear holocaust every time I booted up the old Commodore 64. But luckily for me, this was not the case, and in John Badham's tale of a hacker who stumbles into a military supercomputer, the world was introduced to the geeky charm that was Matthew Broderick. The film was more of a cautionary tale aimed at nuclear superpowers (remember, it was the 80's) than video games. But, in the end we all get taught a valuable lesson from WOPR, and remember kids, nukes are "a strange game. The only winning move is not to play".
Well, it doesn't get cheesier than this 1985 sci-fi fantasy about two programmers who get sucked into an alternate dimension by an evil wizard. In their computer generated battle ground the two are pitted against cave monsters, zombies, and evil rock bands -- but I guess in the middle of all the mayhem is the message that computer crime doesn't pay. What can I tell you, this movie is terrible. But, luckily it's just the right kind of terrible and can make a movie night with your friends -- especially if they are into 80's metal. (And want to know what a movie with seven directors looks like. -- SW)