Hollywood? Who needs 'em!
There have been too many dreadful movies based on videos games. From Super Mario Bros. to BloodRayne to the recent Pixels, these films almost always trade on brand recognition alone rather than - you know - being well-made entertainment. They don't ask you to think or feel anything; all you have to do is sit quietly and receive a series of images that sort of remind you of a game you might have played once. They're a $13 dollar lobotomy-via-cinema, complete with a side of popcorn.
Thankfully, they're not all terrible. From AAA blockbusters all the way down to independent ventures, there are some video games movies that show a modicum of respect for their source material. On the Hollywood side, there's Wreck-It Ralph, the first Silent Hill movie, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And on the independant side there's a bevy of fan-made passion projects that really demonstrate the creator's love of the game. Imagine that: art from passion. Here are some of our favorites...
Hang 'em Hyrule (The Legend of Zelda)
Our Take: This one's worth it for the costume designs alone. Seeing the Zelda cast reimagined as gunfighters from the Old West is a treat, and their outfits - especially Zelda's - are expertly crafted. I mean, come on, Zelda even has Triforce-embroidered gun holsters! The film is shot slowly and deliberty. There are several closeups on eyes and hands slowly reaching for guns - this is a gunfighting movie after all - punctuated by flashbacks that give context to the action while maintaining the tension. It's enough to make you pine for another Red Dead Redemption.
Outside Aperture (Portal)
The Premise: After lighting GLaDOS up and escaping from Aperture Science, things still aren't great for Chell as she tries to deal with the traumatizing memories of her time in the facility that keep coming back to haunt her. But in Outside Aperture, she does find ways to cope, namely by taking comfort in simple pleasures like, say, baking a cake.
Our Take: Portal has its fair share of fan films given the game's wild popularity, but they rarely capture both its darker aspects and ridiculous sense of humor. Outside Aperture dodges that problem as gracefully as Chell dodges turret death lasers, showing how her experiences have affected her while not taking itself too seriously. You get a real sense of her personality from watching her break a TV with the portal gun and waiting in front of the oven for her cake to bake. It's not all smiles, but it's not drowning in ennui either, which captures the spirit of Portal in a way that feels truly in touch with the source material. I wouldn't be surprised if some fans preferred this version of events over Portal 2.
The Brothers Rapture (BioShock)
The Premise: Set before the fall of Rapture and the events of BioShock, The Brothers Rapture follows siblings Charles and Arthur as they explore the possibilities of life in a world without moral boundaries. Gradually, their passion for sculpture and the arts spirals out of control as the underwater paradise of Rapture collapses around them.
Our Take: The Brothers Rapture succeeds at putting a human face on the many faceless Splicers you mow down in BioShock. Even with all the tape recorders and graffiti scattered throughout that game, it's easy to forget these monsters were once people searching for a better life under the sea. Actors Nicolas Taggart and Charles Alexander both give excellent performances as Charles and Arthur, conveying genuine affection amid the growing chaos surrounding them. Supported by some surprisingly top-grade special effects, The Brothers Rapture is one of the best in this lineup.
End of the Line (Team Fortress 2)
The Premise: Some fan films may get a nice shout-out from the team behind the source material if they're particularly good, but few are so well-received that they end up getting worked into the original game. That's what happened with End of the Line, a Team Fortress 2 fan creation that sees the Red team trying to derail a warhead-bearing train before it destroys their compound. The film adheres to the goofy but action-fueled nature of TF2 so well that Valve eventually integrated it into the game's December 2014 update with custom cosmetics and weapons, so now some fans think it's an official video. That's some high praise.
Our Take: You can't swing a dead cat around YouTube without hitting something made in Source Filmmaker - Valve's video capture and editing suite - and it's pretty easy to tell the enthusiast work from Valve's professional releases. But the team behind End of the Line clearly knew what they were doing, building dynamic and detailed action scenes and never once flinching on the quality of the animation. Plus, even without any dialogue the film features some stellar visual humor that's just as impressive as the action. I hope I never laugh that hard at a kitten orphanage again.
The Devil Within (Street Fighter X Tekken)
The Premise: Street Fighter mainstay Ryu has long struggled with the Satsui no Hadou; basically this universe's version of the Dark Side. But when he hears a demonic voice rumbling in his mind, he realizes a new evil influence has revealed itself: the Devil Gene. Then Tekken's Kazuya Mishima shows up and Ken gets thrown into the mix and everyone is punching everyone and it's glorious.
Our Take: If "glorious" wasn't high enough praise, consider this: how many times have you seen a Street Fighter movie completely botch a special attack? Yeah, it happens all the time. It boggles the mind how The Devil Within did not fall into this trap. Hadokens, Shoryukens, and even Ken's Shinryuken all make an appearance and look surprisingly not terrible. This high standard carries over to the fight choreography, which is every bit as kinetic and exaggerated as its video game counterpart. And if you like what you see, the same production company has a ton of other nerd-worthy fight videos.
Fallout: Nuka Break (Fallout)
The Premise: Calling Fallout: Nuka Break a fan film is a bit of an understatement - it's two fan films, a two-season web miniseries, and an upcoming spin-off series all rolled into one. Following a barely competent gang of raiders made up of a former slave, a ghoul, a soda-addicted ex-vault dweller, and a Courier who follows close on their heels, Nuka Break shows just what the life of a Fallout raider is like. It mostly involves getting shot at and drinking irradiated water, but over the series' three-hour run, they get up to other hijinks too.
Our Take: Putting this much effort into a fan creation isn't just admirable - it's damn impressive given the film's production quality. Each part of the series has its upsides. The first film is a rough cut full of on-point humor. The second is incredibly atmospheric (if a bit on the slow side). And the miniseries brings unique character designs and a clever premise together to create an enthralling Fallout experience. The fact that its fan-creators were able to successfully Kickstart a third season (starring the near-silent Courier) isn't surprising, given how great the series is. Plus, you know, it's Fallout.
The Real ZombieU (ZombiU)
The Premise: ZombiU (sans U) is making its way onto a bunch of new systems next week, and for players who didn't get a chance to try the Wii U version, The Real ZombieU can give you a rundown of how things work in a way. Focusing on an hour in the life of a random survivor while he goes on a perilous quest to scavenge toilet paper from the local corner store, the film calls back to its inspiration by putting the Wii U gamepad and up-front menus into the film itself. It's hard to take a man seriously when he's walking around waving a Nintendo peripheral around, but that might be the point.
Our Take: The Real ZombieU could have easily ended up looking like a generic "[video game X] in real life" video, especially if it was just ten minutes of a guy hiding from zombies. But the fact that the creators skillfully work the gamepad and the game's upfront UI into the film's environment, know where to inject just the right amount of humor, and understand the meaning of quality cinematography, all work to set it apart from the crowd.
Mega Man (Mega Man)
Our Take: Mega Man has some major highs and some major lows. It's wonderfully flawed, delightfully campy, and filled with Mega Man love; but often stumbles in the execution of its craft. At its best, Mega Man focuses on character: Rock's desire to find meaning in his existence is set against Roll's carefree attitude; Dr. Wily's jealousy is set against Light's altruism. These are interesting ideological conflicts that we can relate with. At its worst, Mega Man focuses too much on awkward action scenes. This plagues the latter half of the movie as we slog through the robot masters; a problem compounded by some unconvincing VFX. Even so, I'd take a double feature of this and the Sonic the Hedgehog movie by the group over Pixels any day.