Video game adaptations. You either love them, or you hate them. I’ve found myself on both sides, though I usually find myself siding with the latter. The reason for this is while there have been a few that have genuinely tried to be faithful to their source material, they’re lost in a sea of lazily crafted cash-grabs from people who aren’t willing to invest more than a modicum of effort into them.
These half-assed movies ignore the fact that gamers are an incredibly passionate bunch. Like some sort of geeky hive mind, we’ve spent years amassing our knowledge, holding week-long celebrations, and building insanely detailed wikis that serve as virtual shrines to the things we love. We could use this hive mind mentality for evil, but we don’t.
Because there’s a good chance we know considerably more about these worlds than the folks adapting them, we can tell when the filmmakers haven’t even played the game they’re trying to turn into a movie. We can also tell when they have played them.
It’s alarming how rare that is. Turning a game into a movie without playing the game is like deciding to adapt The Lord of the Rings when your knowledge is limited to the six minutes you spent watching the 1978 animated flick. Don’t do that. Seriously, don’t. As fervent as gamers can sometimes get, the communities that surround Tolkien’s works are exponentially more intense.
They won’t hesitate to cut you, and they’ll do it with a genuine replica of a Greenleaf knife, probably while yelling in Elvish.
There’s really only a handful of video game franchises that have communities like that, and one of them is Silent Hill. This series has had 15 years to make us love it. For people like me, who have been playing these games since the first released in 1999, that love is unconditional. The first three games guaranteed its status as one of gaming’s greats early on.
Christophe Gans is a fan of Silent Hill, and it shows. Before he was able to direct the adaptation, Gans hounded Konami for five years before he was given the film rights, even going so far as to send them an audition tape to explain his love for the series.
There’s a number of reasons why I consider this film to be the most successful of Hollywood’s many attempts at bringing a video game to the silver screen, but among them, keeping Konami Japan and Team Silent — the team behind the first four games — involved with its production the whole way through is what kept it from becoming just another video game movie.
With a fan in the director’s chair and consistent input from the developer, Silent Hill was able to retain much of what made the games so memorable. Akira Yamaoka’s work on the games’ soundtracks is iconic, so pulling a selection of tracks from the early games was smart. That move went a long way in making the film feel like it was an extension of the games.
You don’t need to spend any significant amount of time with the games to be familiar with their very distinct atmosphere. Silent Hill has a very unique aesthetic. The world is opaque and dreamlike, it feels like a living thing. It shifts and changes based on your darkest fears, secrets and sins. It’s a very personal nightmare.
It’s not surprising that some of this was lost in translation. It makes sense that Gans and Co. would want to use familiar creatures from the series, like Pyramid Head and the Nurses — originally manifestations of James Sunderland’s psyche — rather than try and come up with something new. Revelations would later take a stab at being original, and we all saw how that turned out.
Clive Barker called. He wanted me to tell you you’re bad at this.
The film’s cast of monsters serve as a sort of highlight reel. Fan favorites like the Grey Children, Bobble Head Nurses, Lying Figure and Pyramid Head make their necessary appearances, and while I would’ve liked to see them tied to Rose, seeing them realized outside of the games with such an impressive attention to detail made up for that unrealized narrative potential.
That’s not to say the movie didn’t try anything new. That old-timey flashback bit near the end was beautiful and did a fantastic job of cleaning up the near-incoherent mess that was the film’s story.
We may have reached a point where there’s a dozen awful video game movies for every successful — relatively speaking — attempt, but it’s films like Silent Hill that keep me from developing an entirely pessimistic view of the popular trend. It’s far from perfect, but I believe Gans and Friends have come the closest to bringing us a decent adaptation.
How about you? Feel free to share your thoughts on this movie, or even video game adaptations in general, in the comments!