Interview: Uwe Boll and the Art of the Video Game Movie
The video game movie inhabits a strange limbo world in the cosmos of entertainment. With Need for Speed premiering today (liked by us, unseen by me) and Uwe Boll putting out his third outing in the Dungeon Siege universe, In the Name of the King 3 (starring Prison Break‘s Dominic Purcell), video game films tend to be the exception more than the rule. They’re not immensely popular, even if their genres are in both film and games. Only 4 have broken the $200 million mark at the worldwide box office, and not a single video game adaptation has ever been nominated for a creative Academy Award or a Golden Globe. They’re seen as a cheap buck for investors, and often reviled by fans of the game series. They’re not critical darlings either.
Their favorite punching bag is Uwe Boll, a sort of the unofficial go-to guy for the inexpensive video game adaptation. You’ve probably seen or heard about one of his movies, and probably only about how bad it is. It’s not exactly a fair judgment in my opinion. The guy’s a machine, directing a staggering 11 adaptations in as many years in a filmography of 28 films he’s directed himself, and stepped into the producer’s chair for Alone in the Dark II. That sort of dedication to having a critically pummeled filmography is… impressive. His films are cheap, exploitative, unpretentious popcorn fun, the fuel of drinking games everywhere, those half-stoned Saturday night choices from Netflix where viewers shout “I remember that game! Drink when you see a wristwatch in medieval times!”
We recently spoke with the infamous Uwe Boll about In The Name of the King 3 and the video game movie in general. He was energetic in his Werner Herzog-esque German accent, excited to talk about his extensive history with video game films, but also sounded a bit exhausted, frustrated having to smash his head against an industry that seems far more interested in the short term quick buck than a truly interesting adaptation. When asked about his tendency to gravitate towards game adaptations, he quickly shot back at the money-handlers. “Investors don’t want a historical drama. They just don’t. They want something modern and new. Something exciting. Plus I like shooting these types of movies. They’re fun to shoot, but mostly inexpensive for the licensing. I’ve always wanted to do an adaptation of Grand Theft Auto in the style of Postal, but the licensing was like ten million dollars or something. Financing is a bit easier now, so we go for the licenses available.”
The universe has not been kind to the video game film. Its initial debut, the much-maligned Super Mario Bros in 1993, reeked of a fever dream of bad ideas. I always thought Super Mario never belonged on the screen to begin with, which is not exactly a revolutionary opinion. The story’s paper thin. It’s about a fat plumber who jumps on evil mushrooms and fights a giant turtle. It sounds like something you come up with while on a mescaline binge. But it’s grown on me like the fungus. It’s such a weird, balls-on-the-table idea it’s good.
And there’s nothing in the world that could stop me from seeing a Uwe Boll Super Mario movie. For Christ’s sake, the guy got Sir Ben Kingsley, an Oscar winner, a heralded thespian of stage and screen, to dress up like a Hammer-era vampire and hiss lines like Udo Kier. I asked him what video game adaptations he would like to tackle next. “Oh, man. Metal Gear Solid, GTA like I said before, Fear Effect. I wanted to do Hitman, but we lost the rights to it (twice). The movie promotes the game, you see. More people probably saw BloodRayne that played the game(s). But it’s too expensive to do other games. I liked doing Postal because it was a satire, too. Satire is important. I wouldn’t want to do a PG-13 GTA movie.”
That I can at least agree with. Before your recoil in horror at a slapdash, rushed out the door GTA movie, there’s none in the works. Rockstar Games has been very consistent they don’t make game movies, they do the opposite, they take the tropes of Hollywood crime drama and make it their own. Uwe Boll is not so consistent. His choices in adaptations tended to be, well, all over the goddamn map. Horror, fantasy, parody, straight-up action, mostly revolving around some sort of hyper-violent revenge fantasy. What was it about the Dungeon Seige universe that kept him coming back? “It’s because we have the rights to it. We got the money for it. Dragons are popular right now, people want them. So we did a movie with dragons. In Japan, Germany, UK, dragons are in. From this international point of view, it makes total sense, makes it better. I felt In The Name of the King 2 underdelivered. And I wanted to go back to filming in Eastern Europe. That style of film works there, dragons and stuff. I also shoot fast and they can do that over there.”
He even did a parody of one of his own films, BloodRayne: The Third Reich, in a little-seen bizarro injoke called Blubberella. “I’d probably never do it again. We shot it alongside BloodRayne 3, and there wasn’t enough time to do it properly. We couldn’t get it financed as a parody. If we did one for In the Name of the King, we may shoot it in tandem with In the Name of the King 4. But it may suck, that’s always the risk. There’s just not enough time. We shot so long on BloodRayne 3.”
The question remains, why do filmmakers and investors keep plugging away the video game genre? The common argument against the video game movie, and one that I tend to agree with, is that they’re two different universes of experience. Games are by their nature interactive, where the player makes a constant series of choices, and through interacting with the world, they help craft their own story, or participate directly in someone else’s. Movies are purely passive entertainment, where you are responding to someone else’s creative choices entirely. In a movie theatre, you can’t even stop the experience when you choose, except to leave the theater itself. Games are also more liberated from creative restraints in the types of worlds they can imagine.
There’s nothing wrong with those distinctions. Neither is superior to the either, but when they’re mixed improperly, both forms get wrecked. If Hollywood ends up making the proverbial Excellent Video Game Movie, its own Dark Knight, it’ll be something totally unexpected and insane, like a gritty reboot of Frogger or maybe even the 2016 World of Warcraft movie. Or maybe the Halo film will resurface and show us how Hollywood can enhance a game, rather than just weakly translating it. I just know that it won’t be the same experience. Movies that act like games are gimmicky (remember the FMV craze in the mid-90’s?), and games that mimic movies in spectacle and non-interactivity draw the wrath of gamers as being practically non-games (looking at you, Call of Duty: Ghosts).
So what is Uwe Boll’s place in all this? He’s done the most to promote the idea of the video game film, for better or worse. Some haters may say he’s showing other filmmakers how not to do it. Thankfully, his offer to facepunch his critics in a boxing ring is no longer open. “(laughs) No no no. I boxed the owner of the festival and that guy from that website (SomethingAwful’s founder Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka). It’s over. I did that as a publicity stunt and as a statement.” If the statement is Richard Kyanka can’t box for shit, I could’ve told you that without stepping in a ring.
Free of those expectations, I asked Uwe Boll something more open-ended, unencumbered by financing or sequels or pressure or the ire of chubby internet nerds in goofy red boxing glove. Let’s say you have an infinite amount of money. A dump truck filled with gold bars shows up. What movie would you make? Boom, right away he had an answer without a moment of hesitation. “I have this movie called Annihilation. Almost like White House Down, but even bigger. A movie where the terrorists are the good guys, groups like Wikileaks. America’s a police state and it’s where the whistleblowers fight back. They hack America’s drones and attack the military with their own weapons. Since they (the American government) all read our emails and text messages, it’s kind of scary. We live in a George Orwell kind of world, with all the computer hacking and surveillance, there’s a chance we’re losing control. I believe the NSA doesn’t listen, but they may if people protest and stand up to them. They’re the cyber criminals, not guys like Snowden.”
You heard it here first folks, Uwe Boll wants to make a film where Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden attack American G.I. Joe-Cobra Command style with our own drones. Holy shitballs. I’ve noticed a lot of his films involve bloody revenge fantasies, like the grim post-modern nihilism of Postal, or the bitter bile of Assault on Wall Street. I’ve found a majority of people wouldn’t label these specific whistleblowers as “terrorists”, considering they’re putting their literal lives at risk to tell us the naughty things our governments are up to, yet I want to see this movie intensely. An off-the-wall satire about action movie machismo meets the Internet where Edward Snowden, armed with a SCAR assault rifle, attacks the NSA with a bunch of rag-tag computer nerds like it’s Skynet. I pine for this to be made. I will write this for you, Uwe. I swear to God I will write the hell out of it.
But for now, you’ll just have to do with the oddball, video game-centric universe of Uwe Boll’s filmography, most recently In the Name of the King 3. Thankfully, you won’t have to any homework for it. It’s an unconnected sequel set in the world of Ehb starring Dominic Purcell (Prison Break). Check back next Monday on March 17 when we’ll be running a contest to win a BluRay of the film, as well as my own drinking game rules!