Hollywood is an industry that thrives on telling stories, creating characters, and inventing worlds, and while some of its most memorable moments have been truly original and enchanting works, many of the films that it makes take their inspiration from elsewhere. Whether it’s dialogue from the page of a storybook, a frame from a comic, or a moment of epic gaming glory, Hollywood is just as keen to recreate audiences’ favorite moments as it is to tell its own.
Hollywood, the novel, and comic intervention
Books have been enjoyed for centuries whether as a form of education, a means to inspire, or a way to escape reality, so it was only natural that cinema would follow its example. Indeed, from the film industry’s first moments, it has been borrowing narratives, recreating entire lands, and visualizing the key scenes that had only existed in the imagination before; George Méliès’ first films during the late 19th century were inspired by Cinderella and the works of Shakespeare. Why is this? Before cinema, books were, perhaps, the main form of entertainment for many people, being far more accessible than trips to the theater, or radio. Entertainment existed in the imagination, and it must have been incredibly tempting for the earliest Hollywood production companies to recreate that magic, and to bring it to life. These days, book adaptations are incredibly popular, both for those who are curious to hear a tale but have never had time to read the book, and those who have always adored the text and would like to see if its visualization lives up to their expectations. Franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter, and The Divergent Series lend themselves perfectly to film adaptations, introducing an entirely new audience to the concept, themes, and, in turn, the books. Single film adaptations that have gained popularity recently include Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl, and Bridget Jones’s Diary – of which there is a new film currently in production – and there’s something about seeing their favorite actors portraying characters they have come to know and love that entices audiences.
What of comics? Aren’t they visual enough already? While audiences may flock to see film adaptations of their favorite books in order to engage with characters in a way they have never done before, and to learn what they look like outside of the black and white pages of the text, comic book fans want to be able to interact with their heroes, to see them brought to life, and to engage with the action in a whole new way – to absorb a comic book without needing to use their imagination, although many will enter cinemas with preconceptions that can’t be fulfilled. Comic book films can get away with pushing the boundaries that films in other genres cannot; violence is more easily justifiable, and characters can achieve superhuman feats in the real-world setting without raising disbelief. Directors and producers are, perhaps, drawn to the potential of comic book films, and the possibility of using the full capacity of the technology available to them. The cult readership that many comic book franchises amass makes them prime candidates for adaptation, and they create discussion that viewers love to engage in. Was a film true to the text? Was a particular actor the right fit? Not all comic book adaptations are met with positivity, but they will always draw the crowds. The Avengers, Batman, Superman, Spider Man, and X-Men are just some of the comic book characters brought to life in film, and the big-budget nature of their narrative means they will continue to be popular.
Glitz, glamour, and gaming
And so to gaming. Gaming and Hollywood have rubbed along rather nicely for as long as either industry can remember, and just seconds in, it’s not hard to see why; Hollywood thrives on action, suspense, and the types of moment that can make or break a scene with a pin drop, or move between action and consequence in a heartbeat. Whether the characters are huddled around a table playing cards in a dimly lit cellar, crowding in front of a slot machine in an unknown bar, or organizing the heist to end all heists at Las Vegas’s largest casino, there’s just something about the thrill, the glitz, and the intrigue of gaming that’s got audiences, and the film industry, hooked.
It doesn’t seem to matter where a scene is set, or who is involved; there is something rather glamorous about gaming when viewed through Hollywood’s eyes. Long-legged women watch on, dapper men in tuxedos conceal their hands, and whole scores of characters take one last bet on the roulette wheel before it comes to a stop. Scenes pop with color, noise, and action, and narratives tell brave tales of blackjack, and those who gambled with far more. The casino rather lends itself to such a scene, and there have been films from just about every angle; Casino Royale, which introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond, was bold and affecting; the Ocean’s franchise, which entices audiences to fall in love with its lovable rogues and sultry sirens, was cheeky yet action-packed; The Hangover, beloved by millennial audiences, ridiculed casinos’ authority, and was an instant classic; and Maverick, a Western, was played for laughs. The casino genre, and the theme of gaming, rather lends itself to Hollywood; there is always something going on, and a new way for characters to interact.
In addition to gaming being a favorite of Hollywood, it is also embraced by audiences around the world; there is just something about the subject matter – the intrigue, the tense pauses, the excited cries – that ramps up the excitement for whomever is watching. It could also be argued that along with falling in love with the glitz that Hollywood creates on screen, viewers are also entranced by the moments when things go wrong, and excited by the high stakes played out. Hollywood delights in creating moments on screen that are indistinguishable as fact or fiction, and gaming, being an absorbing culture in its own right, lends itself perfectly to such cinematic moments. Is it real, or not? What are the stakes? The audience barely knows the characters at this point, but it cares. Examples of the films that have tried, and whether they have succeeded or failed, are detailed in this article about “Fact or Fiction”. Hollywood will continue to turn to gaming, just as the players will return to the card table or slot machine.
Gaming fact and Hollywood fiction
Of course, gaming isn’t always glamorous; in fact, it’s often gritty and uncomfortable to watch, much like the moment in The Deer Hunter when Christopher Walken’s character, Nick, takes his own life during a game of Russian roulette, itself a form of gaming. Regardless of the outcome, this is gaming at its most raw, and its least glamorous. The Deer Hunter was inspired by an unproduced script, The Man Who Came to Play, which was originally written as a comment on Las Vegas and the roulette scene; despite it all, the audience can’t help but draw its own conclusions, and to continue watching regardless. Other examples of gaming culture at its darkest, and most real, include Rounders, which stars Matt Damon as a young poker player intent on helping his friends; 21, which deals with the culture of card counting and its consequences, and was based on the true story recounted in the book Bringing Down the House; Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character demonstrates his almost super-human ability to cheat at cards without detection; and Casino, which explores the dynamics between the Mob, casinos, and criminals. In each of these cases, the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, much as the poker player uses their reactions to disguise their hand. Is the audience watching and enjoying a film featuring elements of gaming, or being drawn into its world? Despite the obvious change in pace, and emotion, from the more glamorous depictions of gaming culture listed above, the audience is still unable to look away. Hollywood knows to embrace the dark just as it does the light, and to engage through a dynamic narrative to which gaming culture lends itself.
World explorer video games and Hollywood
If table gaming provide Hollywood with an opportunity to explore the human nature interwoven with such pastimes, and to tell real, albeit sensationalized, stories, then video gaming is its ticket into another world – a world inhabited by undead monsters, superhuman crime fighters, kick-ass archeologists, highly skilled martial artists, and fantasy worlds that exist in the most creative corners of the mind. While video games have existed for a far shorter time than poker and blackjack, their impact on popular culture, and upon the film industry, has been no less phenomenal; indeed, the popularity that they have garnered during that relatively short period of time has left so much scope for creators’ and filmmakers’ imaginations to run wild.
In 1958, physicist William Higinbotham created what is understood to have been the very first video game, a simple format based around table tennis. Of course, by modern standards, the very concept would be considered amateurish, but in a world learning to adapt to advancing technology, this game was a revelation – one that would go on to inspire an entire genre dedicated to gaming on screen. From the public’s first interactions with such a form of entertainment, the popularity of video gaming has reached stratospheric levels. Audiences can’t absorb games fast enough; but why is this? Numerous studies have been carried out in the name of discovering why video gaming is so beloved, and a few key facts have been garnered; it is human nature to revel in the idea of saving the world, and platform games such as Super Mario, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy fulfill such an urge while enveloping gamers in a kind of reality that whisks them away from their own, comparatively boring, existence. Video games inspire and engage in a way that tabletop and casino games can’t, completely consume a player for the time that they’re involved, and create whole new worlds for them to explore and fall in love with. Coupled with the idea that video games are perhaps the most interactive form of entertainment that a person can access within their own home, it’s not difficult to see why the format has been so celebrated. It was only natural for Hollywood to borrow ideas from video gaming to create immersive films, and to create franchises around the very games that its audiences were accessing; video game films and their characters are familiar, safe, and engaging to watch, and the worlds they inhabit are a filmmaker’s dream come true. For those reasons, offerings such as Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Silent Hill, the aforementioned Super Mario, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy, and Hollywood’s very first foray into the format, 1982’s Tron, were always going to be made, and embraced by audiences.
One thing is for sure; as long as there are novels, comics, video games, casinos, and backstreet gaming, there will be blockbuster films that aim to capture every moment, good or bad, and recreate the worlds that readers and players have fallen in love with, and engaged with, for so long. Gaming, in particular, is Hollywood’s mainstay whenever it needs drama, action, or hilarity, and audiences aren’t prepared to disengage just yet.