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A Brief History of Games in Movies Part 1

This is Part One of a two-part article. Read Part Two.

When Hollywood makes a film about war, they hire a military adviser and send the cast to boot camp. If it's a crime movie, a former cop is hired to vet the script and the actors go hang out with LAPD. If it's a movie where the lead actor has sex with Angelina Jolie, he actually dumps Jennifer Aniston and has sex with Angelina Jolie.

Hollywood is all about the realism.

So why is it that when Hollywood makes a film about computer or video games, they don't bother to do the least bit of research? Why not send the talent to Nintendo camp? Hire Lord British as a technical advisor? Give Shigeru Miyamoto a cameo role as the sushi chef?

I suspect that film producers dont' worry about gaming realism because they suspect the audience does not care either. But more and more people are playing video games, and today even Minnesota soccer moms know the difference between Azeroth and Aden.

A few movies have managed to include memorable scenes involving video games. In “Mallrats,� Shannen Doherty breaks up with Jason Lee over a game of “Sega Sports NHL All-Star Hockey '95� on SegaCD – and in “Swingers,� Vince Vaughn demonstrates how to make Wayne Gretzky's head bleed in EA Sports' “NHLPA Hockey '93.� In “Shaun of the Dead,� Simon Pegg plays “Timesplitters 2� with the zombified Nick Frost. On “Seinfeld,� Jason Alexander's efforts to preserve his arcade-machine “Frogger� score turn into a real-life “Frogger� game.

But what of movies that are principally or entirely about video games? How do they fare for realism?

Here is a rundown of seven of the most prominent gaming-based feature films. (Please note: these are movies about video games, not movies based on video games. I'm not going to write that article, because I refuse to sit through "Super Mario Bros.," "Street Fighter," or any Uwe Boll flick. They can't pay me enough.)

Films are rated for realism, nostalgia, and overall quality, on a scale of 1 to 5 Tron Identity Discs.

“Tron� (1982)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and David Warner. Directed by Steven Lisberger
Gaming Realism:
Nostalgia Factor:
Money Quote: “Don't use your change for the meter, we'll need it for the games.�

During Disney's Dark Age, those horrible years between “Return from Witch Mountain� and “The Little Mermaid� when the venerable studio released nothing but crap like “The Black Hole,� “Popeye� and “The Black Cauldron,� Mouseschwitz produced only two films worth watching. One was “Dragonslayer.�

The other was a big budget, $17 million flop that nonetheless became a touchstone film for an entire generation; the proto-cyberpunk CGI masterpiece, “Tron.�

Jeff Bridges, the more talented brother of Beau (see “The Wizard�), stars as Kevin Flynn, a programmer and hacker whose successful video game designs are stolen by evil Euro-weenie Ed Dillinger (the always-brilliant David Warner). Dillinger has made a deal with a megalomaniacal computer program, the Master Control Program or MCP; the MCP will keep mum about the theft of Flynn's games, if Dillinger helps the MCP take over the world.

The MCP discovers that Flynn is nosing around, so – and pay attention here, it gets complicated – the MCP uses a prototype teleportation device to reduce Flynn's body to data, and brings Flynn down into the computer world, where the incredulous programmer must play deadly computer games against kidnapped actuarial programs. The anthropomorphic computer programs in the computer world worship “users� as gods, and each program has the appearance and personality of its user; so Flynn encounters each of his friends, and Dillinger, in program form. Flynn helps a heroic program named Tron (Boxleitner) defeat the MCP, freeing the computer world from secular tyranny and coincidentally returning Flynn to the real world with the evidence he needs to defeat Dillinger. I said it was complicated.

“Tron� billed itself as the first CGI movie, but in fact less than half the film is computer-generated. The techniques necessary to merge CGI action and live action in the same frame had not yet been developed, so in any scene containing live actors, Disney animators hand-drew any “CGI� elements. For example, watch the light cycle scenes closely -- we never actually see a person inside a light cycle, it was all done with careful editing.

Many fans have tried to find deep religious significance and social commentary in “Tron.� It was in fact a very entertaining 96-minute commercial for a kick-ass arcade game.

“Tron� is the film on this list that tries the hardest to portray video game culture as cool, hip and exciting. Flynn's video arcade is the hottest place in town, jam-packed with attractive young people who all know Flynn by name. He's the Steve Rubell of 8-bit. Surrounded by a crowd of teenage sycophants, Flynn plays the game he created, Space Paranoids, which is just a scene from inside the computer world – in other words, the graphics and game play are FAR too advanced for 1982.

Then again, most computer companies in 1982 did not have teleportation machines, either.

At the turn of the millennium, Disney toyed with a movie sequel, “Tron 2.0.� The only thing to come out of it was a disappointing PC game.

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Posted by Erik Even on Oct 12 2007 2:02PM

Comments (1)

Oct 12 2007 6:10PM
The powerglove - it's so bad.

The Wizard owns the other two, hands down!

"Savage, Hermione and The Wizard also encounter The World's Greatest Video
Gamer, who looks suspiciously like a young Jonathan
ââ¬ÅFatal1tyââ¬? Wendel; a
Power-Glove-wearing badass who hits on Hermione and abuses henchman Wil Wheaton , but
really just wants to be loved."


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