If we need a reminder about the place that video games hold in pop culture right now, just look at last night’s midnight launch of “Grand Theft Auto V,” which was just as big a moment as any of this summer’s movie launches. The big titles remain big, and there is a fierce brand loyalty among gamers that has yet to be truly tested by Hollywood. They keep trying, but they keep getting it wrong, and I suspect there’s plenty more of that in the future.
A perfect example would be the news today that Fede Alvarez, who directed this spring’s “Evil Dead,” is in talks now to sign on as the director of “Dante’s Inferno.” The game, released by Electronic Arts, is a shameless mash-up of “Devil May Cry” and “God Of War,” and executed with all the subtlety of a fart in a microphone. Trust me… no one aside from the people who stand to make money off of it is asking for a movie version of “Dante’s Inferno.” The idea that there was a bidding war for the film rights, and the idea that Universal considers themselves the winners of that bidding war… baffling.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but this strikes me as a remarkably cynical package overall. I think the game is the perfect example of a property that was built out of other properties, motivated entirely by “market share” and “demographic research” and plain old borrowing from other people’s success. I can’t think of anything that runs more directly against the intent of Dante Alighieri’s brilliant, beautiful epic poem than a brute-force video game about a dude with crazy weapons killing his way through armies of big dumb demons, and the game’s treatment of Beatrice is enough to make anyone who actually likes Dante actively angry.
Alvarez has real chops as a filmmaker, and “Evil Dead” feels to me like the film he had to make to get Hollywood to treat him seriously. “Dante’s Inferno” feels like the choice he makes to tell Hollywood that the time to treat him seriously has passed. It feels like he’s making a choice here about which kind of career he wants to have, and it’s a dangerous choice for him to make.
I am skeptical that this will actually make it to the screen, but if it does, I’m doubly skeptical that this does anything to turn around the perception that games make lousy source material for movies. That’s not true, of course. It’s just that lousy games make lousy source material. I still believe some filmmaker is going to pull off the magic trick at some point and make a great movie that uses a game as a starting point, and when that happens, you’ll have a bunch of studios buy a bunch more crappy games and then wonder why their movies didn’t turn out well in the end.
Run, Fede. Run as far from this one as you can.