On the eve of 'Assassin's Creed,' a look at the few decent video game movies

Posted12/2/2016 6:00 AM
  • Michael Fassbender, left, and Ariane Labed star in "Assassin's Creed," coming to theaters Dec. 21.

    Michael Fassbender, left, and Ariane Labed star in "Assassin's Creed," coming to theaters Dec. 21.

Any list of the best movies adapted from video games is likely to be short, and even more likely to be nonexistent. A successful video game movie needs to find a happy medium between narrative and spectacle; games offer either intensely rich, dense narrative experiences like "Final Fantasy XV," or story-free exercises as with "Tetris." (No story is apparently no problem for the producers trying to make "Tetris" into a sci-fi trilogy. Yes, really.) Unfortunately, very few attempts have paid off.

Australian director Justin Kurzel will try to buck the trend on Dec. 21 with "Assassin's Creed," a feature adaptation of Ubisoft's historical action games starring Michael Fassbender, whom Kurzel previously worked with on a 2015 version of "Macbeth." The trailers featuring muddy, unconvincing CGI don't inspire confidence, but Fassbender makes good choices and looks the part.

Until then, these are the few big-screen adaptations of video games worth a look:

"Silent Hill" -- Genuinely scary and generously gory, this 2006 riff on Konami's horror series nails the games' creepy visuals and sense of dread. Radha Mitchell ("Man On Fire") stars as an adoptive mother searching for her daughter in the titular town, a desolate place that harbors unspeakable secrets and grotesque creatures. Genre fans will enjoy seeing Sean Bean ("Game of Thrones"), Laurie Holden ("The Walking Dead") and Alice Krige ("Star Trek: First Contact") in supporting roles. Those who can stomach the finale are rewarded with, of all things, an infectious pop ditty over the end credits -- called "You're Not Here." It first appeared in "Silent Hill 3" for the PlayStation 2.

"Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" -- Angelina Jolie's first, incomprehensible, cheap-looking "Tomb Raider" flick somehow made enough money to greenlight this 2003 sequel with an unwieldy title that manages to be a perfectly entertaining, lazy-weekend adventure movie. Jolie is joined by Gerard Butler, who hadn't yet defended Sparta or crooned "The Music of the Night." The best reason to watch is villain Ciaran Hinds, better known to TV watchers as Caesar on HBO's "Rome" or Mance Rayder on "Game of Thrones."

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" -- It's more an ambitious tech demo than a movie -- one that led to the financial collapse of a studio -- but the animation in this sci-fi yarn that bears little resemblance to the game series upon which it's based is a beautiful footnote in the medium's history. Ming-Na Wen ("Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") voices a scientist scouring the globe for spirits to defeat the aliens threatening Earth, and Alec Baldwin voices her soldier counterpart who, weirdly, looks just like Ben Affleck. It's hard to follow and obtuse -- I know, this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement -- but also oddly fascinating.

"Resident Evil: Extinction" -- The third entry in Sony's cheapo action franchise brings heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) out of the previous films' dark corridors and cityscapes and into a blazing desert adventure that sees Iain Glen (yes, another "Game of Thrones" actor) mutate into a giant zombie. It's dumb, yes, but it runs a brisk 95 minutes and has a lot of eye candy, human and otherwise.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor who implores you to never, ever watch "Resident Evil: Retribution." You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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