People tend to point to games like Metal Gear Solid and Half-Life as early examples of video games trying to imitate the look and feel of Hollywood movies, but the truth is that games had been toying with “cinematic” elements for much longer than that. Basically, as soon as video games began to have discernible humanoid characters, game designers have been trying to turn those characters into movie-inspired action stars, running and gunning their way through as close to a cinematic adventure as the technology of the day allowed.
However, there’s no disputing that the move to 3D and the ability to have voice acting, sweeping camera angles, and epic orchestral soundtracks is when the game industry truly began its fascination with trying to turn video games into movies. Dialogue began to be taken more seriously, there was much more thought put into camera placement, stories started to evolve, and, especially after Half-Life, games started to have set-pieces that rivaled AAA Hollywood blockbusters. Once graphics finally started to catch up to all that creative ambition, you could squint at a video game being played and not be able to distinguish it from someone watching a movie.
At some point, Hollywood began to notice how far video games had come in the cinematic department–not to mention how many billions of dollars they were raking in–and started to take cues from video games. Whether filmmakers are willing to acknowledge it, or if they are even consciously aware of it, they have been informed by video games for some time now. The fast-paced, frenetic energy of the Bourne films had to draw inspiration from action games, especially in the way they were shot. In fact, I would argue that the whole “shaky cam” movement as a whole was inspired by the herky-jerky camera of most 3D action games, and first-person shooters in particular. It was years of playing FPSs that had audiences already accustomed to viewing the action from their own POV that
made the influx of “found footage” movies that are viewed through the perspective of a character holding a camera and the other actors interacting directly into it seem like an obvious evolution that started in games. Or how about that “groundbreaking” motion capture technology that the movie world was going gaga over in the 00’s with The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and of course, Avatar? Motion capture had been used in videos games going back to the late 80’s–again, movies were late to a party that video games had already been throwing for years. Ditto for The Polar Express, which was lauded for basically looking the way video games already looked–like watching real people interact as computer-animated ones. There’s also the ever-increasing use of extended single-shot sequences in movies which, yes, those existed before video games were even invented–but their use in action movies is most definitely a response to the non-stop nature of video game action sequences.
Of course, all of that is purely anecdotal. One could argue that it’s just a case of two visual mediums both evolving in their inevitable, parallel directions. Games borrow from movies, movies borrow from games, and that’s just the way it goes. The issue is that game designers at least acknowledge their strive to be more like movies; very few, if any, Hollywood filmmakers admit to trying to make movies be more like video games even when that is what they are very obviously doing, or at least giving credit where its due. James Cameron was content to let the world fawn all over him for Avatar without ever once pointing out that video games had basically been doing that for years and years already; it just “doesn’t count” until a movie does it. That’s where the distinction lies in terms of the mutual borrowing of creative and technological elements–Hollywood is too stubborn and snobby to admit when they do it.
Now, we finally have a movie that is unabashedly inspired by video games and wouldn’t exist if video games never had. Hardcore Henry, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last September and is hitting U.S. theaters on April 8th, is basically like watching an hour and a half of footage from a modern FPS. The entire move takes place from a first-person point of view, and the ensuing action is every bit as manic and over-the-top as you’d expect. Just watch the trailer below and see for yourself. And no matter how the movie ultimately turns out quality-wise or what you personally think of it, there’s no denying that 2016 is going to go down as the year when movies officially started being as jealous of video games as video games are of movies.