10 May 2006

Silent Hill

Silent Hill is the most faithful video game to film adaptation I've ever seen. Watching it is just like watching somebody play the game. The makers were so devoutly passionate about the game that they didn't try to spruce up the plot, or impose some kind of logical narrative progression on the action. In other words, as a movie, it's a hilarious failure, albeit a visually impressive one.

The movie is fascinating, however, in that it really makes clear why video games should not be made into movies. Video games don't really have much plot. They don't need to. The narrative is propelled by the player, exploring the video game world, encountering various foes, and attempting to kill them. This may sound like your average book or movie, but in fact, most books or movies depend on some kind of bigger picture to keep the action going. In other words, books/movies involve a plot that is some kind of larger story, and the narrative is driven by its interest in that story. The point isn't to tell you everything that happened to a given set of characters, but rather, everything that happened that is interesting in terms of a particular story. And generally, the action is partly composed of internal changes in the characters - it's mental or emotional. The point is often how the characters respond, or feel about certain events, not the events themselves. Video games just can't convey that kind of internal life in any interesting kind of way - the action has to be totally external. The one exception to this, perhaps, is in the realm of knowledge - the game can turn on the character acquiring some specific information.

Narrative progress in video games works somewhat differently to books or movies. Take one of the scenes in Silent Hill, for example - the main character is in a bathroom (having been lured there by a little girl), and happens upon a rather horrifyingly mutilated corpse in one of the stalls. She stares at it with horror, and then... well, in most movies, she'd get the fuck out of there, as most people would in that situation. In a video game, however, she would examine the corpse carefully looking for weapons, tools, hints, etc, because if you have the capabilities of inspection, you better be inspecting things. That corpse is there for a reason. The movie attempts to go halfway - she apparently notices something in the corpse's mouth and retrieves it. Ok, maybe that's not totally preposterous. But the next step again shows us a clear difference - she finds a hotel key in the corpse's mouth. So she concludes, she has to go to the hotel. In video game world, this makes perfect sense. In movie/book/real world, it's ridiculous. I'm failing to fully articulate the key dinstinction here, I know, and that's because I'm still trying to get clear on it myself.

Finally, of course, there's the key issue, that watching a movie about somebody killing a lot of monsters generally isn't as much fun as killing them yourself. I don't fully understand why it's fun to push buttons in fairly formulaic ways to execute a number of moves, generally similar, that will kill something on screen, but it is. You can happily spend 10 minutes slaughtering people in a video game, even though all you're really doing is pushing the B button repeatedly. It's actually exhilarating. It can even be fun to watch one of your friends try to do it. But it's not much fun to watch it happen in a movie, unless there's some creative choreography involved (see my entry on The Transporter 2, for instance). Part of the problem here is that you know how it will end - you or your friend might not succeed in killing the bad guys, but the film hero certainly will. Actually, the flipside here, which the movie does depict, is that in a video game, if you're roaming around a mansion and happen upon a room full of bad guys, your first move is to slam the door and try to find another way to go. Movies generally (this one is an exception) don't let their protagonists off so easy. This one leaves plenty of creepy crawlies unharmed - in fact, there isn't much fighting at all. Although the main character acquires, and drops, a weapon at one point, she's really not kicking any ass. Some of the supporting cast does though.

In any case, I very much enjoyed watching Silent Hill. I was in hysterics for the last half hour of the film - it was so ridiculous that I was literally crying with laughter. The "mind-blowing" ending was such a fantastic slap in the face to most of the audience that I think I actually cackled with glee. Also amusing was the number of people who walked out of the movie - the best being the couple who fled the theatre immediately after a character declared "The darkness is coming. We must leave". Indeed. I was quite impressed with the gore, too. They didn't pull any punches - the game is brutal, and so is the movie. Faces melt, people are impaled and ultimately torn in half with barbed wire (my boyfriend, incidentally, thought the physics of dismemberment was quite impressive), skin is torn off by the fistful - it's hyper-violent. As my friend joked, "Technology, what can't it do?". If we have the powers to realistically portray a woman's face slowly melting as she's being roasted alive, then by golly we ought to.

Anyhow, yeah, if you liked playing Silent Hill, you might want to go see the movie. It's actually kind of neat to see it on the big screen - the first 20 minutes (well, after the preposterous prologomena meant to explain how the main character got to Silent Hill) are spot on. The cinematography here is incredible - the cuts, the perspectives, even the way people move, are just like the game. Very cool. If you never played the game, you will probably not like the movie. It would do alright on a night you want to rent something stupid and get mega-trashed, but really, you could probably do better.

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