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So You’ve Decided to Sequelize Tomb Raider

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It’s rare for a video game adaptation to become a commercial success — the genre is just too niche; the chances of the movie being decent, too slim. It’s even rarer for such an adaptation to spawn a sequel. But every once in a while, a video game movie will earn enough cash that the producers will see fit to make another. But how to go about it? It’s not that video game sequels don’t exist, but usually they’re created only to continue the gameplay, not the story. So to mine a game franchise past the point of a single acceptable adaptation takes a considerable amount of creativity.

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Sequel Strategy: Sync the movie’s release with the release of a new Tomb Raider game.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (hereafter referred to as Tomb Raider 2 because I don’t want to break my colon key) initially seemed like a sure hit. After all, its predecessor, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, is the highest-grossing video game flick of all time. Though Tomb Raider 2 doesn’t follow the plot of any of the myriad Tomb Raider games, it was set to release on the same day as the series’ sixth installment, Angel of Darkness. The marketing guys from Paramount Pictures and Eidos Games assumed that on July 25, 2003, Americans would be incapable of leaving their houses without at least accidentally giving money to something with Lara Croft in it.

They were wrong.

Though moviegoers were perfectly content to give $300,000,000 to the first flick to get a glimpse of Angelina Jolie in a skimpy spelunking outfit, they evidently didn’t enjoy the experience that much. Audiences had almost no desire to see Lara Croft again, either on the big screen or in their game console, and both Cradle of Life and Angel of Darkness tanked. While only the second of a proposed trilogy, the Lara Croft series ended when the $100,000,000 production failed to recoup even 75% of its budget.

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Sequel Stragegy: Adapt the original game’s sequel.
The first Mortal Kombat game had no real plot to speak of, which meant the movie really just boiled down to a series of entertaining Kung Fu fights. The second Mortal Kombat game was more of the same, with a few more characters and a new ultimate enemy. It would only make sense, then, that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation would basically just retread the first movie with a few new antagonists and situations.

Apart from killing off Johnny Cage in the movie’s opening moments, adding a few new fighters like Jax and Nightwolf, and awkwardly replacing most of the main actors, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is pretty much identical (if unquestionably inferior) to its sequelized source material.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Sequel Stragegy:To Hell with the source material.
The first Resident Evil flick ignored literally everything about the game series, save for the presence of zombies. The game characters were combined into a single new protagonist, Alice, the action took place in an underground base instead of a creepy mansion, and the game’s more-or-less successful zombie extermination was flipped to a worldwide infestation. In other words, by the time the second Resident Evil entered production, faithfulness to the source material wasn’t really an option. But director Paul W.S. Anderson and company did try.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is full of significant nods to the game series — RE1 protagonist Jill Valentine, for example, shows up as a supporting character. But outside of cosmetics, the movie has little in common with its source. Nemesis, the ruthless antagonist of the game Resident Evil 3, appears in Apocalypse only to later turn into a good guy and fight alongside Alice. Apocalypse feels like a perfectly legitimate sequel to the first RE movie, gussied up with a few halfhearted game references to placate series fans.

By the time you get to the third Resident Evil movie in 2007, you pretty much have to throw everything you knew about the game out the window. Apart from arbitrarily naming Ali Larter’s character after one of the protagonists from the second game, Resident Evil: Extinction, with its inexplicable army of Alice clones, has literally nothing in common with either its source material or zombie flicks in general. Still, that didn’t stop Extinction from making back three times its budget.

How do you think studios should approach the challenge of sequelizing a video game adaptation?

Anthony Burch is the features editor for and the co-writer and director of the video series, “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” He’s also working on his first artgame, which should be done sooner or later. Probably later.

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