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Don’t Blame the Video Game – Hitman Is a Rip-off of Boondock Saints

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As a relatively young artistic medium, the video game genre has yet to truly to forge a distinct creative style and direction for itself. Instead, the vast majority of games borrow ideas from other mediums, most notably movies. 3DRealms’ Max Payne, for example, is nothing if not a playable, over-the-top John Woo flick. But what happens when games that shamelessly rip off movies are then optioned into movies themselves? The results might be more surprising than you think.

Hitman (2007)
The Game’s Influences: The Professional
The Adaptation Strategy: The Boondock Saints minus hair, plus Olga Kurylenko
The Hitman game successfully blends stealth action with strategic planning, all wrapped around the “Leon”-esque concept of an assassin who only targets mob figures. The 2007 adaptation presumably sought to take its cues from a more contemporary action title, resulting in a heck of a lot more Christ-like imagery and quasi-religious symbolism than a fan of the original game would expect. Director Xavier Gens must have assumed that since today’s teenagers turned The Boondock Saints from a box office flop into a religious-vigilante cult classic, they’d flock to his flick. In reality, even the Ave Maria-scored trailer and smokin’ hot co-star Kurylenko couldn’t propel Hitman past number four in the box office its opening weekend.

Max Payne (2008)
The Game’s Influcences: The Matrix , anything directed by John Woo
The Adaptation Strategy: Forget the gun-fighting, focus on the noir
While Max Payne the game blew minds with its stylish slow-mo gunfights, it gleefully admitted to stealing most of its aesthetic punch from blood-soaked bullet operas like John Woo’s The Killer and Hard Boiled, plus the second half of The Matrix. When it came time to adapt the bestselling game into a movie, writer Beau Thorne understood that a completely faithful adaptation would feel like nothing more than a less-spectacular version of those Hong Kong flicks the game ripped off in the first place. So the movie goes in a totally opposite direction: Only two (very short) gunfights interrupt what is otherwise the moody, melancholy film noir atmosphere that pervaded the more bloodless moments in the game. What was a balls-to-the-wall action spectacular became a shadowy mood piece where most of Mark Wahlberg’s dialogue is delivered through a growly, depressed mumble.

Wing Commander (1999)
The Game’s Influences: Star Wars
The Adaptation Strategy: Trash everything that made the games good
Game designer Chris Roberts’ Wing Commander is widely considered a hallmark video game, which successfully blends an interesting scifi storyline (filmed with real actors) with marginally entertaining first-person space combat gameplay. It’s almost impossible not to draw the game’s connection with the original Star Wars trilogy, given that both have the same basic space war plots and both star Mark Hamill as the lead. When Roberts finally got the opportunity to direct a feature based on his games, he curiously decided to recast the characters — who had previously been portrayed by heavies like Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies — with a much younger (and, sorry to say, much less talented) cast, including the likes of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard. What was once an epic tale of mature adults fighting a race of aggressive, catlike aliens ended up feeling like She’s All That in outer space.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
The Game’s Influences: Indiana Jones with big breasts
The Adaptation Strategy: Indiana Jones with big breasts
Lara Croft, like Max Payne, never made any bones about her creative origins. In 1996 the gaming world needed a protagonist who was simultaneously recognizable, yet new; who implied adventure, yet mystery; who could beat you up, but also cause you to slobber all over your keyboard. All of Croft’s adventures were more or less retreads of Indy’s — just with a bigger cup size. So director Simon West’s plan to differentiate the movie from its derivative was… to not even bother: Lara receives a letter from her dad (sort of like a grail diary), uncovering an ancient conspiracy within the Illuminati (or for Indy, the Roman Catholic Church), finally destroying the bad guys with the magical power of time travel (the Ark of the Covenant). Apparently lightning doesn’t strike twice: The second movie of Croft’s planned trilogy tanked, so I guess we’ll never get to see her battle ancient Mayan aliens.

What’s your favorite video game movie whose source material ripped off another movie?

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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