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Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret – Crank and The Dark Knight Are Video Game Movies

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“Video game.” The term brings to mind all manner of connotations: To a teenage boy it might conjure images of huge, awe-inspiring spectacle. To a middle-aged movie critic, it may represent empty, insane violence. Both positions have their points. And for that reason, movies can relate to video games even when they’re not the direct result of one. Consider these four flicks, all of which have been described using the v-word, but nothing to do with an actual video game. Whether or not such comparisons are complimentary, well, that’s for a higher gaming power to determine.

Crank (2006)
Crank may be the only movie on this list whose video-gaminess (by God that will be a word one day) is actually intentional. The first chapter in the “Jason Statham has only 90 minutes to live and must keep doing increasingly insane things to keep his body and the audience’s attention going” saga includes a few subtle references to the interactive arts (Statham hides his hitman job from his girlfriend by telling her he’s a video game designer), and a few not-so-subtle ones (after the credits, an 8-bit version of Statham can be seen running around a video game world, shooting and punching people until his pixel-animated heart explodes. The movie’s high-octane, over-the-top tone perfectly matches that of retro games like Contra and Ninja Gaiden, and it’s nice to see the filmmakers not only recognizing the connection, but actively celebrating it. Hell, the sequel literally starts with the protagonist getting an extra life!

300 (2007)
A cursory glance at the Rotten Tomatoes page for 300 makes two things clear: Reviewers thought the comic book adaptation felt like a video game, and that was not a good thing. Their criticism is justified: The movie’s computer-rendered backgrounds and slo-mo battle scenes are more than a little reminiscent of modern interactive fare like God of War or Dynasty Warriors. Even the gore was digitally inserted — making every sword slice feel as if it had been triggered by some invisible player mashing the X button. In a world built entirely out of computer-generated imagery, focusing entirely on repetitive sword-fighting and bloody spectacle, I can see why critics felt 300 belonged on an X-Box rather than in a movie theater. What I can’t see is why that’s a problem.

Transporter 2 (2005)
Jason Statham makes his second appearance on this list with a movie UGO described as possessing “an intense video game aesthetic.” This is a very kind way of saying that in the world of Transporter 2, the laws of physics bend and break whenever Jason Statham tells them to. How else could he remove a bomb from the bottom of his moving car by forcing it into a barrel roll, thereby scraping the undercarriage against the top of a crane and knocking the bomb to detonates harmlessly below? Where else but in a video game universe could a sexy assassin (wearing lingerie and sporting an Alice in Wonderland tattoo) make a helicopter explode in a cloud of CG fire and smoke just by shooting it with a handgun? Transporter 2 so ludicrously stretches the laws of believability that it only makes sense to compare it against video games, which have been doing that sort of thing for decades.

The Dark Knight (2008)
In his review of Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel, Peter Travers took time to express his thrilled horror at the way the Joker “treats a stunningly staged bank robbery like his private video game with accomplices in Joker masks, blood spurting and only one winner.” Despite implicitly insulting video games, Travers’s observation encapsulates the Joker’s chilling indifference to (and enjoyment of) violence. Indeed, the villain’s eerie eagerness to control and dispatch roughly half the citizens of Gotham is reminiscent of the kind of apathy a gamer might exhibit while killing off his or her character in The Sims, or leveling an empire in Civilization. If Gotham is totally under the Joker’s control, who’s to say he isn’t manipulating it with a Wiimote?

Anthony Burch is the features editor for and the co-writer and director of the video series, “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” He recently completed “Runner,” his first artgame.

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