Saturday, May 14, 2016

Video Game Movies Worth Watching

If you took your vid kids to see Ratchet & Clank, and you’re already tweeting about The Angry Birds Movie, which hits theaters Friday, you may be wondering what other video game films are worth your time and money.

Sadly, most are terrible. If you suffered the indignity of watching such train wrecks as Super Mario Bros.(1993), Double Dragon(1994) and/or Alone in the Dark(2005), I truly feel sorry for you.

To save you the pain and anguish of taking in more such turkeys, I’ve spotlighted some video game movies that are actually quite good, or at least a lot of fun. Most of the titles listed are based around video games (or have some connection to them) and not directly on one of them, but I'm shooting for entertaining value here, not fidelity to a particular franchise. Also, there are many quality video game documentaries, such as Chasing Ghosts and The King of Kong, but I'll save those for another day.

So without further ado, grab your favorite gaming snack, kick back on the couch and check out one or more of these fantabulous flicks.

Tron (1982)
Rated PG

Tron wasn’t the first film to employ CGI, but it was the first to use extensive computer animation, and it still looks dazzling today. Jeff Bridges stars as arcade operator Flynn, who hacks into a mainframe computer to prove that his game designs were stolen. He gets beamed inside the digital world of the Master Control Program, where he engages in gladiator-style battles featuring throwable discs and speedy light cycles.

The Citizen Kane of video game movies, Tron is beloved by most hardcore gamers, especially those of us who grew up during the golden age of the arcades. In fact, it spawned a great arcade game of the same name, released later that year.

WarGames (1983)
Rated PG

A film the late, great Roger Ebert called “scary and intelligent,” WarGames has more to do with computer games than video games (though we do see our hero playing Galaga), but it’s just so darn good I had to include it. The always-charming Mathew Broderick plays genius David Lightman, who hacks into a military super computer that confuses a nuclear war game for reality, potentially starting World War III.

A product of its time, WarGames tapped into our collective Cold War angst and fear of advanced technology, but it did so in easily digestible, hugely entertaining fashion.

Cloak & Dagger (1984)
 Rated PG

Filmed in San Antonio, Cloak & Dagger is an espionage thriller starring E.T.’s Henry Thomas as Davey Osborne, a kid with an imaginary friend: super spy Jack Flack. Dabney Coleman plays the dual role of Flack and Osborne’s recently widowed father, who has a hard time relating to his son.

One day, Davey witness the murder of an F.B.I. agent who, before he dies, gives him an Atari cartridge containing important military secrets, leading to action, intrigue, shootouts and some cool scenes on the River Walk and inside a vintage video game store. Sincere performances by Thomas and Coleman hold the film together.

The Last Starfighter (1984)
Rated PG

Clearly influenced by Star Wars, and clearly a major influence on Ernest Cline’s best-selling ArmadaThe Last Starfighter stars Lance Guest as Alex Rogan, who longs for adventure far from home. The teen gets his wish when he’s recruited by aliens to engage in battle against the dreaded Ko-Dan Armada.

Rogan is singled out because of his mad skills at a coin-op game called Starfighter, which, unbeknownst to him, is actually a testing tool for potential starship fighter pilots. Solid acting, likable characters, a fun premise and nifty CGI make for an intergalactic good time.

Mortal Kombat (1995)
Rated PG-13

Incorporating elements of Midway Games’ Mortal Kombat (1992) and Mortal Kombat II (1993), this movie isn’t a masterpiece, but thanks to snazzy special effects, a cool techno-pop soundtrack and exotic far eastern environments, it will entertain most fans of the famous fighting franchise, which sparked controversy during the Clinton era with its gore and violence.

Given its PG-13 rating, the movie is tamer than its coin-op cousins, but it stays relatively faithful to the source material of over-the-top mixed martial arts battles featuring Johnny Cage, Lui Kang, Sonya Blade and the gang.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Rated PG-13

In 2065, alien spirits infest the Earth, and humankind faces extinction. To save the day, scientist Aki Ross must “collect eight spirits in hope of creating a force powerful enough to destroy the alien presence and pure enough to protect the planet.”

The first film populated by realistic looking computer generated human characters, Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within had mixed reviews upon release, and it continues to divide fans of the popular RPG video game series. However, I unabashedly enjoy its then-cutting edge visuals and its retro sci-fi storyline, which would seem right at home in a Robert Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)
Rated PG

Easily the greatest animated video game movie ever made, Wreck-It Ralphis delightful from beginning to end, paying homage to games of the past and present in fun, playful fashion. Ralph, a hulking, pixelated brute, lives in shame in a classic-style arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., where he pounds holes in a high-rise apartment building, only to be thwarted by Felix, a beloved handyman.

Tired of being a shunned villain, Ralph escapes the confines of the repressive coin-op machine, resulting in a fun, frolicking adventure yarn that junior joystick jockeys and AARP-qualifying arcaders alike can enjoy.

Seven more solid choices:

The Wizard(1989)
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)
Summer Wars (2009)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Ace Attorney (2012)

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