LOS ANGELES (AP) — At long last, it seems Hollywood has pushed the reset button on its approach to video game adaptations.
From the reviled 1993 live-action rendition of “Super Mario Bros.” to last year’s loathed arcade-inspired “Pixels,” big-screen interpretations of games have almost always failed to score with critics and audiences. With four films based on popular interactive series set for release in 2016, could this finally be the year video game movies win over filmgoers?
After decades of commercial and critical pitfalls when attempting to turn games into movies, Hollywood is trying out a few bold new strategies in an effort to tap the interactive medium for the latest hit movie franchise, including hiring A-list talent and collaborating more closely with game makers to rework their immersive creations for movie theaters.
“RATCHET & CLANK”
The first to launch is an animated film out Friday based on Insomniac Games’ zany platforming series for Sony’s PlayStation systems, starring wise-cracking alien tinkerer Ratchet and his witty robot sidekick Clank. The game creators didn’t simply foist their 14-year-old franchise onto filmmakers. They insisted on joining forces.
“Ratchet & Clank” features several of the interactive series’ original voice actors with a story by former Insomniac Games senior writer T.J. Fixman. The game studio also outsourced a few of their own artists to work with the film’s animators to guarantee their intergalactic romp looked and stayed true to what made the game franchise a victory.
“It’s crucial for anyone who works with the worlds and characters that we created to fully understand them,” said Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games. “We had lots of open conversations with everyone working on the project. As game creators, we always want to tell more stories. This was just another way to do that for an audience that’s hungry for it.”
Over the past 20 years, game publishers have typically handed over movie rights to Hollywood with little to no creative control. While the results have sometimes hit the mark (“Tomb Raider,” ”Resident Evil”), they’re usually unsuccessful undertakings that veer way off course from the originals (“Doom,” ”Double Dragon.”)
Shawn Layden, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, said he’s been working with Rainmaker Entertainment and Blockade Entertainment to faithfully adapt “Ratchet & Clank” and silly stealth series “Sly Cooper” into animated films, as well with his colleagues at Sony Pictures to craft live-action versions of treasure-hunting adventure “Uncharted” and post-apocalyptic saga “The Last of Us.”
“I’m old enough to remember a time when people thought it was crazy to make movies out of comic books,” said Layden. “That’s certainly changed over the last decade. The really great games now have narratives featuring all sorts of age-old storytelling tropes. It’s become another great fountain of content that can be applied across other media.”
“THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE”
The largest leap for a game-based film this year will be from smartphones to multiplexes. Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony, will spread its wings May 20 with “The Angry Birds Movie.” The full-length animated film features Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad and Danny McBride voicing a trio of feathered characters inspired by Rovio Entertainment’s mobile gaming sensation.
“Back in 2009 when we first created ‘Angry Birds,’ we made it deliberately character based so that if it were successful, we could take it beyond games,” said Mikael Hed, executive chairman at Rovio Animation studios and former CEO of Rovio Entertainment. “We actually have been holding back on the backstory of this world until now. It’s wonderful we’re going to be able to tell it now in this way.”
For a live-action version of the role-playing odyssey “Warcraft,” Legendary Entertainment and series creator Blizzard Entertainment turned to “Moon” and “Source Code” director Duncan Jones, who’s actually logged countless hours playing games from the 21-year-old fantasy series. The film starring Travis Fimmel is scheduled to debut June 10.
“It’s not unlike adapting a novel or a comic book,” said Jones. “I believe I’m a serious filmmaker. I know what it is I want to do with this movie. The source material is not what’s going to decide whether a movie I make is good or bad. It’s how I treat it and what I do with it.”
After losing its footing with the Disney film “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” starring Jake Gyllenhaal in 2010, game publisher Ubisoft launched a film division in 2011 to independently transform its own game franchises into movies. The first is “Assassin’s Creed,” which is scheduled for release Dec. 21 and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
“I think we’ve done something pretty original,” said Fassbender. “All of the stunt work, when we were out in Malta, was happening on site in real locations with stunt teams that are absolutely amazing. They were jumping from building to building in Mdina, the old town in Malta.”
Ubisoft’s dive into filmmaking will continue in the coming years with a “Splinter Cell” adaptation starring Tom Hardy as protagonist Sam Fisher, as well as a “Ghost Recon” movie produced by “Transformers” filmmaker Michael Bay. The game maker is also working to turn its hacker adventure “Watch Dogs” into a film.
With movie studios having already mined many comics and books for inspiration, comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian believes the time is right for the interactive medium to spawn a hit that outpaces “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” the most successful game adaptation in box office history.
“This is a genre waiting to erupt,” said Dergarabedian. “It’s a huge untapped resource that’s yet to be fully realized on the big screen and grab a huge audience.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/derrik-j-lang .
NEW YORK (AP) — Federal regulators will impose several conditions meant to protect online video services as they back Charter’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable and create the country’s second-largest home Internet provider.
The Justice Department approved the deal Monday, subject to court approval on the conditions, while Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a draft order to OK the combination. That leaves California’s utility regulator, whose approval is expected in May.
Buying Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks will turn Charter Communications, a mid-size cable company, into the country’s No. 2 home Internet provider, after Comcast. The new Charter will be No. 3 in video, trailing Comcast and AT&T, which bought DirecTV last year.
To preserve competition from online video services, the Justice Department is forbidding Charter from restricting what media companies make available online. The government says Time Warner has been aggressive at imposing such restrictions in contracts, and without a ban, a bigger company could make online services less competitive.
Meanwhile, the FCC is expected to prohibit Charter from charging consumers more for using more data, the way wireless and some home services are priced. Video is one of the biggest consumers of data, and caps or usage-based prices could make consumers reluctant to watch online video.
Public-interest groups have protested industry consolidation, saying it has led to high prices and will give big companies the power to undermine online video rivals. But opposition to Charter’s deal was muted compared with the backlash in recent years to Comcast’s failed bid for Time Warner Cable. That’s because a bigger Charter would still be smaller than Comcast. And Charter, learning from Comcast’s failures, has made several promises to address concerns.
What does this $67 billion cable deal mean for consumers?
WILL THIS CHANGE WHAT I CAN WATCH ONLINE?
The conditions being imposed by the government don’t necessarily make it easier for a company like Apple to launch a streaming TV service.
“The real limiter of online video hasn’t been restrictions from distributors. It’s been the self-interest of the programmer,” MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said. The traditional big bundle has lined the pockets of entertainment companies like Disney. A skinny bundle of channels online isn’t as lucrative and could steal viewers away from the fat TV packages supporting hundreds of channels.
But Moffett says the Internet video market is going to develop, and the government “wants to ensure that the distributors don’t stand in the way when the time comes.”
To that end, Wheeler’s draft order would impose additional conditions:
— If online video companies like Netflix have to pay a cable company a lot of money to connect to its network, that could keep the video business from taking off. So Charter won’t be able to charge companies to connect to its network for seven years. That’s how the deal got Netflix’s blessing. (Netflix had opposed the Comcast deal.)
— Charter also won’t use data caps or charge customers based on how much data they use, like Comcast and AT&T U-verse do.
But Charter could, for instance, raise prices on broadband sold by itself to make its cable video-and-Internet bundle look more financially appealing than buying Internet from it and a separate online video service.
George Slover, senior policy counsel for the advocacy group Consumers Union, said that while the conditions seem promising, “history has shown us how powerful companies look for every angle to avoid or weaken the conditions.”
WHAT HAPPENS TO ME AS A TIME WARNER CABLE CUSTOMER?
Charter will continue Time Warner Cable’s efforts to increase Internet speeds. Over the next few years, Charter says it will raise the minimum Internet speeds in acquired markets to a minimum 60 megabits per second, which lets you download a high-definition movie in about 10 minutes. That costs $40 a month, for now.
Charter’s prices are cheaper than Time Warner’s overall, says UBS analyst John Hodulik. But Time Warner has some cheaper deals with slower Internet speeds; Charter will get rid of most of those for new customers.
There could possibly be better customer service. Charter says it will hire 20,000 people in the U.S., replacing Time Warner’s overseas customer service representatives and its use of contractors for technicians, to provide better support. It doesn’t give a timeframe for the hires.
WILL MY BILLS STILL GO UP?
Probably. Cable companies have been passing on to customers the higher prices they pay for rights to carry channels on cable lineups, and their costs are still rising. Still, Charter will use its bigger size to seek better deals with channel owners like Disney and Fox.
But the cable industry has been consolidating for decades, and bills have only gone up.
“Cost savings to the company don’t necessarily translate to cost savings to the customer unless the company has competition that forces them to offer it,” said John Bergmayer, staff attorney at public-interest group Public Knowledge. “I don’t see anything about this merger that changes that basic dynamic.”
Charter will be the only supplier of broadband speeds, as defined by the FCC, for two-thirds of the homes in areas where it operates, according to FCC data. But the FCC is requiring Charter to reach another 2 million homes with high-speed services; at least 1 million of those homes would be in competition with another broadband supplier.
Even if bills still go up, Charter said they won’t be as high as they would have been as separate companies.
There will be a $15-a-month Internet service for some low-income households.
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