By Teague Bohlen
Yeah, Pac-Man should be on this list. But since news came out last summer that it’s back in development, it behooves us all to pay attention to what cinematic horrors might be lurking in our gaming future. This list isn’t a complete list of all the coin-ops that should be left alone, but rather the ones most in danger of having their legends diminished by poor translations to other media. It also doesn’t include the films that might actually make good flicks, like Defender, or Joust, or Sinistar, or Mr. Do. (Okay, maybe not Mr. Do.)
But these were good games, all. These games deserved to go down in history for all the good they did, not the bad films they came to inspire in some poor, misguided soul. Remember them then, for the joy they brought; not the depths to which they fell. And to the filmmakers out there who just want to recreate the fun they had playing Shinobi, and share it with the world? Download an emulator, fuckers. These are experiences best bought with a pocket full of quarters, not millions in development capital. Leave our memories alone.
10) Donkey Kong
No, King of Kong doesn’t count, because it was both a documentary and because it was patently awesome. But the underground success of that film has brought the danger of a Donkey Kong movie back to the fore — and really, the giant monkey story has been done to death (King Kong, Grape Ape, etc.). Granted, it would be fun to see how producers might include rolling barrels and fireballs that you can destroy with a mallet. And it would have interesting tag lines like “How High Can You Get?” But ultimately, this would be more Dunston Checks In than Planet of the Apes. No one wants that.
Getting to the other side of the river is frankly no basis for a film script. I don’t care how many crocs, logs, and sinking turtles in a row of three there may be in said river; there’s just no plot to it. To make this work, they’d have to include a whole backstory for the frog, and explain why he wants to get across the river–what’s over there waiting for him. He’d probably have a banjo solo and other songs, and he’d meet friends along the way, and they’d discover that across the river was New York City, and since we already have The Muppet Movie, there’s no point in reinventing this froggy wheel.
8) Robotron 2084
This game would have been a natural port to the silver screen back in the day, when Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t yet a governor and they hadn’t yet made The Terminator. Because that film series is basically the Robotron story, isn’t it? Evil robots taking over the world. The game had a little pixilated dude endlessly running away from the robots and trying to save the last vestiges of humanity; call him John Connor, and bam, you’ve got yourself a franchise. Too late now, though, by twenty-five years.
7) Dragon’s Lair
It’s rumored that Don Bluth and company have this project all set to go, but it’s caught in development hell. Of all the games on this list, this one would probably lose the least in the translation to the big screen, only because it’s already a movie–just chopped up into little laserdisc bits. But would a film version lose the tender sweetness of Dirk the Daring’s search for his beloved Daphne? Would the Lizard King look a little silly, with his dancing pot of gold? And more importantly, would all the fans in the audience look like they were having seizures as their motor memory takes over? Right, Up, Left, Left might get you safely out of the Fire Room, but you’re going to spill your popcorn everywhere.
As with most coin-ops from the ’80s, there was no real end to this game, which makes it tough to make a movie about it. But the lines from the game are just too alluring for hack Hollywood writers to insert into dialogue. Inevitably, someone would utter the words “Warrior needs food badly” or “Elf shot the potion!”, and then every gamer in the audience would simultaneously feel the thrill of fond recognition, and the shame of being the victim of easy manipulation. We’d feel so dirty. So very, very dirty.
5) Jungle King
Since this was a game that ripped off Tarzan so obviously, there’s very little point to remaking it today. (Then again, there’s no reason to remake Tarzan either, but they seem to do that every twenty years or so…) The only saving grace of this game making its way to the big screen would be to watch the behind-the-scenes drama unfold as the Burroughs’ estate sues the hell out of the producers, and they’re forced to digitally re-insert a pith-helmeted explorer over the bare-chested hero and re-name the movie Jungle Hunt.
Exactly how drunk would someone have to be to think this would be a good movie? I’ll tell you how drunk: Wes Anderson drunk. Wes Anderson could make this game into a Rushmore-like dark comedy that audiences would pretend to fully understand, and shower it with cinematic awards. It would star Jason Schwartzman as the nominal paperboy, Bill Murray as the neighbor watering his lawn, and Owen Wilson as the skateboarding kid. Why is this bad? Because it would completely legitimize the adaptation of classic coin-ops to film, and we’d never see the end of it. This entire list would come true.
A dude in space, shooting rocks so they become smaller rocks for eternity? Not exactly 2001, people. Although an Asteroids movie would have to be less dumb than Armageddon.
2) Q*bert/Dig Dug (tie)
These two are included in the same entry because they share the exact same problem in terms of adapting them to a screenplay. Namely, that nobody knows what the fuck was going on in these games. A little spaceman attacking Pookas and Fygars with what amounts to a super bike-pump? Colored pyramids with Coily, Ugg, and Wrong-Way? What the @!#[email protected]!? Seriously, what the @!#[email protected]!?
1) Yars’ Revenge
Yars’ Revenge gets a lot of credit. A lot of credit I don’t think it deserves. The game is best known for it’s bizarre story about an alien bug or bug-shaped spaceship (it’s never quite clear) named Yar, who was trying to destroy an evil Qotile with its Zorlon Cannon (like ya do). While the pronouns are quite creative, the game just involved two stages — one where the Qotile had a stationary shield, and one where its shield moved — over and over again. Even Atari game standards, this was woefully short. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to imagine Paul Walker as the galaxy’s last defense against the horrific CG-animated Qotile, in a movie that would make Freddy Prinze Jr.’s Wing Commander movie look like Shakespeare in comparison. It’d probably still make $100 milllion, which means they could do the second stage for the sequel. Whee.