?Ah, Full Motion Video: its name falls like a soothing rain. While the brief craze of putting actual video footage in computer games did result in some undeniable classics (7th Guest, Myst, the Journeyman Project for example), it unfortunately also resulted in a lot of forgettable/awful shit titles, some of them barely qualifying as “games”. This isn’t the amazing thing: what’s amazing is the amount of well-known actors that made appearances on our computer monitors during this krezzy time in videogame history. In some cases, you’d think they would have found better uses for their talent, but if I were them I’d just be glad I made it out of the battlefield of the ’90s in one piece.
The biggest success of this era in terms of good games that managed to net big stars without sacrificing their gaminess was obviously the Wing Commander franchise and its spinoffs, which will get considerable attention here. But there are other cases where established actors — sometimes very established — threw themselves in front of a green screen for, shall we say, slightly less noble enterprises. I doubt most if any of the actors on this list ever actually sat down and played through these games, but some of them deserve a real pat on the back if they did.
10) Dirk Benedict
The original Starbuck and Face from The A-Team made an appearance (starting here at around 4:30) as Antharia Jack in one of my most fondly remembered FMV games, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, a goofy but fun capstone to the “graphical trilogy” of Zork games that included Return to Zork and Nemesis. Part fantasy adventure and part spoof of Myst and all its clones, ZGI was crammed with silly and whimsical little touches, and Benedict’s performance, specifically his scene with the titular villain played by Eric Avari, helped keep everything light and fluffy yet still interesting as a game. Speaking of celebrities, this game also featured Micheal Mckean as your companion Dalboz (implied to be the protagonist of the original three Zork games) and an inexplicable Rip Taylor, best known to younger nerds for making Morgan Webb and many viewers extremely uncomfortable on the 1,000th episode of X-Play.
9) Tia Carrere
Cassandra Wong may have had a few moments in the spotlight since the early ’90s, courtesy of Relic Hunter, Curb Your Enthusiasm and a supporting role in Lilo and Stitch, but it’s still only a little surprising to see her running around on a big ugly spaceship in this sci-fi adventure/puzzle thing, just two years after the glory days of Wayne’s World 2 (and two years before Kull: The Conqueror. Shudder). She certainly gives it her all to salvage what amounts to one long cutscene punctuated with boring puzzles (although as far as I know, the developers at least had the decency to avoid dragging out the Towers of Hanoi in there).
8) Mark Hamill
Hamill has appeared in many an electronic entertainment, usually as a voice-actor, showing up in everything from the first Gabriel Knight game to Arkham Asylum to Crash Bandicoot. As a live-action PC actor, though, he made his indelible mark portraying the playable protagonist of Wing Commanders 3 and 4, Colonel Christopher Blair (he also had a cameo role in Wing Commander: Prophecy as the same character). A lot of people give Hamill flack for not actually being a good actor in Star Wars but he has a good amount of gravitas in this role along with his manly stubble. 3 and 4 also featured John Rhys-Davies in the fleshy fleshy flesh as Paladin and Biff himself, Tom Wilson, as the lovable asshole Maniac.
7) Dennis Hopper
A mystery-adventure game of some repute, Black Dahlia takes place in the 1940s and weaves a tangled basket of a story that begins with the titular murder but somehow involves Nazis, Norse gods, magic and mind control. I’m sure Hopper took one look at the script and rubbed his hands together in excitement (after toasting with a Pabst Blue Ribbon, of course). Unfortunately he doesn’t play a demonically possessed Nazi, and his character is far too restrained to let loose with the Hopper magic we all know and love, but at least he’s there. It’s always nice to see him.
6) Tim Curry
The man to turn to when you need a little spike of jowly, over-the-top ridiculousness, Curry has lent his talents to quite a few games and cartoons: he was the villain of Toonstruck and one of many notables to contribute to Wing Commander III. For my money, however, his most memorable FMV turn was as the sole bright spot of the otherwise abominable Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster. This game had an interesting premise (you are the doctor’s creature: not a criminal but a wrongfully executed man burdened with the memories of your daughter and determined to bring her back and escape) but shot itself in the reanimated foot by forcing you through a tedious mazes almost immediately. I still have this CD-ROM, though, and it is solely so I can show others this opening sequence where Curry praises his creation and then, weirdly, offers “a toast” by injecting himself with what is probably meant to be adrenaline but I like to imagine is heroin directly into his puffy British neck. But despite the man’s amiable nyaaaaaaaah-ahhhhing, the whole affair is boring, aimless and pointlessly dark (in the literal sense, as in “hard to see”). Not even the scene where your character vomits up a zombie chicken leg justifies all the pointless pointing and clicking, which is kind of a shame.
5) Malcolm McDowell
Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster was later packaged in a jewel case with another similarly titled game, Mummy: Tomb of the Pharaoh. The box this game came in said “featuring Malcolm McDowell”, but somehow my twelve-year-old self remained unmoved. Then we got to his big intro scene and I said “Oh. The bad guy from Mr. Magoo.” He has far greater video game credits, however, having appeared as Admiral Tolwyn in Wing Commanders III and IV, and it is for these achievements that gamers most respect him. He’s usually the bad guy in something, and although the fourth game saw him as the de facto villain, it afforded him a little more depth than usual, especially in the final debate scene in which Mark Hamill’s Colonel Blair must successfully persuade the senate not to declare war. For a series best known for action and space combat, this is a surprisingly cerebral ultimate battle, in which you must avoid attacking the Admiral too overtly in order to let him reveal himself. Make too many wrong steps and you get convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Like his co-star here, McDowell continues to lend his voice to gamedom, most recently appearing in Fallout III and the final God of War game, though the decline of FMV has robbed us of such electric moments as this.
4) Christopher Lloyd
Lloyd is an interesting case: not only did he star as the player character of the cartoon adventure game Toonstruck, he did so in a third-person title, which means you get to control and move him around in his little red jacket. This whole list could be populated by the roster of this game alone (Dan Castellaneta, Dom DeLuise, Tress Macneille, and the then-ubiquitous Ben Stein to name a few), but Doc Brown deserves his own mention for the amount of screentime he gets. He plays Drew Blanc, a struggling cartoonist drawn into the Oz of his sickeningly saccharine creation and forced to prevent Tim Curry’s Count Nefarious from turning the cute and happy denizens of this land into corrupt versions of their former selves. The cutscene animation is of high quality and there’s a significant dose of humor that was probably meant more for the parents of the target audience, including a chiffon-loving flamboyant scarecrow (a “carecrow”) and a somewhat disturbing scene of barnyard animals in bondage. Fun for the whole family!
3) John Hurt
By today’s standards, Tender Loving Care isn’t really a “game” so much as a bad Cinemax movie occasionally interrupted by an interactive DVD menu with quizzes, but any discrepancies you have with classification go out the window once the Elephant Man himself rolls onscreen. Nothing against Tim Curry, but this Hurt guy was kinda nominated for two Academy Awards and just embodies a higher plane of actorly class and dignity (at least when he’s not running from CGI killer ants in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Hurt also appeared as an alarmingly nonchalant bartender in the latter-day Wing Commander installment Privateer 2: The Darkening, one of its most star-studded entries. And speaking of which…
2) Clive Owen
Aw, look at the little Clive Owen! Look at his little nose! Owen may have been 31 when he starred in this well-produced sequel to the Wing Commander spinoff Privateer, but he looks surprisingly baby-faced as Ser Lev Arris, who gets wrapped up in a classic man-with-amnesia cosmic-noir plot involving cryo-sleep, babes in silver helmets and a twinkly-voiced Brian Blessed. Lord have mercy. Opinions of the game differ, but the cutscenes at least look good, filmed as they were at the same studio as the James Bond films.
1) Christopher Fucking Walken
I’m sorry to show this to you again (yes, John Rhys Davies was in this too, as were Paul Giamatti, Ossie Davis and Burgess Meredith). I know many of you are probably so so sick of Ripper by now, but there’s just no getting around it. I wanted to post another Privateer 2 clip, since Walken also shows his face in that, but you can’t beat the sight of one of the most recognizable actors of his generation hamming it up in a Dick Tracy outfit. And unlike some of these actors, Walken looks like he’s having a hell of a ball speaking in pauses and swearing for no real reason. Generating nearly as many quotable lines as Pulp Fiction, Walken’s performance as “Detective Christopher Walken” is already the stuff of nerd legend thanks to infinite youtube clips, so let’s just blast the Blue ?yster Cult and hope that when he gets his Lifetime Achievement Oscar, there’s at least one clip of him talking about how un-fucking believable this guy is.