The wretched ’90s strain of video game adaptations rarely made much of an effort to visually resemble the games from which they sprang. With the exception of “Mortal Kombat” — which at least made a good-faith effort to get the color scheme and fight scenes moves right — the likes of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Street Fighter” didn’t attempt much more than getting actors who looked the part and getting on with it. They were shoddy goods and it was to be expected.
The news that Atari wants to turn its 1980 game “Missile Command” into a movie, though, calls for a rethink. The plan’s to go the full-on, 3D action route, modernizing the Cold War chestnut. But — bear with me — I think they should go the exact opposite route. It should look like 1980.
I realize it’s not a majority position to call “Speed Racer” one of the finest visual experiments of recent years, but it is, because it took the cut-rate aesthetics of a lousy show and replicated them with live-action and CGI in a way that was incredibly disorienting. Few other movies of late have created visual worlds of their own: Terry Gilliam‘s bag of tricks is pretty much empty and few others seem up to the challenge of creating original visual cinemascapes. Dave McKean’s work on “Mirrormask” came close, but it was more conceptual than opulently detailed.
I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming “Tron: Legacy,” which seems poised to deliver a wholly original video-game based aesthetic. And I think that, now that the technology’s there, it’s possible to delve back into the old video games, with their vibrant pixilation and signature colors and really make something out of them onscreen.
Instead of sexing up “Missile Attack,” let’s set people adrift in a weird, nocturnal world full of oddly thin and menacing lines. Or we can get “Super Mario Brothers” right this time, with dotted surfaces, no depth perspective and unnaturally jerky jumps.
Sure, it sounds a little avant-garde idea. But hey, they somehow actually made “Speed Racer,” so it’s worth making the wish anyway.
[Photos: “Super Mario Bros.,” 1993, Buena Vista Pictures; “Speed Racer,” Warner Bros., 2008]