Has there ever been a good video game adaptation? Part 1- Silent Hill
I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. We talk a lot about adaptations, and there’s one source material that never fails to elicit utterly scathing commentary from us: Video Games. Why is this? It’s not like we’re talking about Space Invaders or something being as most modern video games come complete with elaborate plots, fully realised characters and whatnot. It should be easy as pie to adapt one, given that the material is already essentially supplied by the developers and all they really miss is anything remotely resembling competent acting. Yet I’m pretty certain that it’s never been done. Of course, it doesn’t help that hacks like PWS Anderson and Uwe Boll tend to make most of them, but surely it must be possible? And with that preamble, I launch this new series with the star contender for “passable”: Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill.
Before we start this, I have to say I adore Brotherhood of the Wolf. I think it’s a majestic piece of dumbness and quite simply one of the best French films of the last decade. So, when I heard that Christophe Gans was going to take on one of my favourite survival horror games, Silent Hill, and Roger Avary (an avowed fan of the series) was adapting it for the screen, I was excited, and yet, it just doesn’t work.
The film, to be honest, doesn’t open that promisingly. We’re introduced to the Da Silva family- Sean Bean (fucking Blade cunt) plays Christopher, and Radha Mitchell (an actress I really like) plays Rose. Their daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) is plagued by nightmares and screams constantly about “Silent Hill”. No sooner can you say “shit idea” than Rose is taking her on a road trip to the town in a misguided attempt at therapy. Things inevitably go heinously wrong, and Rose and Laurie Holden’s Cybil (not so much a cop as a stripper) are sucked into the parallel world of Silent Hill while Sean bumbles about in the real world attempting to find out where the hell his wife is.
This is, against all odds, quite a good film. Gans has a handle on the visuals and manages to recreate the look of the game perfectly. The fog swathed streets of the abandoned town are inherently eerie and he manages the contrast with the blood and rust soaked “nightmare” realm superbly well. This is a sumptuous film. He also, and all credit for this, manages to accurately recreate the various iconic monsters from the series. Sure, Pyramid Head shouldn’t appear, but if there’s one beast from the games that really does epitomise them, then he’s it, so it is fitting that he does. By faithfully recreating the look of the games he avoids one of the standard pitfalls that the likes of Anderson always make: games designers do generally know what they’re doing, and you don’t- so don’t fuck with the look of it.
The acting in this is also surprisingly good. I really like Mitchell, and think she’s excellent in the lead, and Holden has a good no-nonsense attitude. However, the best performances in the film are from Debra Kara Unger as the damaged Dahlia and Alice Krige as the completely demented cult leader Christabella. Krige in particular is a frankly terrifying fanatic, with a certain lunatic charisma and thoroughly deserving of her nasty end. Unfortunately, however, the action in the real world isn’t so well performed. Bean does his customary “plank of wood with terrible American accent” that he always does when required to do an accent, and Kim Coates detective is both completely extraneous and, well, a bit wet.
Which brings me neatly around to the first problem with this film. There’s no need at all for the entire Bean sub-plot. It’s fucking tedious watching him stumble around the ruins of Silent Hill, and nothing of interest happens in this section at all. I was thinking about the purpose of his third of the film the other day, and I’ve considered several different options, but in the end, I just can’t come up with a plausible use for it. Silent Hill is not a short film, and I’m damned if I know why they bothered tacking on upwards of 40 minutes worth of pointlessness. It’s actually indicative of the writing as a whole- irrelevant.
The writing, actually is the second problem with this film. Computer games as a whole, particularly Survival Horror, are designed to take upwards of 12 hours to finish. The player stumbles around the haunted mansion (Resident Evil) or the deserted town (Silent Hill) and gradually discovers clues, plot points and other pieces of vital information over the course of the game. It’s allowed to unfold at its own pace, and the mythology of the games, therefore, always feels natural. In Silent Hill, however, and this is also my best stab at what the Bean section of the film is for, the run time is only just over 2 hours long. Therefore, there is a need to jam the entire mythology with the cult, Alessa, the mutilated nurse, the school, the alternative dimension, the fire, etc. etc. etc. into the film. Avary and Gans had no way of doing this, so their solution (and it’s a terrible solution) is to have Rose travel down into the bowels of the hospital to confront the Beast. The run up to this is one of the more exciting scenes of the film, actually, which makes what follows even worse. Once inside, Rose meets Alessa who decides, for what feels like an eternity, to relate the entire history and mythology of Silent Hill to her. This is not only interminably boring, but as it is just before the big slaughter/ finale the film never recovers. There are rumours out there of a 3 hour cut of it that Gans did that allows the characters to uncover the origins (mostly Bean, from what I gather) without this enormous chunk of exposition, and if I can find it, then I’ll gladly give that a watch. I bet it’s infinitely better.
Overall, this is a passable film. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, and that exposition really does kill the film stone fucking dead. Nevertheless, the actors are good and do put in good performances and it is visually magnificent. It’s a tough one to grade, as this sets a benchmark for every other film that I’m covering, but all in all it is very hard to say that Silent Hill is anything more than mediocre (which makes it as good as Alien by the standards of this series). I give it a fair and balanced 2 Changs out of 4.
Well, that’s the best film I’m likely to review in this series covered. I’ve just discovered that there’s a sequel called Revelation in the works and the dude that directed Solomon Kane is helming it (Huzzah!). This could be the one that breaks the pattern.
I’ll return with an utter shitburger (probably Doom) between Christmas and New Year.