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Dear Film Critics: Comparing Bad Movies To Video Games Is Ruining Your Credibility



This is a notice to all film critics that you need to step up your game when it comes to comparing movies to video games in your reviews. You're not paying attention. You're still doing it wrong, and it's getting embarrassing. 

The most recent round of movie-to-video game comparison fails with the release of Neil Blomkamp's terrific "Elysium," a special-effects heavy, science fiction action-adventure film filled with high tech gun-play and big ideas. And as a result, ripe for a few of you reviewers to totally miss the point yet again.

Here, one of your rank and file says of "Elysium," "None of the characters are particularly memorable or worth caring about which means that any of the scenes meant to generate poignancy fall flat. Ultimately, 'Elysium' is yet another shallow, dumb blockbuster that could easily be turned into a video game."

Fox News' Justin Craig, while not as harsh, your comment isn't any better, "People expecting another 'District 9' or who expect a little more substance from their science fiction films will most likely be disappointed by 'Elysium,' but those who like their videogame-style sci-fi shoot-em-ups will have no problem here."

Both of you are calling out the weaknesses of "Elysium" by comparing the film to video games and intoning that games are "shallow and dumb" and those who would enjoy video games won't mind the fact that a movie might be lacking in substance.

Such remarks usually get made by somebody with little knowledge of what it's actually like to play video games.

I want to help you with that. 

"Elysium" is the latest, but not the first, film to draw the comparison

Many of you have repeatedly over the years made the comparison, and those picked out here in this story are only a small sampling.

In an AP review for the 2009 film "Raid: Redemption" you — the film critic — made a similar comment when you said, "Small amounts of backstory bleed out of the action, but there's little propelling things beside the simple kinetic kick of the film's video game-like plot, the next guy coming around the corner."

Joe Neumaier of New York Daily News, you're off base when you say, "'World War Z' the film, however, feels like a video game. It’s merely fast-moving flesh-rippers with clicking jaws giving chase." 

Have you ever played "The Last Of Us" or any of the episodic "The Walking Dead" games? Both are compelling experiences that do the overexposed zombie genre better than the film-adaptation of "WWZ," which wasn't nearly as good as the book it was based on. The book did not feel like a video game, but it probably would have worked better as one than a film.

Leonard Maltin, you're guilty as well. From your 2004 "Van Helsing" review: "After a b&w prologue that pays homage to classic Universal horror films, this noisy, interminable, video-game-like movie discards all semblance of story or characterization." 

The fact that you compared "Van Helsing" to video games is an insult to video games, and even nine years later that statement still stings.

Brothers A Tale Of Two SonsWhat many of you don't seem to recognize, is that a video game can actually pack more substance and emotion into three hours than a movie can.

A game such as "Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons" is such a compelling, emotional experience with a deep plot that even with only three to four hours of game-play, it left more of an impact on me than any film I've seen this year. And I'm not the only one.

But you seem to think all video games feature "Call Of Duty" shoot-ups and machismo or "Killzone" aliens and "Halo" space marines and generally lack that emotional connection with the viewer/player. They don't. Even in many of those big-name games the emotional connections, plot, and overall experience goes beyond the cliché and grabs you in ways a film simply cannot. 

Susan Granger, your "After Earth" review implies that when a filmmaker writes a long backstory for a movie, then it must be for the video game tie-in. Just because there's a lot of backstory written about a movie, doesn't mean it was created for a video game spinoff. Nobody wants more "After Earth," gamers included. 

When a movie has bad special effects, that doesn't make it like a video game

Movie-to-game comparisons like those with "Elysium,""World War Z,""After Earth," and "Van Helsing" are nothing new, but you've also failed when you've tried to compare unrealistic special effects in film to that of a game. For example, this gem comes from David Edelstein'sNYMag's 2009 review of the dud "Transformers 2: Rise Of The Fallen" where he likens some of the effects to "video game weightlessness."

Video game weightlessness? Dave, have you played "Portal"? Tried out the physics in a "Red Faction" game? What gaming experience exactly are you basing this "weightlessness" issue on? 

Richard Lawson of The Atlantic, you unfortunately throw up a brick in your review of "The Hobbit" titled "The Hobbit: Like One Bad Video Game," where you point out that what was great about the previous "Lord Of The Rings" movies is that they have an elegant, painting-like wonder and the new one just looks like a video game.

BraidThe issue with your analysis and analogy is that there are some incredibly artistic games out there that don't actually look or feel like video games. "Braid,""Limbo," or "Killer 7" are all prime examples of great art direction in a video game.

They are but a few of many vibrant and immersive titles that exist "somewhere between imagination and the real world.""Braid" actually looks like a painting in motion. 

Watching a bad movie isn't like watching somebody play a video game

Over the years, you've compared the inability to connect emotionally to a movie to watching somebody else play a video game. Efilmcritic's "Avatar" review called it impossible for the audience to have any genuine connection with the heroes "beyond the kind one might develop while watching someone else play a video game."

Circling back around to the game "Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons," my wife watched me play through all three hours. She was completely enthralled. She is by no means a "hardcore gamer." She enjoys puzzle and cooking games on her smartphone. But she developed a connection with the unfolding story of Brothers in the same way she might have with a Harry Potter film. She participated in solving the puzzles in the game and helped me — as the controller of the main characters — move the story along to its heart-wrenching ending.

So Richard Roeper, when you say a movie is "relentless and monotonous" and that watching it is "like watching somebody else play a video game!" maybe that's true for some games, but in general that's a false statement. There are many people out there who would tell you that watching somebody else play a "Halo" game is more entertaining than watching "Battle Los Angeles." 

Some of you just be hating

Rex Reed, here's looking at you. Your "Battleship" review goes out of its way to make the video game connection:

"As another cookie-cutter ripoff inspired by comic books and video games (this time, Hasbro’s naval-combat pencil and paper-cum-board-turned-video game), you’re better here than with the idiotic Marvel’s The Avengers."

The movie was inspired by a board game. Not a board game turned video game, but a board game that happened to be made into a couple little video games. You're stretching, reaching, and failing to make the connection.

"Now, in a grave, last-ditch effort to join the youth brigade, they sit around playing violent video games and discussing the merits of endless installments of Iron Man, The Avengers and The Wolverine. Bring back Ray Bradbury." - Rex Reed, Pacific Rim review.

Worse still, your "Pacific Rim" review stereotypes those who might be interested in the movie with such an intensity that it makes the reader wonder if you actually have any idea of who the main demographic is that tends to read about movies online. Here's a hint, they sit around playing video games and discuss the merits of endless installments of "Iron Man,""The Avengers" and "The Wolverine."

Your review also implies you've probably never played a video game in your life. Those same fanboys and gamers you're trying to stereotype are also the same ones reading Ray Bradbury obsessively, who you want to bring back.

Even if every one of your stereotyped lonely dorks who love violent games went to see "Pacific Rim," that's not enough to account for the $97 million it has earned domestically, and certainly doesn't account for the $247 million it's raked in internationally. The world's taste in entertainment might be more varied than you realize. Maybe a lot of folks even like video games.

Rex, stop hating. It's childish and does nothing but make you look like a critic who's so set in his ways that he has to go out of his way to insult people. 

Your homework assignment

For those with knowledge of video games — even a rudimentary knowledge — consistently reading the misused analogies by film critics is grating and quite honestly, insulting. 

Luckily, there is a solution to save you from continuing to make yourselves look like you're out of touch.

Go into your kid's room and play some of their games. Try to get the hang of it and play something all the way through even if your thumbs don't initially cooperate. 

No kids? Then get to a friends house who has a PS3 or Xbox 360 and fire up "Journey" or "Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons." Neither game will take long to finish, so even for those with shorter attention spans they're both doable. Borrow "Bioshock: Infinite,""Uncharted," or dive into the "Mass Effect" series if you're really feeling ambitious. The list goes on. A little research goes a long way.

Oh, and "Candy Crush" doesn't count. You get an F if you try to pass that one off.

As entertainment writers, it makes sense to have a well-rounded understanding of the different mediums does it not? You read books I'm sure. You go to live theater. You can probably even appreciate art and photography. How is it, then, you still have no clue how to reference what is a $70 billion entertainment industry

It's time for you to understand what exactly it is about those darn games millions of people play that they love, and why, just maybe, you need to avoid weak analogies and transparent attempts at being clever for marketing cover quotes.

SEE ALSO: People are spending millions of hours every month watching others play video games

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