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Detecting a hit – How to get a video game movie right

Sam Thomson outlines where Pokemon Detective Pikachu's investigation needs to go to be a successful video game movie

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The road to video game movie hell is paved with good intentions. From their birth back in 1993 with the gritty neo-realist disaster Super Mario Bros, video game movies have had a tough time winning favour with the public and critics alike. While they do seem to be trying their best, countless flops have led to the general opinion that a video game movie with any artistic merit is a white whale. The infamous ‘curse’ of video game movies seems to stem from a history of rushed releases, poor script writing and over-reliance on CGI. We are in desperate need of something to put a breath of fresh air into this tired genre.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, coming May 2019, is a promising new contender in the video game movie arena. The film stars Ryan Reynolds in the eponymous role in his first voice-acting role since the questionable high-speed flop that was Turbo – and everyone has been left asking why the director of Shark Tale is still getting work in Hollywood. Detective Pikachu, however, appears from the trailer to be a tonal shift from these two, combining live-action and CGI elements to create the fictional noir cityscape of Ryme City. The plot follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young lad who has outgrown his Pokémon trainer ambitions but is now on a mission to find his missing father. After a world-class detective Pikachu discovers Tim is the only human who can understand him, the two team up for an eventful rescue mission.

“Give us a fresh take on an old series. I love Pokémon as much as the next kid, but we’ve seen it before”

Although the animated Pokémon movies are still being released consistently, and the movie is actually an adaptation of the 2016 Nintendo game Detective Pikachu, it’s no coincidence that the first live action Western release comes only a few short years after the world-wide sensation Pokémon Go, which landed on our smartphone screen in 2016. Search traffic data shows an enormous spike in searches around Pokémon Go’s release, and capitalising on trends is what Hollywood does best.

But however popular the franchise, this translation from game console to cinema screen seems to be a difficult one to perfect. Since video game movies need to appeal to die-hard fans and complete newcomers alike, the story will inevitably be needlessly convoluted or unbearably boring depending on the viewer. It could be, disappointingly, that video games usually don’t have a massively great story to begin with, seeing as the player is supplemented with interactive gameplay to maintain their attention.

In my opinion, here’s what Detective Pikachu needs to do:

  1. Give us a fresh take on an old series. I love Pokémon as much as the next kid, but we’ve seen it before. From the trailer it does seem like we are heading in this direction. But…

 

  1. Keep the focus on the familiar characters from the games. Hate to say it, but I have a feeling it might be hard to get very invested in a lead character with a name like Tim Goodman, so let’s see some action from the little critters introduced into a world we’ve never seen before.

 

  1. Keep the visual style interesting, but don’t focus too heavily on visuals. You only have to look at the CGI horror show that was Warcraft or the even more outdated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. If Pokémon Blue can be one of the best-selling games of all time back when Pikachu was made up of about 20 pixels, we can see that sometimes simplicity is best.

 

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Although a few of the more serious video game movies have had reviews of ‘Average’ rather than ‘Awful’, such as Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider, the Pokémon series certainly lends itself to a lighter tone. Again, I think the casting of Ryan Reynolds shows that the movie is already heading in this direction.

 

In conclusion, my hopes are high for Detective Pikachu. The trailer honestly got me excited to see it on the big screen. If it turns out to be a well-made, entertaining movie I urge everyone reading this to go see it. Maybe together we can change the course of cinematic history and save video game movies from their downward spiral.

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