1 hours, 37 minutes
It’s become a cliché truism in Hollywood that video game movies just don’t work. It’s not like they haven’t tried. It would seem like a pretty obvious way to cross platforms and double your revenue stream, so video game companies and movie studios have both been guilty of trying to cram these movies down our throats.
I maintain, however, and I’m purely going on precedent here, an adaptation of a video game to the big screen is doomed to fail.
I know there are those of you out there muttering to yourself, “What about ‘Tomb Raider?’ What about ‘Resident Evil?’ What about (insert name of bad movie you happen to have a soft spot for here)?” I counter that these are not good movies, and whatever guilty pleasure we get from watching Angelina Jolie scour the globe for antiquities or Milla Jovovich fight off zombies comes more from the fact that the games these movies are based on are aping popular film tropes in the first place. “Tomb Raider” has a better chance becoming a feature film because the game is basically a James Bond/Indiana Jones mash-up liberally seasoned with girl power. And “Resident Evil” is about a deadly virus that turns the world into zombies. I wonder where they ever came up with an idea that unique? No, video game adaptations are never going to work because of the simple fact that gaming is an active experience rather than a passive one. Games come in every shape and size, from simple punching games to intricate story-driven adventures, but the one through-line is that they are interactive. No one, aside from middle schoolers just beginning to plumb the depths that is YouTube, wants to watch a video game. You want to play.
All that leads into this week’s debacle, “Angry Birds,” an animated 3-D movie that looks as though the studio spent quite a bit on. But in the service of what, I ask? If you’ve never played it, “Angry Birds” is one of the first games developed specifically for a smart phone. It’s basically an app that’s the digital equivalent of a desk toy. The game consists of you, the player, flinging birds (angry birds) from one side of the screen to the other, with the aid of a giant sling shot. You have to guestimate your angle of flight and the amount of force you’re exerting on the sling, all in order to try and knock down a series of rickety edifices built by annoying, chuckling pigs. The game is actually quite entertaining, in small doses. I have a version based on “Star Wars” that I like to play from time to time. But small doses is the operative phrase. The big screen version of this game, when you include the previews preceding it, takes almost two hours of your life. That’s way too much time spent on “Angry Birds.”
The game itself really has no story. For the spin-offs and character versions, a slight narrative is added in order to make the Angry Bird action gel with whatever story the game writers are adapting. But for the original game, it’s just birds getting flung into rudimentary houses in an attempt to knock over a bunch of obnoxious swine. For the film, the screenwriters have decided to focus on Red, an angry bird on an island of annoyingly happy birds. Red is the only bird with the gumption to tell it like it is, a trait that has earned him no friends. After a particularly explosive outburst, a judge sentences Red to anger management, which doesn’t help. When a boatload of pigs arrives, only Red seems to see these inexplicably green party guests for what they are: miscreant egg thieves. Drawing on the wisdom of his people, Red and his new friends from Anger Management seek out the island’s greatest hero, Mighty Eagle. Mighty Eagle, however, turns out to be a lazy slob and a tool, so it’s up to our ragtag team of misfits to stop the pigs in a dramatic fashion. You guessed it, they fling themselves into pigtown using a giant slingshot.
“Angry Birds” is a huge miscalculation. It’s not particularly funny, it makes little to no sense, and I’m not sure what message the film is imparting to my impressionable 1st and 3rd graders. If someone steals from you, go and destroy their entire city? This film had a small amount of potential. It has a talented cast, and the animation is very good. But the story is just garbage. What’s more, and this may be a good thing, ten minutes after leaving the theatre, most of the movie had flown from my head, its impact about as consequential as playing an actual game of “Angry Birds.”
“Angry Birds” is rated PG for mild rude humor and cartoon violence. Keep your eyes peeled for the next two big Video Game movies to come out — “WarCraft” and “Assassin’s Creed.”
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.