By Patrick Keller
In the months leading up to its release, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN, based on the long-running video game series, was hailed as a wonder of technological achievement. Reports surfaced that dozens of programmers spent more than a year animating just the lead character’s hair, while other sources claimed that the programmers took about three weeks to do the hair, and spent the rest of the year trying to look busy when anyone was looking. Regardless, with a four year development period, at a cost more than $130 million, FF arrived as the most ambitious video game adaptation ever created. Subsequently, when the film made an estimated -4 cents its opening weekend, a lot of hopes were dashed, not the least of which were those of little Billy Daniels, age six, who was forced to resign as Columbia Pictures’ Head Accountant.
What went wrong? Were audiences turned off by the director’s bold, innovative use of tedium as a central component of his action movie? Or was it the reviews from the likes of Gene Shalit (who called the film “a giant, steaming bag of mouse puke”), Kenneth Turan (”like a scenic tour through Hitler’s colon”), and Roger Ebert, who famously quipped that the film made him want to savagely beat a mime to death with his bare hands, just to feel alive inside again? (That summer’s string of brutal street mime deaths in the Chicago area were later proven to be a complete coincidence, and hilarious.)
That said, FINAL FANTASY is far from the worst-received video game adaptation ever to hit the screen. Many were quickly produced to cash in on fads, while others were so awful that they never even made it to production. Here are some of the worst of the worst…
CASTLEVANIA: A lone hero takes on the most horrific being ever to walk the earth, a timeless, evil creature, a destroyer of countless men. Long in development, the film actually stalled long before the release of FF when producers were unable to negotiate a reasonable fee for Cher’s likeness.
DONKEY KONG: Shortly after the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” craze of the late 90s, Warner Bros. developed a game show where players attempted to answer a series of questions while an enraged ape threw barrels at them. The show was shelved in the United States over safety and animal rights concerns, but went on to be a huge success in Japan, where it goes by the name “Super Happy Bam-Bam Donkey Punch!”
SPIDER-MAN: THE MOVIE: THE GAME: THE MOVIE: Released direct-to-video, this film was actually just two solid hours of watching some kid (played by Kieran Culkin) attempt to beat this game, punctuated by surprisingly foul language that invokes, at various times, sex with animals, relatives, dead mimes, friends’ relatives, furniture, “the pan-roasted corpse of Pia Zadora,” Dickens characters, and even very small rocks. In one of the more pointless wastes of money in cinema history, producers actually commissioned their own version of “Spider-Man: The Movie: The Game” for the film.
MIKE TYSON’S PUNCH-OUT: Produced almost two decades after the original game hit the streets, this movie is little more than a video of a destitute Mike Tyson offering to beat up random strangers on the streets of Prague for money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people get beat up regardless of their decision.
DIG DUG: Deviating considerably from the source material, apparently someone at Paramount thought that audiences desperately wanted to see a short, fat man (Danny DeVito) fight crime using a bicycle pump.
CONTRA: This little-seen documentary attempts to prove that President George H. W. Bush was involved in giving power-ups and extra lives to the Nicaraguan rebels.
BLADES OF STEEL: With no plot to speak of, this project went through dozens of scripts before producers realized that most of the original game’s appeal stemmed from getting into fights and hearing the occasional awkward, synthesized speech from the Nintendo. The resulting plot found a group of former boxers who are drafted by a failing hockey franchise owned by a tobacco company. The fight-prone players all get throat cancer and have to use electronic voice boxes. In an effort to be socially conscious, one of the boxers turns out to be a gay robot astronaut from the future.
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