Games don’t really transition well onto the big screen. It’s understandable why people would try to fight the odds though, since videogames and films, in spite of the differing ways you experience them, tell their stories in similar ways and in a loose way go about their business in similar fashions. More so than ever, games try to tell their stories in a very visually visceral way; film directors subtly try to reciprocate the armchair gaming experience with more videogame-esque cinematography.
On top of this the progression of CGI technology is helping to bridge the gap between the two media forms, films exhibiting special effects near beyond comprehension and the realms of the filmic construct with the gaming industry slowly clawing its way out of uncanny valley and into the real field.
While the debate rages on as to whether the likes of a Modern Warfare game or a Battleship film are steps back from leaps forward, with gaming fans doing things like this, Ubisoft are looking to find an alternate way to find a game/film formula that proves wholly successful. Establishing recently their foray into motion pictures, the aptly named Ubisoft Motion Pictures is a film studio off the back of a gaming studio that will be personally taking on the near impossible task of faithfully turning their videogame franchises into films.
Assassin’s Creed’s very cinematic style and intricate story have lent themselves conveniently to Ubisoft’s transition, with Lineage a rare exhibition of complete potential game-to-film success. Ubisoft have since been looking towards a series that perhaps lends itself less to the silver screen but has the potential to tap directly into the collective cinema-goer subconscious secretly craving intelligent action. Ghost Recon: Alpha is the product of their search for success: taking it at face value, it’s better than anything Uwe Boll will be able to achieve in his lifetime.
Acting as an extended introductory cutscene of sorts, Alpha sees four Ghost Recon soldiers (some of who will feature in Future Soldier) track an army general to an abandoned Russian oil depot and stay out of sight while a mysterious transaction goes down. Upon discovering that the object passing hands is a threat, the soldiers intercept; cue a firefight and a chance for the special effects department to have a field day.
The department’s efforts while impressive in some areas leave a little to be desired. The camouflage and blood splatter effects are admirable yet a few occasions involving the introduction and subsequent fight with a ‘Big Dog’ discredit the ‘official feature’ status of Alpha and give off a faint ‘fan film’ vibe. While trying their best, a few of the actors playing the Ghosts embrace soldier machismo all too eagerly and with guns firmly in hands forget for a few seconds that they’re on set, leaving lines to be delivered unconvincingly.
That said, the tension’s suitably high during the stealth and Alpha is quite an entertaining spectacle, even when the camera’s uproariously charging around the spontaneous battlefield while bullets fly and everything comes to a head. The cliffhanger too is intelligently played out, a spicy finale to set the stage for Future Soldier’s first mission. The whole affair is coolly directed by French duo François Alaux and Hervé de Crécy, with input from producers Ridley and Tony Scott: the expert backing helps keep things running smoothly and the camera work has been given an appreciable effort.
As a bite-sized twenty-minute prequel/companion piece to Future Soldier, this is a superb way to fill in details. As a standalone piece this might not hold up so well – mildly dubious special effects and acting splash muddy water on new shoes – but this is unlikely to be viewed in any capacity other than alongside the game, and suitably so. This is hopefully a stepping stone to something bigger – as slyly hinted at – and is a promising sign that Ubisoft should be able to handle the direct conversion of their IPs to full length films.