First up, a quick disclaimer: I hate spoilers. I'm sure no one likes spoilers (though there seems to be one hell of an appetite for them, if the internet's anything to go by – and unfortunately it is), but I hate them. Nothing gets my goat more than a friend going “check out this film! You won't believe the devastating scene at the end of the second act!”. Brilliant. Now I'm totally prepared for devastating scene at the end of the second act. You unimaginable penis. Best case scenario? It lives up to the expectation, and I go: “oh yeah, X was right”.
Which is what they want, by the way. All would-be spoilers are needy little urchins, clamouring for your attention and approval, desperate to piggyback on and leech off a film's achievements, claiming they called it and understand it, like the validation-hungry, glory-seeking guttersnipes they are.
Worst case scenario? I'm totally underwhelmed by what otherwise might have been a pivotal and life-altering moment in a landmark picture and will never enjoy it in the way it was intended. Way to go, you afterbirth.
The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed my tolerance for spoilers is lower than most. While anyone would agree that Angus Abbot telling you the ending of The Sixth Sense when you told him you were going to see it the next day and were desperate not to know makes him a colossal cunt without any redeeming features, (no you get over it!) I get pretty annoyed if people tell me a film is even good - unless I specifically ask them. Then it's my fault, and I can go suck it. Anything that affects my perception of what the film might be is a gross irritant, and is to be avoided at all costs.
"He did what?"
Right then. Unless you're completely mentally absent (and really, if you are, go home. I'm not sure there's much for you here), you'll have figured out that there will not be spoilers in this review. Incidentally, the implications of my abhorrence for spoilers; re: my personality - and lack of ability to form my own opinions unless in a nigh-on impentrable vacuum - have not gone unnoticed, but are for another time. I will be talking about Wreck-It Ralph in the broadest sense. There will be no discussion of the events of the film. But I will be telling you what I thought of it. If you even care (and really, if you don't, go home. There's definitely nothing for you here). So here goes.
Toy Story for videogames. It's an easy comparison to make, but it rings true. Wreck-It Ralph takes the core concept of “what if X were real”, turns that X from toys to video game characters, and runs with it. And how it runs. Amongst the many great things it does, it has the one thing I really, really hoped it would: it tells a great story. Everything else is window dressing. Really, really beautiful, well-observed, and respectful window-dressing, but thank Formby the windows are present (and spotless). The same way a £10 documentary can tell a great story, so can a multi-million dollar animation. But this Disney film, as with all the Pixar greats (for the record, anything other than Brave and Cars) never loses sight of the tale it's trying to tell.
And yes you are correct, germ: I'm not going to tell you what that tale is – go see the film, it's wonderful – but there are two more excellent things about Wreck-It Ralph:
One - It justifies its use of videogames as a setting. We'll come back to this later.
Two – It doesn't forget to be a film.
There have been many gut-wrenchingly terrible movies based on games. I can't even be bothered to list them, as 99% of them are just rancid. Special mention though to 1994's Double Dragon which almost made me cry, so utterly devoid of merit was it. The reason being? They didn't understand what made games games, and they tried to lazily shoehorn scenarios and characters from this dimly-perceived world into a filmic structure that didn't suit them. Every art form has its idiosyncracies: theatre, film, comics, games, shitting on a wall. They're all different, and approach their means of delivery differently.
Go. Fuck. Yourselves.
There are two ways a cross-media adaptation can go. Let's take films about comics, as I can't bear to talk about Super Mario Bros or Street Fighter. Go and watch them if you hate yourself.
One mistake bad films about comics make is shown in the Watchmen route. They pick a work that is utterly, perfectly suited to its original medium – some might say its pinnacle – and try to wrench it into a completely different one, without making the requisite changes.
There's a reason for this. If you're going to adapt a work, you pick a popular one, as that's the way to share fanbases, increase profit, and so on. Fine. But if you have a rabid, slavering, loyalist fanbase that loves the pre-adaptation piece of work more than they love their own mothers, you have yourself a Sisyphean task trying to please them. How can you cram every single detail they love into a 2 hour film? You can't. Ok, why then bother walking the tightrope for those dribbling wretches' approval? Because, unfortunately, they probably still live with their mothers and have a ludicrous level of disposable income; you want a slice of that juicy virgin pie. (By the way, I use “virgin” here to disparagingly describe someone with an overt passion for something – the implication being this precludes them from intercourse. Just so you know.)
This will strangle a film, like it did with Watchmen. Unless a filmmaker is free to take liberties with the source material, it's never going to leave the comics page, or the computer screen, or the stage it was first performed on. Film is a visual medium, like comics, but it differs in important ways, such as passage of time. You can spend ages admiring a beautifully composed Gibbons panel when poring over Watchmen, soaking up its detail and colour. In a film, you've got a whole bunch of stuff to get through, and you're really going to struggle if you linger on shots for any longer than is dramatically necessary. Plus, in the case of something as seminal as Watchmen, you have a huge number of now-iconic panels, which fans are going to demand you include. Which ones? Depends on the fans. Know this: whatever you do, some spotty-bottomed gremlin is going to be pissed off. It's a thankless task.
The other way comic-to-film adaptations can fail is going in the opposite direction and ignoring the source material entirely. Wanted, for example. If you do that, why bother using it in the first place? It could still work, but fans are being tricked into seeing it. If they like it: lucky escape; if they don't, prepare for backlash.
Not pictured: a shred of relevance to the source material.
Either way is dangerous: empty name-checking is the same level of uselessness as rigid adherence; it doesn't make the film its own entity and as such renders it obselete.
Which brings me to the third way: make your own world based on your source's principles.
This is easier said than done with a stand-alone story; some worlds are too specific to be treated as grand analogues like this. But with a whole medium? More feasible. Take the deep-seated concepts and ideas of a whole stinking art form, and make your own tasty analogue. Which finally brings us to Wreck-It Ralph.
There are loads of videogame characters you may recognise in Wreck-It Ralph. But none of them are important to the plot, bar one short sequence. Disney's team have very wisely opted to create their own analogues to the videogame favourites we know and love. Wreck-It Ralph himself is reminiscent of Donkey Kong, with Fix It Felix Jr. fulfilling the role of Jumpman (the precursor to Mario in the original Donkey Kong arcade cabinet). This gives them the freedom to do whatever they like, without worrying about lawyers breathing down their neck, saying “Mario would never do that”, etc etc.
Any characters that appear have a reason to be in the scene, as set up by the rules of the film, or provide a cutaway gag that adds colour and doesn't slow the pace. They are used respectfully and non-invasively.
When Alan Moore wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a comic where characters from Victorian literature (Allan Quatermain, The Invisible Man, Mina Harker et al) are treated as an early super-team, he intentionally kept the presence of really big name characters like Sherlock Holmes as minimal as possible, for fear they would overshadow the plot. Wreck-It Ralph does the same, having cameos from lots of famous villains (and a few heroes), but avoiding them ever stepping into the main plot, which is concerned with new creations. Mario himself is notably absent, allegedly (though this has been denied by director Rich Moore) due to voice actor Charles Martinet's lack of willingness to participate. He's been slated for the potential sequel, but his absence is a good thing.
Lock up your princesses.
All this means Wreck-It Ralph sidesteps the main potential pitfalls of an adaptation, and, as mentioned before, justifies videogames as a setting for a story. By this I mean it embraces the idiosyncracies and unique aspects of gaming as a whole, and uses them cleverly to serve the narrative. I'm not going to spoiler anything because I'm not a c**t, but suffice to say gaming concepts like glitches, bonus levels, avatars, code and many others all get a look in. And they never feel gratuitous.
Which comes back to my initial point. Wreck-It Ralph is all about story. It tells a cracking yarn with heart and resonance, which just happens to be in the world of videogames. They've chosen the perfect vector for the tale they want to tell. This one just happens to have not been done before, and certainly not approaching anywhere near this level of panache and joy.
Let's think about the ramifications for gaming in general. Put simply: we're at the stage now where a major, profit-seeking (of which I approve, by the way) massive-budget mainstream animation company can make a film about videogames, and it doesn't feel weird, counter-culture, or pandering to a niche fanbase. There's a newness to the subject matter, simply by virtue of it not being covered in cinema before, but other than that, it's just a great film that happens to be about videogames. And this is truly the best thing about Wreck-It Ralph. Setting aside the brilliant voice acting, tight structure, spot-on casting, glorious attention to detail and sheer love of the source material, Wreck-It Ralph proves games are sufficiently in the mainstream to command big blockbuster money.
This is a good thing.
Oh, and Bruce Willis is Keyser Soze and it was all a dream on the Planet Of The Rosebud.
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