By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 1, 2012 at 12:04PM
This Friday "Wreck-It Ralph," Disney's 52nd feature-length animated film, is released nationwide. A loving, zippy homage to classic arcade games and the world of gaming, it feels more like a tried-and-true video game adaptation than actual video game adaptations (like the odious "Silent Hill: Retribution," which is also currently in theaters). In honor of "Wreck-It Ralph," we've compiled a list of five movies that play like video games even though they have nothing to do with real-life video games. Hope you have some extra quarters handy.
Concept: Aliens recruit an average teenager named Alex Rogan (Lance Guest, who, unlike most teenagers, looks like he's 38) to fight in a galactic war. Primitive visual effects ensue.
Video Game-y Qualities: Produced at the height of arcade game omnipresence, Alex is a kid who is really, really great at a video game called "Starfighter." When he threatens to break an all-time record, he's whisked away by the game's creator, played by Robert Preston (in his last screen role and in full tilt "Music Man" mode), to fight in an interplanetary war. It's the ultimate teenage wish fulfillment fantasy (especially at the time, when arcade games could be found in every suburban pizza joint from sea to shining sea), and while there's something vaguely cynical about the plot, which borrows liberally from "Star Wars," there's also something undeniably hooky and clever about it, too. Visually, "The Last Starfighter" looks a whole lot like the "Star Wars" video game that followed the film's release (where crude wireframes suggest the Death Star trenches) and countless other space combat games. And like "TRON" (which shared the video game-centric plot and a spot on this list) was one of the first big films to extensively use computer-generated imagery. While the visual effects today look pretty crude, they do, somehow, add to the video game-y quality of the movie.
Worth Your Quarters? Probably not. While romantic and wistful, at 101 minutes, it still drags, and the old-school effects do more harm than good. Although it is interesting to think about director Nick Castle, a John Carpenter protégé who just a few years before was the guy in the Michael Myers mask in "Halloween."
Concept: Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a computer programmer zapped into a video game mainframe, where he competes in a series of futuristic games and clunky exposition.
Video Game-y Qualities: "TRON" was, at least initially, inspired by director Steven Lisberger's fascination with original video game "Pong," which was an electronic game of ping-pong, and can still be felt in the sequences where combatants engage in "disc wars," hurling deadly Frisbees at one another. In a weird way, "TRON" anticipated the explosion of Internet-based games like "World of Warcraft," with people creating sophisticated avatars and living complicated, computer-based lives within the system (or "grid," in TRON-speak). While a number of video game styles are highlighted in "TRON," among them a kind of prototypical racing game where players pilot "light cycles" along a patterned board (predating things like Nintendo's "F-Zero" franchise) and the aforementioned disc games, which depict a weapons-based fighting style not unlike the "Soul Caliber" games. ("TRON's" sequel, "TRON: Legacy," is more video art installation than video game, with a meandering narrative closer to boring computer game "MYST" than anything arcade-worthy.) Today, the visuals of "TRON" (courtesy of French comic book artist Moebius and "Blade Runner" designer Syd Meade) still enchant (especially when scored by Wendy Carlos' trippy score); in 1982, though, the computer-generated imagery, then-unheard-of, was downright mind blowing. Like "The Last Starfighter," its rudimentary effects add to its charm and its place in video game history. The "TRON" video game, perhaps suitably, was (until the sequel came about) more remembered than the movie it was inspired by.
Worth Your Quarters? Definitely. "TRON" remains visually arresting and agreeably weird, even if the pacing is somewhat off and, to the more cynical out there, the effects too elementary.