In the previous three entries, I've looked at reboots that were successful, either popularly or financially. Even The Phantom Menace more than paid for itself, despite some major problems. This time around, though, it's time to look at a not-so-successful adaptation.
Movie adaptations of video games are fraught with peril. What works for good gameplay may not make the narrative sense needed for a movie. Some elements need the unreality of a video game to work and just can't be done well in a live action film. Some games may not have a narrative hook to begin with – the fighting games popular in the 80s and 90s are a good example, especially the adaptation looked at in this column.
Street Fighter became popular in video game arcades in the 80s and 90s. Many quarters were consumed as Chun Li, Ken, Ryu, and Guile fought through opponents to defeat the evil M. Bison. The plot for the game was enough to explain fighting different opponents in different locations. The game was popular enough to spawn both a role-playing game (Street Fighter: The Role Playing Game from White Wolf) and a movie.
Street Fighter – The Movie was released in 1994. It featured action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and Raul Julia in his last role as M. Bison. Among the co-stars was popular singer Kylie Minogue as Cammy. As one of its many problems, Street Fighter had every character from the video game. Every. Each character had on-screen time and got to show off signature moves.
The movie, though, couldn't decide whether it wanted to be an action movie or an action comedy. It veers from one to the other all the way through. There are times when the movie deliberately heads into camp territory. Considering that one of the writers was Lorenzo Semple, whose previous works include Flash Gordon and the 1960s Batman TV series, the camp comes from an honest place. At the same time, some of the cast didn't seem to be aware that the movie wasn't serious. The result is schizophrenic.
There are points of brilliance in the movie. Each character was able to use his or her signature move at least once. Raul Julia was delightfully over the top as M. Bison, chewing the scenery as only a seasoned pro could, with relish. And possibly mustard. The armed forces DJ heard at the beginning and during the end credits was none other than Adrian Cronauer (who was played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam). Some of the supporting characters held their own in the massive cast and did have some good, deliberately funny lines.
Overall, though, the movie failed to deliver on its promise. It didn't have enough one-on-one fights to reflect the game. The cast didn't have a depth of acting ability. At a time when movies were growing darker in tone, Street Fighter was bright, a throwback to Technicolour days.
There is a lot to learn from Street Fighter. One is that a video game doesn't necessarily translate well into a new medium. Some details just don't work outside a game environment. Another is that having well-known talent can't save a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be. (With the caveat that Raul Julia, even while fighting a terminal disease, can still bring his A-game and save a movie from total disaster.) However, attention to details can turn a movie from horrible to "so bad it's good". Street Fighter is the type of movie a group of friends can put on and heckle for fun. It should become a cult classic.
Next time, get out your dice!