"Computer games are rubbish, and movies based on computer games are doubly rubbish" - Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 5live
"Automatically we know what you think, because it is based on a computer game" - Simon Mayo, as Mark prepared to review Silent Hill
It is a well-known maxim far beyond Wittertainment that films based on computer games have historically been of exceptionally poor quality. Certainly the Super Mario Bros movie got things off to a terrible start and the likes of the Street Fighter, Tomb Raider and Doom movies hardly improved matters.
However, the question of whether computer games themselves are of an equally poor standard has been a very vexed one. Mark has rarely got as cross as he did when reviewing the movie of Silent Hill:
"ANOTHER FILM FROM A COMPUTER GAME THAT DOESN'T HAVE A STORY AND PLEASE STOP SENDING ME LETTERS SAYING I AM blaming the computer industry for the decline of Hollywood - I'm not! Listen, ok? Engage. Brain. Now. Here's what I'm saying. Making movies out of computer games doesn't work. It doesn't mean computer games are bad, computer games are fine and dandy and brilliant as computer games. I've never played one, I don't know anything about them - fine. Computer gamers - I'm not criticising computer games. Please listen to what I'm saying. That's fine. It's the MOVIES BASED ON COMPUTER GAMES that suck. Now STOP SENDING ME ANNOYED EMAILS SAYING I'M CRITICISING COMPUTER GAMES. I'M NOT!"
The problem was that Mark was using alternative facts when he said "I'm not criticising computer games" because he had in fact said, while reviewing Doom, that "computer games are rubbish." When there was a backlash against this sweeping piece of generalisation, Mark tried to clarify that he never said computers games were rubbish, he had only said films based on computer games were rubbish. By happenstance, this was contradicted when his rant about Doom was played as part of the rant in the kitchen - quoting back at him his words "computer games are rubbish, and films based on computer games are doubly rubbish." Mark then - to use a phrase that wasn't in existence at the time - doubled down, saying "I was right the first time."
Nevertheless, the hornet's nest had been truly stirred. In the wake of the Doom rant, Eamon from Sony emailed to say that just because Hollywood can't make a decent movie, it didn't mean all computer games are rubbish - but Mark demanded an example of which one wasn't, and when the email couldn't reply (what with being an email), Mark said his point was proven. A huge, bulging bag of mail followed, taking Mark to task for having "dismissed a whole medium of entertainment". Simon suggested Mark had been "flippant" but Mark bridled and said he was deadly serious; Simon had to rein him in and remind him it was his programme. Another email said Mark's attitude was like condemning films because Joel Silver, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay are allowed to make movies; Mark countered that "all those people have made good films".
What may not have helped was the way that Mark referred to people who play computer games: "watching Doom I could feel this tidal wave of social inadequacy wash over. I actually started to get acne as a result of the screening; I'm smelling bad body odour and anoraks." An addendum to the Doom review was that Mark doesn't want to play computer games; doesn't want to watch someone else playing computer games; and thrice badly doesn't want to watch them being played on a big screen which could be showing The Ninth Configuration or Ben-Hur.
Around nine months later, Silent Hill came out (see above). Like Doom, this was a horror movie based on a computer game. Although it is forgotten now, it was actually Silent Hill that was really the trigger for the Death of narrative cinema trope that ended up taking Ice Age 2 with it, almost as collateral damage. Indeed, it is Mark's review of Silent Hill in the Observer in which he first develops his "death of narrative cinema" theory.
This attitude towards computer games persisted into the late 2000s - not helped, it has to be said, by how poor films like DOA: Dead Or Alive and Max Payne were - until Mark was taken to task by Charlie Brooker. "Dripping sarcasm," Mark had dismissed the Nintendo Wii on Newsnight Review and Brooker included it in a Gameswipe breakdown of what is wrong with mainstream critical attitudes towards videogames.
However, although Mark continued to be consistent in his refusal to play computer games (claiming he was too old to understand them), it does not mean his cultural awareness no longer extended to them. By 2009 he was savvy enough to spot the similarities between The Lovely Bones and Super Mario Galaxy. Later he drew parallels between the stairwells in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug and Minecraft, and also the cast of I, Frankenstein and extras from Assassin's Creed. Eventually, The Culture Show persuaded him to actually play LA Noire, from which he took the idea of the freedom to just walk around a beautifully-created artificial environment, and wished he had been able to do the same in the city of San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6.
Charlie Brooker, meanwhile, later stole Mark's idea for Smurfahontas from one of the Good Doctor's live shows.
None of this is to say, however, that the list of films based on computer games (Driver, Hitman (without Her)) got much better until very recently, when notable exceptions occurred with Duncan Jones' Warcraft - hated by fans but supported by Mark - and the Michael Fassbender-starring Assassin's Creed.