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Video Game Movies Hit Home: Anatomy of a 'Fantasy' DVD

18 Oct, 2001 By: John Jimenez


Gaming companies have long tapped Hollywood for game ideas and vice versa, but never has the correlation seemed as strong as it is now.

Several summer movies hitting video this fall have game origins. And the advent of game machines, such as PlayStation 2, that play DVDs in addition to games, only adds to the confluence of the two entertainment forms.

Final Fantasy, which drew in $32.1 million at the box office this summer, is based on a popular gaming franchise; and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the $131.1 million box office title starring Angelina Jolie, wasinspired by the long-running Tomb Raider games.

The relationship presents an interesting challenge for movie studios.

“The film is totally unrelated to the games,” says Mike Stradford, v.p. of DVD programming and content for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, about Final Fantasy. What it does have, he says, is the “philosophy andspirituality” that is the basis for the games. Final Fantasy comes out on VHS and DVD Oct. 23.

DVD is a technology that meshes well with video games, providing exciting opportunities for the release, Stradford says. Columbia TriStar has been working on the Final Fantasy DVD since lastNovember.

“We were trying to expand the audience beyond the core demographic of gamers but we wanted to make sure we gave the hardcore gamer what theywanted,” says Stradford.

In that vein, Columbia loaded the DVD with an interactive documentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on the title’s unique animation,and a number of segments viewers can access on issues including Gaia theory, the philosophy underlying the film; development of thecharacters; and scale comparisons of the ship in the movie to the real-life space shuttle.

Expanded biographies and filmographies with video segments are extras Stradford believes will entice casual fans.

“Fans of Final Fantasy are going to buy the DVD regardless,” he says. Still, the technical extras are likely to appeal to them as is a trailer for the game Final Fantasy X.

To further exploit the game-movie tie-in, the studio is expected to release another DVD version of the film specifically for the PlayStation 2. That release will allow viewers to change camera angles, among other gamer targeted extras.

The theatrical run of the film, however, was less than spectacular.

Square Co., the company that produced the film, is struggling to recoup $137 million in production costs. The film’s disappointing run sparked the company’s announcement it will quit the film business to focus solely on video games. Sony Corp. announced its video game unit is taking a 19% stake in the company.

That’s in line with expectations, says analyst Pat Moren of Alexander &Associates. “Video games that go to film, the franchise doesn’t really carry much weight with the mass audience.” It has to have star power or a big budget, he says, like Tomb Raider, or be targeted to a niche audience, like an anime release.

“It might carry over into home video,” Moren says, particularly DVD. “DVD is kind of more or a collector’s medium, which is kind of related to gaming.” He says he expects the Final Fantasy DVD to do fairly well.

When a franchise starts as a movie, though, they tend to fare a little better, says Moren. “Films that are turned into video games do betterbecause of carrying the movie franchise name,” he says.

If that’s the case, the biggest movie of the summer, Shrek ($265.9 million box office), is inspiring what could be one of the biggest video games coming up.

Though the game, scheduled to come out next month as one of the launch games for Microsoft’s new Xbox, has nothing to do with the plot of the movie, DreamWorks was consulted about the game, particularly in terms ofcharacter development, says Kelly Sooter, head of domestic home video atDreamWorks.

A game release is important, she says, because, “The more you can experience the franchise, the more you satisfy the customer.”

Sooter believes TDK Mediactive, creators of the game, will benefit greatly from the Shrek name because, “The Shrek movie has broader audience appeal” than most games, making it likely that casual gamers will pick it up.

“The brand recognition is incredible,” says Andrea Frechette, the brand manager of Shrek for the Xbox. “The Shrek brand is still building momentum and I think that we will experience a second wave of consumerawareness around the time of the home video launch.”

Frechette says TDK released Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown for Game BoyColor and it has been very successful.

Both video game companies and movie studios hope the relationships are mutually beneficial, but thus far, retailers have given varied reports.

“We had a spike in June on Tomb Raider [when the movie was in theaters] and then in July it went back down,” says Anthony Pensiero of Academy Video in Greenwich, Conn. “I guess the awareness was there when theywere promoting the movie.”

Pensiero says the Final Fantasy games are hard to judge because they’re popular all the time. He says typically games are helped by movies, but not the other way around.

Kelly Aguire of Action Video in Medford, Ore., says she was surprised she didn’t see a spike in game rentals this summer when Lara Croft and Final Fantasy were in theaters. She expects Shrek to be a differentstory.

“I expect young people are going to come in and ask about the game,” she says.

Timothy Berhow of Adventureland Video in Mandan, N.D., says the Final Fantasy movie didn’t help the games because they are very involved andmore of a cult attraction.

Not so with Shrek, however. “That’s the type of game that’s going to be more popular with a larger crowd,” Berhow says. He expects the game to benefit greatly from the awareness the movie generated.


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