Videogame movies do not have a very distinguished reputation. From 1994’s Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme to 2005’s Doom with The Rock, videogames-
No figure in this field has been the target of more disparagement than German-born cameraslinger Uwe Boll. After a series of unknown, largely unseen thrillers (Sanctimony, Blackwoods, Heart of America), Boll’s career hit the heights of infamy with the 2003 adaptation of House of the Dead.
House of the Dead began life in 1996 as a first-person light gun shooting game released to arcades by Sega. Boll was brought on board as director for the $7 million film adaptation. The chintzy budget left Boll with a no-name cast and little money for special effects. He solved the second problem by splicing in 32 pixilated clips from the actual videogame—which, seven years after their creation, looked particularly dated.
Film Threat called the movie, “so bad, so grievously awful in so many ways, that you’re convinced that it was meant to be a comedy.” It wasn’t, but the paltry budget actually allowed House of the Dead to turn a profit. (It ended up making $10 million at the box office.) For better or for worse, Boll saw his future.
He followed up House of the Dead with Alone in the Dark, another horror-based videogame adaptation, largely indistinguishable from its predecessor. This one did have a $20 million budget, however, which allowed the hiring of D-list actors Tara Reid and Christian Slater. Unfortunately, the film only pulled in $5 million at the box office. It was later named Worst Film of 2005 by the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards and was nominated for two Razzies (Worst Director, Worst Actress). The Austin Chronicle summed it up rather succinctly, saying, “I don’t think a German’s gotten this many bad notices since Hitler.”
That didn’t deter Boll, who followed Alone in the Dark with his take on the sexy vampire videogame Bloodrayne. BloodRayne, starring Kristanna Loken, Michael Madsen, Sir Ben Kingsley and Meat Loaf, boasted Boll’s biggest budget yet ($25 million). But fans of the game were quick to complain. First of all, Boll had relocated the videogame from Nazi-era Germany to 18th-century Romania. Second of all, he cast the guy who won an Academy Award for Gandhi and the guy who sang “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”
BloodRayne was scheduled to open on a relatively wide 2,500 movie screens in January of 2006. Unfortunately, the film’s newby distributor, Romar Entertainment (in their one and only theatrical outing), was only able to produce 1,600 prints. Those prints were apparently shipped out to random theaters, most of which had not even booked the film. In the end, only about 600 theaters screened BloodRayne on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $2.4 million, or less than a tenth of its budget. This led to the still-rampant rumor that Boll’s money men are pulling a Mel Brooks’ The Producers on him. Urban legend has it that Boll’s films are so bad, they’re guaranteed to lose money at the box office and are, therefore, a great tax dodge.
After the expectedly ugly reviews of BloodRayne, many tagging Boll as the World’s Worst Director, the fed-up filmmaker issued a press release stating that he would challenge his five harshest critics each to a 10-round boxing match. To be eligible, the critic must have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the Web, in 2005. Boll eventually did fight and defeat several writers, but was further criticized for turning down any detractors who were in good enough physical shape to actually pose a challenge.
In the end, you’d think this might urge Boll to steer a different course in his career. You’d be wrong. In January 2008, Freestyle Releasing is supposed to distribute Boll’s $60 million fantasy film In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, based on the Dungeon Siege games. The film stars Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Matthew Lillard, Leelee Sobieski and Burt Reynolds. After that, it’s on to Postal, BloodRayne II: Deliverance and Far Cry—all of which are based on videogames.
But is Boll deserving of any more criticism than, say, Paul W.S. Anderson (director of videogame flicks Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil and the upcoming Spy Hunter and writer/producer of the proposed Castlevania)? Is House of the Dead any more bereft of plot and character than Doom? Well, kind of. Anderson’s film are fairly loyal to their source material, and about the worst you can say about them is they’re guilty pleasures. True, both House and Doom suffer from the same root problem. The videogames that inspired them consist of little more than a floating gun shooting at monsters, and that isn’t much to build a script around. But Boll has earned his reputation as both an inept filmmaker and an egotistical jerk.
Witness this collection of classic Boll quotes. On House of the Dead’s penny-pinching climax: “Let’s be honest: a massacre this big has never been done before in this genre in the history of film.” On working with Tara Reid: “What is disappointment, disappointment for all the fans is that Tara Reid is not losing her bra. But this is a typical prude U.S., err, uh, thing, like, uh, the actresses are not willing play nudity normally, and it’s very disappointing for us Europeans and for the U.S. audience, I think. Good that Kristanna Loken in BloodRayne is full naked.” On the upcoming Postal: “There is no way you can ignore Postal—it’s one of the funniest and most important films of the last decade!”
Until Postal arrives and proves all his critics wrong, the debate rages on: Uwe Boll—Genius or Moron? You can join Boll supporters at www.uwebollfanclub.com, hobnob with Boll haters at www.uwebollisantichrist.com or take the more neutral tack at www.bollbashers.com.