2017 Movie Reviews: What If: A ‘Life Is Strange’ Story

Why is it so difficult to make a film adaptation of a video game?

We’ve seen Hollywood try time and time again to make this work, but it never does. From Super Mario Bros. to Assassin’s Creed, the filmmakers can’t ever seem to get it right.

A lot of people seem to look down at video games as a whole. Even the great Roger Ebert said that video games were not art and never could be. (Obviously, he never played To The Moon.)

But what’s interesting is that even directors who are adapting these video games don’t seem to actually care about the source material. Justin Kurzel, the director of Assassin’s Creed, admitted in an interview that he hasn’t played a video game since he was a kid, and he seems oddly proud of this fact.

Funnily enough, the only people who seem able to make video game adaptations work are the actual fans. Iron Horse Cinema has done a good job at making short films and trailers inspired by video games, while ManOnTheInternet’s Undertale The Musical is a solid adaptation of the game, despite being over four hours long.

And this brings us to Carrsan T. Morrissey, who has done the impossible. With a ridiculously tiny budget, he has made a film adaptation of the game Life Is Strange. And guess what? It’s a hella good movie.

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Now, it might seem kind of weird for me to do a review of this movie, considering that it’s only a fan film, it was released on YouTube, and it’s definitely not eligible for the Oscars. But the fact is, this is a legitimately good adaptation of the game. And I want more people to see this so that they can see how a proper video game adaptation is supposed to be done.

I must admit, I didn’t think this story could work as a movie. I thought it had way too much story to squeeze into a two-hour runtime. But the screenplay is very clever about what to cut and what to keep. The story has been simplified, but it still works as a compelling narrative.

Believe it or not, there are certain key moments in the film that are arguably done better than in the game. For instance, towards the end of the game, all of the alternate timelines that were being created were pretty confusing. The way that this is handled in the movie is a classic example of ‘less is more’.

Shelby Davis is perfectly cast as Max Caulfield. She has a very Ellen Page vibe to her, and she did a great job conveying Max’s internal struggle as well as her character growth. Skyler Ferguson also did a great job as Nathan Prescott.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is only passable at best. Now, this is to be expected given that this is a fan-made film, but it can at times be distracting. Kate Marsh’s scenes were very weighty on paper, but Abigail Van Patten’s line readings are a bit too flat to really sell her character’s depression. And as for Mads Hoofnagle as Chloe Price, she’s clearly trying her best, but she pales in comparison to Ashly Burch’s version.

Regarding the production value, it is fairly poor. The quality of the video and audio are far from perfect, and the special effects are… about as good as you would expect with this kind of budget. But there are some scenes where the low budget actually works to the film’s advantage. In particular, the way the film portrays time travel is simple but surprisingly effective.

Look, I’m not going to argue that this is one of the best films of the year, because it’s not. But I absolutely adore the screenplay, and I feel that if you took this script and gave it to an experienced cast and crew, you could have legitimately gotten a masterpiece.

You can watch the entire film here. Even if you haven’t played the game, I still think you’re going to enjoy the movie. If you can’t see past the low production value, I can understand that. But at the same time, this is probably the best example I can think of regarding how to make a film adaptation of a video game. I want Hollywood directors to watch this film and take notes. This is how it’s done, folks.

***1/2 out of ****

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