He was, for a time, the movie director everyone loved to hate.
Even by his own reckoning, German writer and filmmaker Uwe Boll largely kickstarted the video game movie movement and the results were mostly not great.
He turned beloved adventure game Alone in the Dark into movie tripe, House of the Dead into a plotless gore fest, Bloodrayne into wasted time and In the Name of the King — based on the video game Dungeon Siege — into schlock. He became the gamer’s boogeyman, a brutish director who could with a turn of phrase and uncanny ability to raise money, take a beloved video game and transform it into critic-fodder.
While Boll would argue that some of his work was overlooked, unfairly criticized based on its source material, or just critically gutted for sport, moviegoers and critics seemed to universally hate his films.
His work in the past few years shifted away from video game movies and toward action flicks. His name, reviled for so long by video game fans, dropped from their radar and last month he finally, publicly called it quits.
Uwe Boll’s film-making career was not laid low by game fans, nor by critics but by Boll himself, finally giving up on what he says is a broken industry.
I last spoke to Boll back in 2006, in the heyday of his movie making. As I said at the time, “while the German-born director’s ability to turn a mediocre video game into a truly reviled film is notorious, what will likely cement his position forever in the hearts and hatred of video game fans worldwide is his ability to keep making them.”
And so it’s his sudden decision to stop on his own terms that drags Boll back into the video game limelight.
In an email interview this week, Boll told me why he decided to stop making movies and pondered his life as gaming’s movie-making pariah.
The great flop
I ask Boll whether he would change anything if he had it all to do over again. Would he still make all of those video game movies? When he responds, he seems to be telling me that game movies were not a choice, but rather the only way he could get the funding he needed to do what he loved: Make movies.
Boll landed his first video game adaptation, House of the Dead, after Heart of America — a film Boll calls his “great movie” — flopped, he said.
That first gaming title came to Boll as a zombie flick, something he said he’s always wanted to do. That it was based on a video game was secondary.
“I got House of the Dead and it made a lot of money,” he told me. “My investors after this only came in with money if I would make a video game movie.
“I would [have] loved to had this budget for my better movies like Assault on Wall Street or Rampage.”
House of the Dead made just $13.8 million in theaters, but still more than the cost of creating it. Boll, like the people who watched the movie, wasn’t happy with the end result.
Stuck in a situation that allowed him the money to create films, but only if he did it based on games, Boll seemed to do his best to embrace the medium.
Back in 2006 he defended video games, saying that they were, like a book or a comic, a great foundation for a movie.
“You have a lot of settings, wardrobes, costumes, production design, fighting style, the mood of a game, some character story points to work with,” he said at the time. “So to have a video game as the basis for the movie is not only a promotional thing, but also it can have a lot of things you actually can use to help create a script.”
Next, Boll grabbed the rights to Alone in the Dark.
He thought he had more creative control this time around, but still he didn’t like how the film turned out. Speaking with me last week, Boll seems to blame both the movie and the critical response to it, for the vitriol most video game fans seemed to have for him at the time.
“I think a lot of gamers hated me because I started with Alone in the Dark and it didn’t turn out to be a great movie,” he said.
That bad movie was followed by others. By the time he got to a movie adaptation of over-the-top shooter Postal, most movie-goers had written him off. While the 2007 movie still received an abysmally low score, there were some fans of the film and its odd sense of humor.
“I love Postal and I think it’s the only comedy based on a video game,” Boll told me. “… I think overall it is maybe the best video game-based movie ever made.”
With that, I guess you could call relative, moderate success, Boll went in to make more video game movies. After that was Bloodrayne 2 and 3 and In the Name of the King 2 and 3. There was also a Far Cry movie.
Fear Effect, Baldur’s Gate
During the mid 2000s, Boll’s was so busy he was turning away film projects, he said. For instance, he decided to pass on Eidos’ Fear Effect because the publisher didn’t sell the rights to Hitman to Boll. And at the last minute, Boll decided to not pick up the rights to Baldur’s Gate, which he had planned to turn into a film, he said.
Boll also started to shift away from game movies, something he told me had nothing to do with the source material.
“The rights to buy video games for movie adaptations got higher and higher and the market went lower and lower,” he said. “That is the reason I felt we should walk away from that market.”
After gaming he started working on politically charged action movies like Tunnelrats, meant to examine the Vietnam war; Assault on Wall Street, which was Boll’s take on bailouts; Darfur, which tackled the genocide in the Sudan; and Auschwitz.
Boll’s last movie was and will forever be Rampage President Down.
“It’s a political thriller that’s basically saying that we are going under,” he said. “In 80 years the world is history. Our terrorist, Bill Williamson, kills the president and [the] rest you need to watch on your own.”
During his promotional tour for the movie, Boll announced he was getting out of the movie making business.
Why, after so many bad reviews, so many critical pannings, is Boll suddenly deciding to pull the plug?
“The market is dead,” he told me. “Without a good DVD business anymore there is no hope for recovery — streaming, Netflix, etc is all great for the customers, but for producers the money you make with them is 10 percent of what we made with blockbuster videos.”
He says he won’t make anymore movies, won’t write anything for the movies.
“I’m out,” he said.
Instead, Boll will focus on selling other people’s movies through his business and focus on Bauhaus, his German restaurant in Vancouver.
“I love food and traveled a lot,” he told me when I asked why he decided to open a restaurant. “Now living in Vancouver, I missed this kind of high-end German food.”
GTA: The one that got away
Now, with his film career behind him, I asked Boll if there were any video games he always wanted to make into a movie, but didn’t or couldn’t.
“Grand Theft Auto,” he said. “I would do it like Postal.”
And what about all of the video game movies that he had no hand in making?
“I like Silent Hill 1 and Hitman 1 was also not so bad,” he said. “The second parts I hated. Also what’s funny is that World of Warcraft (and you remember they refused to let me do it) was finally made and is shit.”
Boll said looking back at his film career and the many movies he made, most of them not tied to games, he thinks it’s stupid that he will likely be remembered for those creations tied to gaming.
“But what should I do,” he said. “Between 2002 and 2006, I made the most video game-based movies and I think that was too much for the fans. On the other hand, I started the whole wave of video game-based movies.”
Then what sort of director do you want to be remembered as, I asked him.
“I did a lot of movies and some were only for entertainment and some were maybe a little more important,” he said. “Like Darfur and Rampage.”
I wrapped up the interview by asking Boll if he had anything he wanted to say to all of those video game fans out there, the ones he feuded with, while trying to turn their favorite games into something they might like to watch as a movie.
“You are safe now, no more Uwe Boll video game-based movies,” he said. “Enjoy the so much better ones, like Silent Hill 2, Prince of Persia, Resident Evil 1, 2, 3 and 4 and Warcraft.