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The Triumphal Return of Full Motion Video

Posted by: Randy at 5/11/2007 3:50 AM
Here's a confession from a longtime gamer and movie buff:  I love cut scenes in video games.  Ever since full motion video (FMV), and video and music data (VMD), made their PC debuts in the early 1990s, I've been a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of Hollywood's B-, C-, and D-lister integration into video games.  Critics be damned, I'm still enamored with the low-camp actors gracing clunkers like Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria and its equally chilling sequel Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh.  The over-the-top (but mostly bottom-of-the-barrel) acting, the makeup artist's wet dream of hard-gore effects, and the latter's geek chic-meets-Trent Reznor soundtrack rendered this Sierra series utterly unforgettable to my nubile, impressionable mind....



Quite inexplicably, some game reviewers start warming up their Roger-Ebert-thumbs-down muscles the moment a live actor steps onto their monitor.  Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a long-awaited (in my opinion) return to live action videos, with mood-lighting sets, and even moodier casts of stern-jawed characters.  In C&C3, you get over 90 minutes of some of Tinseltown's freshest talents rubbing elbows with some of its most venerated deities.  Michael Ironside rekindles his Starship Troopers days, a Lost Josh Halloway rocks a faux-mullet like 1990 never left, Tricia Helfer and Grace park (both of Battlestar Galactica fame) curb their latent sensuality with little luck, and Billy Dee Williams pours a William Shatner-level of exaggeration into his slippery rendition of GDI Director Redmond Boyle.

Yet some sites still managed to lob potshots at its brilliantly cast dramatis personae.  Game Revolution made predictable Colt 45 jokes about an "obviously alcoholic" Billy Dee, burning him at the stake as "the only unusual feature in [C&C3]." And GameSpy was so disenchanted by the cast that the greatest acknowledgement given the actors was that they were "familiar" (which was -- yawn -- the most overused descriptor across multiple sites).  What, did they want bona fide Oscar winners to bring the apocalyptic C&C universe to life?  The stodgy Helen Mirren (The Queen) instead of the sexy Jennifer Morrison (House M.D.)?  Would they trade the charismatically seething Joseph Kucan for Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) in the role of Kane?  That last one's a tougher call, but search your heart for the right answer.

It certainly wasn't all bad, though.  These seem to be statistical outliers in an otherwise appreciative spectrum.  Finally reviewers are embracing camp rather than berating it for what it isn't.  I'm not going to rebuke game designers for trying to save a few million dollars by using their in-game engine instead of "washed up" live actors during their cut scenes; but I'm also not going to pretend that digitally-rendered e-motions can top a human actor's art of expression -- except for perhaps the PS3's stunning tech demo of Hard Rain, but (honestly) 2nd place is nowhere in sight. 

So join me in a round of applause for the triumphal return of full motion video.  We missed you.