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Lights, Camera, Gameplay

Cover of "The Machinist [Blu-ray]"

Cover of The Machinist [Blu-ray

Conventional wisdom marks 2010 as the year when video games finally conquered the silver screen, thanks to a pair of movies. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is arguably the first global smash to feature tutorial sections. Its use of worlds and levels managed to rile older viewers, and its ambiguous ending owes a great deal to the branching storytelling embraced by video games. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World goes even further, borrowing the structure of video games down to the climactic boss battle — which is lost and then replayed — as well as their visual language.

But this assessment is unfair. Not only does it malign Dennis Hopper’s underrated work as King Koopa in Super Mario Bros. and the collected oeuvre of Uwe Boll, it overlooks the fact that many common video game tropes started in movies and have been used there for decades.

The set-up of 2004’s The Machinist, for instance, is right out of a video game: our cadaverously thin protagonist (Christian Bale) finds himself in a world at once familiar and deeply foreign. He slowly comes to understand the mystery at the core of his existence by solving puzzles left for him by unseen adversaries. Put that on an Xbox and watch the cash roll in.

Or consider film noir, a genre to which March 32nd pays homage. (I’m the house noir expert thanks to my work with the Film Noir Foundation, a sterling organization that welcomes your support.) It features more than a few movies in which the main character, typically a veteran of World War II, suffers from amnesia and must make sense of his own past and the world around him while dogged by enemies who seek his destruction. Random examples off the top of my head: High Wall, Somewhere in the Night, and the Raymond Chandler-penned The Blue Dahlia.

Here’s a plot for you. You wake up with no recollection of who you are. All you have to go by is the inventory of items in your possession. Each one sends you on a quest. Taken together, they will explain your nature. And the answer they yield may not be to your satisfaction.

Any number of video games work variations on that story. It’s also an accurate description of what unfolds in The Power of the Whistler, a B-movie from 1945. Time for an adaptation.

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