The art of the mockbuster: Good artists copy, great artists steal
The art of stealing art is a long lasting one -- since the dawn of the civilized era, people have been copping other people's ideas and running with them. On some levels, there's no real shame in it, but when stealing is turned into a profitable business, things start to get a bit wonky. Today, we have entire industries devoted to the mockbuster, the clone and the knockbuster. How do they do it? By skirting copyright ever so slightly they're able to deliver people what they want: big-scale entertainment at home or on the go.
Every form of media has companies that do this, but for our purposes, we'll be looking at two examples of companies doing it the right way and the wrong way. On the chopping block today will be The Asylum, perhaps best known for Transmorphers, and Gameloft, best known for titles like Guitar Rock Tour, Gangstar: Miami Vindication and N.O.V.A..
Now, when you look at the lineup of The Asylum, you'd likely assume it's all about directly copying pre-existing movies in the cheapest way possible. That's only partially true. The purpose of Asylum movies is not to directly copy; it's about copying the covers and names of movies.
None of its movies share anything other than a name with the blockbuster equivalents. The purpose is to confuse people at home for long enough to pick their movies off the shelf and take them to the counter (or start up a Netflix stream). It's a bait-and-switch tactic. Transmorphers has literally nothing in common with the Michael Bay movie other than the fact it's about robots beating the shit out of humans. Where Transfomers tries to make us believe these robots just showed up, befriended the stupefied Shia Lebeouf -- who also happens to score a date with Megan Fox -- and save the day, Transmorphers takes place years after the robot Armageddon and features a far more interesting lesbian sub-plot.
The same goes for Sherlock Holmes. Where the blockbuster version had something to do with Robert Downey Jr.'s dumb problem solving, Asylum's was far more interesting. Not only was it about Sherlock solving a mystery, it was about how he punched an octopus, rode a Tyrannosaurus Rex, defeated a dragon and beat up a steampunked Iron Man. Seriously, here's the trailer to prove it.
Asylum takes dumb movies and makes them dumber. That's its purpose in this world. When Roland Emmerich masturbated all over the pretentious pile of shit that was 10,000 BC , Asylum countered with 100 Million BC , a far better movie that was all about time-traveling scientists who end up in 70,000,000 BC (no, that's not a typo) and who bring back a Carcharodontosaurus back to the present. Which of those two movies would you rather watch?
Then there is Gameloft, the videogame equivalent to Asylum.
Just like film, videogames have a long history of copying and stealing ideas from each other. There is an entire market for clones and knockbusters in the world and Gameloft has taken advantage of that in the mobile space.
If you own an iPhone or an Android, chances are you've seen these games and it's likely you've purchased at least one. They just launched Order & Chaos Online, a game so similar to World of Warcraft we can probably present the trailer with little added comment.
What Gameloft does is take console or PC games and create mobile versions of them. Unlike Asylum, it doesn't bother to do it as a statement about the industry or to trick consumers, and they apparently have no sense of humor whatsoever. Gameloft copies preexisting games and make them available on other platforms. Here are a few of the most blatant examples:
Left: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Right: Gangster: West Hustle
Left: Shadow Guardian. Right: Uncharted
Left: Hot Shots Golf 2 Right: Let's Golf 2
The problem with Gameloft and what sets it apart from Asylum is that nothing Gameloft does sets it apart from what it's copying. If its games added time-traveling lesbian dinosaurs, that would be another story -- but they don't. They take an existing game, its mechanics, the basics of the story and its visual style and they port them over to iPhones and make a buttload of money. In an interview earlier this year, Gameloft CEO Michel Guillemot defended the company's practice: "The video game industry has always played around with a limited number of themes. There is maybe one new idea a year," he continued, "If a type of game is not available, then you should make it. The damaging thing is if you do a bad expression of a good idea."
His argument is essentially the same as Asylum's. Asylum provides a home viewing experience for movies inspired by theatrical releases -- Gameloft provides mobile experiences for games otherwise not available on mobile devices. We'd take issue with the line, "there is maybe one new idea a year," if we thought Michel Guillemot spent any amount of time playing and copying anything but blockbusters, but the idea that, if "a type of game is not available, then you should copy another and make it available" is a bit absurd.
Just because Starcraft isn't on iPhone doesn't mean a company should make Starfront. It's not like it's that difficult to come up with your own creature designs and units. They could have easily made a space-based real-time-strategy game without completely copying everything about Starcraft. Here, we'll do it for them: Instead of a bug-race, make a dinosaur race. Instead of space-marines, make an army of lesbian warriors. Instead of sentient race of robot samurai, make a race of satellites turned-sentient warmongers. Boom. Done -- there's your fucking game.
Which one is right and which is wrong is up for you to decide.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.