Another weekend, another video game adaptation. The genre doesn't have the best of reputations, littered as it is with flops like Super Mario Bros, Mortal Kombat and Assassin's Creed. The latest director to line himself up for the curse of the video game movie is Brad Peyton (San Andreas), whose adaptation of the eighties arcade hit Rampage lands in cinemas this weekend.
The game adaptation process may have proved a banana skin for many directors, but Peyton seems undaunted by the challenge: "I was interested in the challenges and opportunities that came from Rampage being inspired by a video game," he insists.
Peyton suggests that Rampage may be the perfect video game to adapt for the screen – the original game's storyline consisted, quite simply, of three giant monsters (gorilla, werewolf and lizard) punching buildings, and nothing more – and Peyton says that this complete lack of storyline, perhaps surprisingly, makes it an ideal candidate for the screen: "The game didn't have much of a narrative, so I could pay homage to it in a respectful way by utilising its three creatures and some 'Easter eggs' for the fans," he says.
“But it also allowed me to make my own movie, and to explore a new story I wanted to tell, ground it in science, and convey themes that interested me. Most of all, I wanted to remind audiences that monsters are scary, but monster movies are meant to be fun. A lot of stars have to align to make a movie happen, and I think a lot of stars aligned on this one.”
Peyton's approach to dealing with the game's lack of narrative has been to bring a generous helping of emotion to the movie. While in the game, George the Giant Gorilla's sole purpose in life was to destroy buildings, in the film, George, as well as being a city-smashing monster, is also Johnson's primatologist Davis Okoye's best friend: "That's where I want my stamp to be felt. I want you to be constantly surprised by how emotional my films are," the director says. "Rampage is all about the friendship between George and Davis. When I showed the studio some paintings of Davis and George together, I said, 'That is what the movie is. The movie is these two best friends.' That's why I love the film's poster so much; it's basically the same idea conveyed in those early paintings."
Thanks to this friendship, the role of George is about much more than smashing buildings, and Peyton is full of praise for Jason Liles, the motion capture artist who portrays the primate pal. The director says he spent months going through scenes with Liles in preparation for the film, and that the actor also spent two months working with performance artist and choreographer Terry Notary to master the movements and mannerisms of a gorilla. Peyton was pleased with the results: "That early work paid massive dividends," he says. "What you see in the movie of George is very much Jason Liles. Dwayne and Jason formed a friendship, and when you see George's eyes, they are really Jason's eyes. When you see his face move, that's really Jason's face. We recorded everything. And even when George is gigantic, we would put Jason in a scissor lift and raise him up to the right height so that Dwayne and Jason could act opposite each other."
Peyton is equally effusive in his praise of George's leading man, the megastar Dwayne Johnson. Rampage is the third movie Johnson and Peyton have teamed up on, after San Andreas and Journey 2: Mysterious Island, and the director says he has enjoyed watching Johnson's development as an actor over the course of their work together: "Dwayne has become more interested in redefining himself and finding things that are new, challenging and interesting to him," the director says. "With Rampage, he wanted to appear more beaten up than we've seen him before, and that's a big evolution from when I worked with him on Journey 2. That's been interesting to watch, and it's really helped with our creative partnership because Dwayne fully invests in bringing all of that to the film."
Peyton says the pair's working relationship brings an extra something to their films that audiences can enjoy: "Dwayne and I are very different. We're physically different – Dwayne is like four of me taped together, and tanned and handsome, and I'm a pale Canadian you can almost see through and a guy who barely leaves his cave," he says. "Dwayne is naturally funny and charming, and I'm maybe more interested in being grounded and emotional. But when the two of us combine those different points of view, you get something that's greater than the sum of its parts. We bring out the best in each other and put it all out there for the film and audience."
The director says: “The backbone of our collaborations is a lot of trust and the fact that we’re just trying to make the best movie we can possibly make. There’s a lot of respect there, and a lot of fun in that collaboration.”
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For all the talk of friendship and trust, however, Rampage is ultimately a movie about three monsters smashing up buildings, and Peyton assures that fans of spectacle won't be disappointed: "What I love about our tagline, Big Meets Bigger, is the fact that we have the biggest movie star in the world,
incredible spectacle, and some of the biggest adversaries you've ever seen Dwayne take on. I think you're going to really enjoy yourself, but you're also going to be put on an emotional rollercoaster," he says.
"That's what I want in a movie, too. I want to be able to let go and be fully immersed in this world and enjoy myself. But I also want to be moved. And, that's what I think people are going to take away from Rampage. Audiences are going to take a ride and get everything they want from a giant movie experience."