As a video game journalist, I have a certain responsibility to report on all aspects of the industry, even those that spin-off into different mediums, as is the case with Red Faction: Origins. A direct-to-TV film produced by Universal Media Pictures under the watch of THQ, Origins was pitched as a major step for multi-media entertainment franchises, but is it as worthwhile an experiment as it is entertainment? Does it do justice to its franchise? Most importantly, does it have value as a standalone product?
Since this is new territory for Gamer Codex, I have devised a brand-new review system to accommodate the differences between televised content and video games, though it could potentially return for film adaptations of video games. The system consists of three tiers, similar to the normal system: The Story, The Acting and The Presentation. With that clarified, let’s take a closer look.
Though it may not be initially clear to newcomers, Origins takes place between Red Faction: Guerrilla and Armageddon, the most recent game in the series. On Mars, twenty-five years after the dissolution of the corrupt Earth Defense Force by Red Faction, the now-reigning Colonists are in conflict with the Marauders, a outcast group of militaristic Martians (both groups of whom are humans, not stereotypical aliens). This conflict, though, is merely the backdrop to a smaller tale of loss and redemption concerning Guerrilla‘s protagonist Alec Mason and his son, Jake.
In the years after the revolution, Alec became a sullen, pitiful drunkard over the death of his wife, Samanya, and daughter, Lyra, which comes to a head in the present day as his son, a lieutenant of Red Faction, constantly rescues him from bar-fights. However, this sense of loss is thrown into question when Jake encounters his sister, alive and working with mysterious soldiers, setting in motion his quest to rescue her and find the truth behind her new allegiance.
Most of the story elements, while interesting, are not wholly original or unique; this reaches a point in the climax where the revelations are quite predictable (not to say that I will spoil them). Aside from that, there aren’t so much complaints as there are nits to pick, since the story’s greatest strength does not lie in its writing, pacing, or character development – these are all decent, but not exceptional. The film is at its strongest when focused on the Mason family dynamics – Alec and Jake, Jake and Lyra, Alec and Lyra – which provides a number of truly touching scenes.
References to Guerrilla are plentiful but never interfere greatly with the audience’s understanding; in fact, they add some levels of complexity to the proceeding for non-gamers and fans alike. Characters note the struggles faced by the Mason family in days past, and the game’s events clearly left an impact on the current Colonist-Marauder “cold war”. Meanwhile, the connection to Armageddon is limited given its place in the timeline, save for a plot thread that owners of that game may recognize and should pay attention to. Overall, the story pays homage to its predecessor and sets the stage for future installments with varying amounts of efficiency.
Again, as with much of the story, the dedication of the actors is admirable but not always ground-breaking or even outstanding. The focus of the story is on Alec and Jake Mason, played by Robert Patrick and Brian J. Smith, respectively. Smith does a good job emphasising his character’s noble, if naive, traits, but Patrick definitely stands out with a more subtle and emotionally touching performance, coming across as a once-great hero reduced to virtually nothing by time. In addition, their scenes together provide much of the film’s pathos.
The other key actors have notable moments, but they don’t receive quite as much development or focus. Danielle Nicolet plays Tess, Jake’s Earthborn sidekick who believes herself to be the subject of prejudice on Mars. Lyra Mason, played by Tamzin Merchant, is a bit dry at times, but earns some sympathy when it is revealed the means to which her villainous commander Stoller – played by Tamer Hassan – has gone to manipulate the plot. The most understated performance here is from Gareth David-Lloyd, who takes on a role I won’t completely spoil (partly due to said character’s identity) as a man who receives far too much responsibility to handle without falling into insanity.
If the cases noted above did not indicate it, there are no bad actors. Everyone turns in worthwhile performances, and the fight choreography is decent at least. However, the film is clearly set on exploring the parallels between the Mason men and seeing how their actions have impacted this world, so everything else is set dressing.
Speaking of set dressing, this may be one of the best-looking direct-to-TV movies I have ever seen. The computer generated imagery of Mars is impressive, and it draws the audience in well enough. The sets are large and detailed, with a nice variety of lighting effects. The only noticeable flaw with the green screen effects is that the flight scenes, while impressive, do look artificial, but that’s unavoidable with this kind of budget.
The sound work is adequate, nothing special. I have no particular compliments or complaints about the sound effects or the soundtrack, though their merely decent nature could raise a red flag or two. Also, while it can be subtle at times, the soundtrack does have occasional peaks that seem more fitting of an action film, rather than this blend of genres.
Red Faction: Origins was pretty risky for SyFy. The franchise has a strong fanbase, certain thematic elements, and it was primarily a video game franchise, something which everyday society may or may not accept on television given the industry’s reputation. In the end, however, did SyFy’s ambition and respect for the work turn out for the best? Well, kind of.
With this kind of adaptation, one expects it to fail on some level. The worst part of this film is that it does not really stand out from other works of science-fiction or even really compete with them. That said, the core father-son story on display here is well done, the effects are impressive for the medium, and it is good enough of a set-up for the potential new series SyFy is considering. Not bad, not bad at all.