There seem to be moments when a community comes together and unanimously agrees something is groundbreaking and blazes new frontiers.
Look just a few months ago, when James Cameron flipped the script and made the idea of 3-D films significantly less laughable with “Avatar.”
In the last month, in the video game world, something similar happened when “Red Dead Redemption” rode into town.
It’s an open-world Western for Playstaton 3 and Xbox 360 that has sold more than 5 million copies in its first month on the shelves, according to gamer website Gamespot.
Anyone familiar with the “Grand Theft Auto” series would immediately feel at home with “Redemption,” the spiritual sequel to 2004’s “Red Dead Revolver,” as Rockstar Games made all of them.
It’s more “Deadwood” than “Little House on the Prarie.” The game plays off of the lawlessness of the old West during its decline in the early 1900s, clothing you as John Marston, a revenge-seeking outlaw in pursuit of his former posse.
Along the way, players are free to do as they please, whether that’s brandishing justice with a double-barrel shotgun or hogtying an unwitting call girl and leaving her on the tracks for a passing train.
It’s a fun, violent, beautiful game. As the player spurs the horse and gallops from town to town, it’s hard not to notice the surroundings µ a magnificent starry sky, a serene desert forest, a tumblin’ tumbleweed rolling across the plains on a hot day.
To me, the most telling sign of how well-received the game is aside from its glowing reviews is the appearance of “The Man From Blackwater.”
This is a 30-minute short using footage from the game directed by John Hillcoat, who sat in the same chair for “The Proposition,” a gruesome Australian Western, and adapted Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” for the big screen.
Using video-game footage as a conduit for fictional films is hardly a new act, but I’m struggling to think of another instance where an established filmmaker has used the medium, known by many as “machinima.”
The practice has been around since the 1990s, but didn’t really get in the saddle until the last decade, when personal computing matched the requirements for recording and editing with relative ease. I remember first hearing of machinima from “Red vs. Blue,” a series of 2- to 5-minute shorts cobbled from players doing voiceover to the first “Halo” game.
The genre has expanded since then, with productions reaching the small screen, including South Park’s Emmy-winning “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” which poked fun at obsessive players of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game “World of Warcraft.”
Hillcoat’s “Blackwater” largely takes the game’s plot and condenses and re-cuts it as a short film, but even then, it’s an interesting enough concept to watch.
“Blackwater” recently made its television debut on Fox, suggesting the audience for machinima isn’t quite so narrowly focused.
It doesn’t seem like a genre of film with an endless future. With all of the characters’ movements and settings predetermined, the creativity lies in accepting and adapting to the game’s conditions.
Nonetheless, even though he had the help and encouragement of Rockstar to make it, Hillcoat’s piece could be a step toward legitimizing machinima as a viable filmmaking medium.
It’s also a testament to the success and greatness of one of the best video games in recent memory.
It’s about time we have a quality Western game.
I mean, yer darn’ tootin’ it’s time.