Remember the days when a pet gorilla using his owner’s girlfriend to play keep away was considered sufficient story in a video game? Well, times have changed, to say the least. With the technology behind games getting better about as frequently as Marvel releases new entries in the MCU, developers are gaining ever-improving tools with which to tell their stories.
Let’s be bold: video games are now a better source than film for narrative-driven experiences.
Yes, there are certain drawbacks - like only being able to advance the story as far as your skills allow, or not possessing the means to play certain titles - but if you have any interest in the medium, you may find that some games are better movies than many movies themselves.
It comes as no surprise then that the film industry continues to mine its more interactive sibling for content. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of video game adaptations bear a relatively low success rate in terms of quality, financial achievement, and fan reception.
A new approach is needed. Perhaps it is time studios take different factors into consideration when choosing which franchises to sink their millions into.
Don’t Make - BioShock
Status: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) was originally attached as director, before reducing his role to producer, of a Hollywood adaptation of Ken Levine’s respected series. That production came to a standstill when no studio would fund the violent, expensive, R-rated project. Rumors of a BioShock film resurfaced this year after Sony registered three domain names: bioshock-movie.com, bioshock-movie.net and bio-shock.net.
Why it is a bad idea: Studios don’t want to commit to an R-rated BioShock movie. A good, true BioShock adaptation - with all of its blood, gore, and horror - can only be rated R. Leave it be. Even the third game in the series, BioShock Infinite, should be off limits. Infinite isn’t as intensely violent as its two predecessors, but it does have a key element of its own that likely can’t be translated to the big screen: Elizabeth.
Few games, and even fewer movies, successfully foster so personal a connection between a character and the audience. Elizabeth isn’t just bonding with Booker (the character controlled by the player), she’s reaching through the television and taking up residence in your heart and mind. The combination of Courtnee Draper’s performance, Ken Levine’s script, and the game’s first person perspective can’t be done justice in the 2-hour popcorn flick that Hollywood would churn out.
Do Make - Halo
Status: Back in 2005, after the release of Halo 2, Columbia Pictures began its ill-fated attempt at bringing Master Chief to cinemas. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) acted as producer and a newcomer by the name of Neill Blomkamp sat in the director’s chair. As is Hollywood tradition, however, those involved got greedy with their numbers and the project died (a result which led to Jackson and Blomkamp creating the stellar District 9). These days, those attempting to adapt Halo have shifted their focus from the big screen to decidedly smaller ones.
Why it is a good idea: Financially, it would be as sure a bet as you’ll find this side of Grand Theft Auto (2013’s GTA V raked in $800 million in 24 hours). Creatively, Halo is the most proven property on this list. Blomkamp’s live-action Halo 3 short film/advertisement, titled Halo Landfall, is well-regarded despite the fact that the franchise’s iconic hero is MIA. The web series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn received critical acclaim on several fronts, including an Emmy (yes, THE Emmys) nomination for Outstanding Main Title Design. Even Halo's action-less ads are engrossing...
Something that sets Halo apart in this discussion is that fans have actually become invested in the stories told in its universe; the same can’t be said for the money-printing likes of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, which most people play for the fun open world gameplay and multiplayer, respectively. Halo’s narratives have found success in novels, comics, anime shorts, and almost certainly the upcoming Showtime/Xbox One tv show.
Compelling lead characters (Chief and Cortana), outstanding art and music, superb worldbuilding, and a massive fandom all but guarantee box office triumph for Halo.
Don’t Make - The Last of Us
Status: Sony and producer Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) are making strides in adapting 2013’s Game of the Year.* Sony’s own Screen Gems is handling the distribution, while The Last of Us’s writer/creative director is developing the film’s screenplay.
Why it is a bad idea: The Last of Us is an incredible achievement, very much the leading example of how phenomenal narrative-driven video games can be. Don’t have a PlayStation to see the evidence for yourself? One needs to only pay YouTube a visit for a few hours and watch one of the several films edited out of cutscenes and key gameplay moments. It’s a better movie than most movies.
Good news? Neil Druckmann, the aforementioned writer, is bringing that same story to Raimi’s film. The man is talented, and it’s safe to say that he is not about do a disservice to his baby. The fact of the matter is that it’s all needless and may not even be the money-maker Sony is likely banking on it being.
A similar story has already been adapted into a feature film: 2009’s The Road (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel) tells a survival tale of a man traversing post-apocalyptic America with his young son; The Last of Us tells a survival tale about a man traversing post-apocalyptic America with a girl who could be his daughter. The Road only made $2 million more than its $25 million budget, albeit on a relatively small release (it peaked at 396 concurrent screens). Does Sony see much profit in this endeavor?
Bad news? Neil Druckmann working on the movie means he isn’t currently heading up another Naughty Dog (the studio responsible for The Last of Us) project. Druckmann’s previous effort, Uncharted 2, is also considered one of the best games of the PS3 generation. We can only wonder what new greatness is being withheld from the world by Druckmann's attention focused on scripting a movie.
Editor’s note: Don’t cast fan-favorite Ellen Page as Ellie. Part of what makes the character so memorably compelling is her youthfulness. Page is obviously at least a decade too old for the role.
* The Last of Us is winner of 200+ Game of the Year awards.
Do Make - Assassin’s Creed
Status: Ubisoft is taking the Marvel approach in its foray into filmmaking. The developer/publisher is now partially handling adaptations of its games in-house rather than handing full control of the reins to Hollywood studios. Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell are the guinea pigs, being the first projects produced in these developments led by Ubisoft Motion Pictures. Both features have taken commendable first steps by attaching the legitimate talents of Michael Fassbender (Assassin’s Creed) and Tom Hardy (Splinter Cell).
Why it is a good idea: Part of the magic of film is its ability to transport audiences to places they can’t otherwise go. That element happens to be a touchstone of Assassin’s Creed. The series has taken players to 1191 Jerusalem, 15th Century Florence and Venice, and Colonial America during the American Revolution. Going on a trip through history with Michael Fassbender sounds like time and money well spent.
Another highlight of the Assassin’s Creed formula is its characters’ high level of mobility. The games’ environments are traversed by free-running, an eye-catching style that has been utilized with great results in movies like The Bourne Ultimatum and 2006’s Casino Royale.
Justin Kurzel, a relative newcomer with only one feature film to his name (Snowtown), is currently attached to direct. Kurzel’s sophomore effort is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring, who else, Michael Fassbender. Fassbender is a producer on the Assassin’s Creed film, so Kurzel being brought on could be a sign of Fassbender endorsing his qualities. If that is indeed the case, we must simply ask ourselves if we trust the actor’s judgement.
Want to argue for or against any adaptation featured here? Believe there are other games ripe for Hollywood's picking? Sound off in the comments.