Monday, October 07, 2013

Gaming Movies Will Never Be Like Their Counterpart

As if it hasn’t been made obvious over the years, I’m not a fan of ‘video game movies.’ Except one.   Nor do I like the idea of cramming games into the movie framework in order to discuss them.
Given Hollywood’s need to find the next thing with superhero films beginning their decline (the last great one will probably be The Avengers 2 and it will drop from there), video games have been tapped. We know there is going to be a Metal Gear Solid movie, Need For Speed is releasing next year. There’s potentially a Halo movie that keeps getting an on again, off again response, and Assassin’s Creed in the mix. Titles are being purchased left and right for a chance at something big and it could lead to something amazing.

But as the former Mass Effect movie writer, Mark Protosevitch stated in an interview, it’s rough work adapting a game into a movie.  I think this is where the “no sh*t” sign should be raised. Protosevitch is the screenwriter for I Am Legend and The Cell. So he has some credibility and can work with science fiction material. He started as the head writer to at least get the basics of the story down knowing that he may or may not be replaced by another that will fine-tune the script. So Protosevitch wrote a few drafts and his focus was on adapting the story to replicate the game as much as possible. “That story, it was very much the first game. And that was the approach.” When you compared Mass Effect to the rest of the franchise, the first game was very story driven, so it’s a good approach to being with. Protosevich was replaced by Morgan Davis Foehl. What’s his credits? Click, I Now Prononuce You Chuck & Larry, and a movie in post production called Cyber which he is the head writer on. Yeah…let’s all weep together.  But he’s not dismayed. His original skeleton may still be used for the film, and he’s eager to see the final product.

The article touches on a very important aspect that many people seem to overlook when it comes to film adaptations: things are going to be left out of the script. As Drew Karpyshyn, one of the ME founders, stated way back in April that it would be impossible to include everything from the game into a movie format.  Characters will not be seen, Dialogue will be altered or removed entirely. Certain plot points will not be acted out. And that’s the reality that we have to accept if we want video game movies. Which is very difficult to achieve and…well…we’re a picky crowd anyway. We get miffed when a favorite sight gag isn’t included in a Legend of Zelda. In the same way Harry Potter readers were upset to see some scenes and characters removed, as gamers we’ll do the same thing.

The point of this article is that 1. I’m trying to rationalize and give myself some food for thought that maybe, just maybe, we’ll start seeing some good video game to movie adaptations. And 2. To help provide realization to you, the blog reader, that all video game movies are not going to be an exact replica of the original product.

Mostly I’m going for point 2.

I am always irked when I leave a theater after watching a film based on a book or a play and having friends and other patrons go “they didn’t have this scene!” or “they totally left out this really great character.” Well…yeah. Imagine taking a 700 page novel and condensing it into a 2 hours film. Just imagine. Actually, try doing it. Seriously. Google the basics for how to screen write, get yourself the Microsoft Word template for screenplays (it’s free), read a few screenplays, and go. You’ll find out quite fast how challenging it can be.

For every one page of a script, it represents about a minute of screen time. Font is typically 12 point Courier with scenery and suggested camera shots taking up the typical margin space. Dialogue and character actions are condensed even further into a 3.5-4 inch margin on the page. You can see the example photo of what I mean. That equates to a minute. Multiply that by 120 pages and you might get the first 20 minutes of game play from Mass Effect in there (between the dialogue, the scenery, and the actions).

So we might not see Wrex in the Mass Effect movie. Or Garrus. Or Tali. Or even all three. We will most likely see Liara or a clone of her, and Ashley as part of a love triangle with manShep. Oh, don’t be so surprised. Of course Shepard is going to be male. It’s an action, sci-fi movie after all. We can’t have a female heroine as the lead. We won’t see those myriad of side-missions involving the repeating bases and endless throngs of Husks. There will be Husks. Believe it. And Geth. Eden Prime, Noveria, and Virmire will be important to incorporate. And if Kaiden is in the story, he may live through it. We can’t kill off Ashley; that would disrupt the love triangle. So like in Star Trek, it may be a red coat that gets offed when setting off the nuke instead of Kaiden. If there is no Garrus or Wrex, Kaiden will be the go-to friend for Shepard. Why no Wrex or Garrus? Well this is a story about Humanity trying to find its place in the galaxy. What better way than to have the all Human ship take down Saren and the Reaper?

And that’s just the beginning. I’ve already managed to cut out half of the cast to help alleviate some of the movie runtime restrictions, create a love story, and a cohesive theme that will draw audiences in.

This is what writers adapting projects must do. So don’t start throwing around blame or jumping to conclusions when you see the next video game movie. Remember that the production staff had to make decisions to best fit the movie, the budget, the audience, and the direction of the piece. We may not see Wrex, but I think that’s okay. He might get a voice change and all hell will break loose.

On the other side of things, movies like Need For Speed, in all of the irony that is and ever will be, might be our best chance at having a "good" video game adaptation. NFS is an open-ended game. The story that does exist is free to interpretation. It's simple, easy, and doesn't clutter up the cars and the action of racing. In many ways, having a very minimal framework to start a script allows for greater creativity. Almost like a fan fiction, it allows for better character development and can potentially draw in a wider audience versus the gaming crowd (I know we make up a huge chunk of the population, but we're still small in comparison to the world at large).  Maybe this is exactly what is needed for gaming movies to gain popularity. Maybe it's not. Who knows for sure. But I'd like to think that there will eventually be a good game-based movie in the U.S. Hopefully sooner over later.

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