Hot off the press this week was the news of a film adaption of the highly acclaimed “Bioshock”. This game was very well received by both critics and players the world over, and was lauded for its superb narrative and the way it was revealed to the player. It was set in the underwater utopia of Rapture, set up by the illustrious Andrew Ryan. The player enters the game after a plane crash in the middle of the ocean to find Rapture decimated and is left to fend for himself and find out what exactly happened to the place. The film is being handled by the Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski and is being aided by the game’s creator, Ken Levine.
Now I haven’t personally played Bioshock, partly because the atmosphere of the game world freaked me the hell out, but I can tell from a mile away that this film is going to fail hard. I don’t mean that it will be a bad film; I mean it will fail at being a good game film. To adapt a game of this calibre and style to celluloid will take massive compromises and obviously the removal of interactivity, arguably what makes a game a “game”. Generally when adaptations of other sources are done the film makers add something to the medium, i.e. books have visuals added to them and sound, radio has visuals etc. When film makers adapt games they take away the interactivity and are often left with a mediocre story that’s only purpose is to push the player into new tasks. Bioshock from what I have heard has a pretty good story (eh give me moral choices and doesn’t afraid of anything), but still compromises will have to be made for the “mainstream” audience to swallow before they put down cash to see what will probably be a big budget film.
Film makers have the choice of one of three routes (or four if you count Uwe Boll’s film making as a route) when adapting a game to the big screen. The first of these routes is the literal translation of the game’s story; this can give the film a very real sense of being the game as it clings as close as is possible to the game’s world. It can however cause major headaches as the core audience of these films have already played the game and know what to expect as the story progresses. This can sometimes work for other mediums (such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy) but I think that is only because of the strength of their narratives and the lack of tangible visual information. If a literal adaptation is created then the broader appeal of the work is often diluted because they don’t know what Bioshock is, or even worse they may be turned off by the fact that it is based on a game.
The second route is the oft-used “we have the rights to the IP and we will do whatever the hell we want to do with it” (see the Resident Evil films). They often bare only a passing resemblance to the original titles and have been severely re-written into something non-canon so that the dreaded mainstream audience will want to see it. These films tend to come out as action films although Silent Hill was borderline horror. These films can often turn off the core audience of the games because they bastardise the original story and place characters in unfamiliar territory which they know shouldn’t be happening which makes the whole film hard to swallow. Amazingly these types of adaptations generally gross well in the box office and so spur production companies to create more mindless drivel to shovel to the masses.
The third and final route is something that I personally would like to see happen a lot more. This route I feel is the best compromise between games and films, one that works for both parties. An adaptation of a game IP that is handled in tandem with the film makers and the game makers but one that is totally separate from the actual storyline. This kind of adaption can have the trademark writing of the games creators in a whole new storyline that can appeal to both the core and mainstream audience with help from the film makers to point out what could be changed and what is feasible with current technology. A game-to-film of this kind would work well in a franchise that has a well established and well rounded universe of many threads. The best game I can think of to suit this brief has to be the Metal Gear Solid series. The game has so much back-story left untouched, scenarios that are awesome but never explored in any of the games, or better yet a new tale based in the same universe. Imagine how amazing a Metal Gear Solid film would be that is set in Outer Heaven. Unfortunately these kinds of films have yet to truly happen even though they could achieve such critical acclaim given the right team behind it.
Until such a time as a successful game-to-film adaptation happens I really will not have any solid faith in game films, the last once I watched was Doom and that really put me off the whole experience. Hopefully movie executives will see the light one day and realise that gamers don’t want mindless crap but something more meaty, more meaningful than Resident Evil 23: Zombies Gone Wild Party Edition. We can but dream.