It doesn’t. That might be how video games work, but it’s certainly not how Hollywood works.
This week has seen three big announcements in the world of video game film adaptations. First, we got a face and a name attached to an Assassin’s Creed project. Then we got word that Deus Ex had been picked up. Finally, we heard that two writers had been brought onboard to fix up the God of War movie’s script.
The first two items are perfect examples of the excitement of such an announcement. Fans debate potential cast members, worry themselves sick over possible plot alterations and wonder aloud whether their favourite sections or levels from a game would actually make it into a movie.
The last one, though, reveals the cold, hard truth about these projects: they’re a massive pain in the arse to bring to the screen, and rarely ever actually get made.
God of War’s big screen adaptation was announced in 2005. Seven years later and all we have to show for it are two guys rewriting an old script. But hey, at least that’s some progress. Most other game adaptations never make it far past the announcement stage.
Sure, some do, like Prince of Persia and Silent Hill, but they’re the exception to the rule. For most their fate will be nothing more than being bought by a movie studio then put in a drawer.
This isn’t a case of Hollywood being particularly useless at turning games into movies; it’s just how the film industry works. When a studio buys the rights to turn something – whether it be a game, a comic, a TV series, whatever – that’s all it’s buying. The rights. The option to, one day, if it wants, to actually go and make the movie. It’s not a promise to definitely make it, and definitely make it soon.
There are any number of reasons why so many big video games, which seem like such natural fits for the big screen, never actually make it there. The Halo movie, which at one stage could have been overseen by Peter Jackson, crashed and burned when Microsoft refused to relinquish creative control over the universe. BioShock, which was going to be directed by Gore Verbinski, sunk when conflicts over its budget and age rating couldn’t be resolved. Metal Gear Solid, which had the luxury of its main gaming voice talent also being a Hollywood writer, went nowhere when publishers Konami couldn’t get a deal worked out with Sony Pictures.
Then there’s Gears of War, Sam Raimi’s World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, John Woo’s attempts to make both a Metroid and a Spy Hunter movie, Just Cause, Shadow of the Colossus…all projects either officially dead in the water, or which have been silent for so long they may as well be.
Maybe there were scheduling conflicts that couldn’t be resolved. Maybe writers couldn’t squeeze a game world into a decent script. Maybe personnel changes at a studio result in executives who don’t like a project as much as a previous one did. Or maybe, just maybe, once the hype around a big game dies down, all those involved take a step back and realise it might have been a stupid idea trying to turn a hit video game into a hit movie.
Sounds wasteful, but that’s just how Hollywood works. Adaptations, original screenplays, it doesn’t matter. When the chances of an unproduced screenplay actually reaching theatres is 0.3 per cent, you can see the odds stacked against an announced signing becoming a completed film. Indeed, looking at those soul-crushing stats you can see that video games, with their established audiences and pre-built universes, do pretty well all things considered!
So, while a Deus Ex movie might happen, and we may actually get to see Michael Fassbender stabbing dudes in the face, don’t be disappointed if neither project ends up on film. Most projects never do, so readjust your thinking to appreciate the ones that do and you’ll be OK!
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.