Didn't we just go through this with Final Fantasy VII? Someone wants to make a Metroid fan film. They're raising $US90,000. They don't have any agreement with Nintendo. Of course they don't.
Metroid: Enemies Within launched on Kickstarter on Friday and seeks to fund a 10-minute film pitting Samus against Sylux, the antagonist from the Metroid Prime series. (That's a storyboard sequence of it above). The makers are Massive State, a studio that, according to their Kickstarter FAQ, self-financed a $US65,000 fan film based on the graphic novel Y: The Last Man, a franchise that may actually become a real movie at some point.
They're very careful to say throughout the pitch that their Metroid project is not-for-profit. "There will be no profit made on this film," they say. That's hardly the point. For example, I have an idea of adapting The Flash for a movie in which Barry Allen is an alcoholic freakshow performer who races cars, on foot, at a dirt track in Idaho. I think it's excellent. (Evan thinks it's shit, but c'mon, what does he know?) I don't get to impose that vision of the character on DC Comics so long as my work breaks even (after paying myself for the legitimate expense of writing the screenplay, of course.)
That's because I do not own the character. I do not get to decide, unilaterally, the works in which he will and will not appear, and how he is portrayed in them. If I want to explore the concept of an alcoholic freakshow performer who is fast enough to race cars on foot at a dirt track in Idaho, I need to do that with a character named not The Flash. It's dispiriting to see people who tout Hollywood experience and credentials show so little respect to the concept of creative control.
Nintendo has been permissive with enthusiast works that involve their copyrights and characters. Its CEO has himself said the company would not "criminalise" things borne of obvious admiration for the games they represent. But I'm sure they draw the line at money changing hands. It's why Exploding Rabbit's outstanding Super Mario Bros. Crossover, a bona fide labour of love (no money was raised to create it) exists. It's also why Exploding Rabbit, the studio behind that flash game, must develop an entirely original idea for a video game if they want to make money off the work they've done so far. They are, but that game, Super Retro Squad, has about $US2,400 in funding toward a $US50,000 goal. Metroid: Enemies Within has double the backing toward a goal about twice as large.
"Despite Metroid's massive popularity and status as being one of Nintendo's most successful franchises ever with over 17.44 million games sold, a feature film version has never materialised," Massive State writes. "We believe Metroid deserves to be made and we want to give it the Hollywood treatment."
Pardon me, who are you to decide what Metroid deserves? Is there some threshold at which a successful video game franchise becomes a public accommodation and fails its constituency by not becoming another shitty video game film? Maybe Nintendo, whose greatest character is also the butt of one of Hollywood's worst jokes, recognises that video game movies, quite frankly, suck, and doesn't want to diminish a valuable property with the same treatment — whether or not it would make money.
Nowhere in the "risks and challenges" section of the Kickstarter does Massive State acknowledge that Nintendo lawyers could bring all of this to a grinding halt — not with a cease-and-desist letter to them, but to Kickstarter, which is how the Final Fantasy thing got axed. They do mention that in the FAQ, but it's mostly as a money-back guarantee: If a C&D shuts down the Kickstarter before the 30-day funding window expires, everyone gets their dough back. Of course, that raises the question of what would happen if Nintendo sicced its lawyers on them after the Kickstarter was completed and the funds distributed.
I don't think it'll get that far. Would a well made Metroid film be great? Hell yes, of course. But that's the thing about our new crowdsourced reality, and the only thing it can guarantee: If you can dream it, you can pay for it. Whether you get it is another matter.