The film industry has a well-worn reputation when it comes to video game adaptations. Not just because they tend to lacking quality, but also because of the lengthy development it takes to get to the end product. Few other games have a comparable history to the much-longed-for Uncharted adaptation.
Going on almost 10 years now, the potential film has changed multiple hands, with a plethora of writers taking up the task, and a myriad of casting and director speculations. For a short time Mark Wahlberg and filmmaker David O. Russell were reportedly committed to the project before they both left and it relapsed into development hell.
But now Sony appears to be giving #Uncharted a firm commitment. With the studio's recent announcement of Tom Holland being cast as a young Nathan Drake, and an assertion that the film's story will be based around the flashback era of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, for the first time in a very long time, this seems like it might actually go somewhere.
But Could An Uncharted Movie Really Work?
Video-game-to-film adaptations are known for being terrible, and there are a myriad of reasons as to why that is. In spite of Hollywood's insistence on continuing to try, there are a many barriers standing in the way of box office and critical success for these adaptations.
But there's something especially worrying about an Uncharted adaptation. A confluence of elements to make any fan nervous — not just that a potential film could be a creative disaster, but that it might leave a stain on the good Uncharted name.
One thing that continues to work against the process is the adaptability of interaction — or rather, the lack thereof. Which is to say, the core element of a video game experience is its interactivity for the player — something that just can't translate into a passive experience like film.
And no series better demonstrates this than Uncharted. It's not just that it was created by developer Naughty Dog to be the equivalent of a summer blockbuster, but rather, that it was made to be the video game approach to summer blockbusters. This means taking high-action set pieces and a bombastic approach and handing total control over to the player.
Imagine taking the train sequence from Uncharted 2 and trying to translate that into a film. Not only would it be patently redundant, but it would also be reductive. It would mean removing the key element that the entire concept is built around; not just the idea of platforming on top of a moving train while shooting down enemies, but that the player is the one performing the actions, rather than passively watching a character do so on screen.
Since those kinds of set pieces are what Uncharted is known for, there's little doubt that one would inevitably make its way into a film adaptation. Which would in turn draw comparisons to the game series, and leave the film wanting.
There Are Already Creative Problems
Another issue is that of the general attitude from Hollywood toward the video game industry. #TomHolland was cast not because there was a script in place, a solid idea of what to do with the film, and an in-depth knowledge of the character that formed the basis for a successful audition process. Instead, the president of Sony liked him so much in Spider-Man: Homecoming that he decided to cast him in the role.
Even though Peter Parker and #NathanDrake are two very different characters. And this enhances the perception that it's not about what's doing best for the creativity of the process, but rather, it's about taking advantage of a rising star to put him at the head of another moneymaking franchise (regardless of whether or not he'll actually be right for the character).
This hasn't been aided by Holland in turn, who recently stated that he wants Chris Pratt to play Victor Sullivan in the film. Not because Pratt is the best person for the role, but because they've become friends and Holland would like to work with Pratt more.
Of course, this certainly isn't a guarantee of anything. Speculation and passing fancies of actors expressed in interviews doesn't necessarily mean that's where things will end up. At the same time, it reflects the general attitude that #Sony seems to have about this film. It's not about doing what's best to honor the material and characters — it's about making money and having fun on set.
For all his gifts, #ChrisPratt would be a poor choice for Sully. That Holland seems to be unaware of Pratt's lack of vintage and fortitude (basically, Sully should be a distinguished older man in the vein of Tom Selleck) indicates he doesn't seem to know much about the character of Sully. And while that doesn't mean that he can't or won't change, in an arena where there's already so much doubt, it doesn't win him (and the people around him) a lot of confidence.
Hollywood Doesn't Have The Right Approach In Adaptations
Hollywood has had this problem elsewhere. For last year's adaptation of Assassin's Creed, neither Michael Fassbender nor director Justin Kurzel had even played an Assassin's Creed game. This says a great deal about Hollywood's perspective on video games: That you don't have to engage with the material in order to adapt it. Because the form itself isn't worthy of that kind of respect.
It would be one thing if film was still finding its footing and so looking to borrow from other sources (as often happened in its early days). It would be one thing if creative types were coming to Hollywood executives and saying, "I just played this video game and have a great creative vision for a movie," à la Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings. But that's not what's happening. A franchise becomes successful and Hollywood seizes on it, purely out of desire to take financial advantage.
Video Games Have Already Moved Beyond Film
Part of the problem here is also due to the fact that, more so than television, video games borrowed from film in its infancy, much in the same way that film did with theater. And an inevitable evolution of that process means eventually having the new medium find its own unique ways of presenting story. It would be like watching a film and insisting that the best thing for it next would be to translate it into a stage play. Which isn't to say no film ever could be turned into a play (or that theater is inferior to film) — but rather, that it doesn't happen often, because both forms have grown enough to offer different kinds of variables and strengths that don't always translate well.
And there's nothing that a film can offer to a video game story that video games themselves can't already provide — oftentimes better than film ever could.
With Uncharted — and Nathan Drake in particular — it's difficult not to feel even more protective. There is arguably no other iconic video game character with more definition than Nathan Drake. Lara Croft and #Mario aren't iconic due to their character and personalities, so it didn't mean quite the same thing when their films failed to deliver. And given the film industry's sordid history in this arena, it's hard not to despair when Nathan Drake is no longer in the hands of people like Amy Hennig, Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley and Nolan North.
At the end of the day, are gamers downgrading the experience by letting Hollywood retell these tales? Why look at the action unfold on the big screen when you can be part of it and live it? Instead of watching an Uncharted film, go play one of the incredible games in the series. They're much better and more immersive than any film ever could be anyway.
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