Since time immemorial, cinema has found inspiration in the works of its sibling mediums. Whether it be 1925’s cinematic adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera or the Russos’ celluloid counterpart to Marvel’s Civil War comics. One particular segment of media which has found little to no breakthrough in terms of prominence in the film industry would be video game film adaptations. The only truly remarkable film worth mentioning is Duncan Jones’ stunning Warcraft film which I enjoyed, despite what critics had to say. The latest attempt at bringing a beloved icon of gaming culture to the silver screens, namely Sonic the Hedgehog was met with tepid reception by critics. A childish distraction to fill yet another slot before the blockbuster season takes centre stage. Personally, I don’t believe for a second that there is a “curse” on video game film adaptations.
Not unlike cinema, video games are capable of telling rich stories through the eyes of interesting characters and perspectives. Both mediums aim to create unique experiences through crafting audio and visual spectacle. There might be a whole bunch of reasons why video game films aren’t doing so great, which deserves an article in itself, but it is certainly not due to a lack of inspiring source material. In fact, I’ll prove it to you! These are the video game properties we believe would make choice candidates for film adaptations.
Some narrow-minded snobs may hold to the view that video games are incapable of telling meaningful stories, let alone carry profound and frightening social commentary. Such fools have never taken the bathysphere below a lonely lighthouse to the underwater city of Rapture. Such fools have never seen the nightmarish horrors of unfettered capitalism and privatization run amok in the form of socialites turned ravenous mutants. Chances are, they’ve probably never heard of Bioshock. The first game sees protagonist Jack, a man with a mysterious past who finds himself being lured into the abandoned city of Rapture. Rapture, once a glitzy neon-lit paradise boasting every luxury under the sun with minimal restrictions and regulations. A literal Sodom and Gomorrah hidden beneath the sea which soon turns into a drowned hell below.
The premise of Bioshock has all the makings of a brilliant high-budget horror film. There’s so much more to learn about Rapture before its descent into madness and chaos. The film could follow a family attempting to leave the city as Rapture turns from an aristocratic utopia into a deadly maze full of monsters and dangers. Horror directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster, who love incorporating sociological elements and political messages in their films, would have an absolute field-day with Bioshock. There are so many layers of Randian subtext within the game’s narrative that are simply begging to be explored, extrapolated and brought to horrific life on the big screen.
2. The Metro Series
Speaking of potential video game horror films, there’s one criminally underrated video game franchise brimming with possibility: The Metro series. Based on a popular series of Russian novels, the games are centred around the survivors of a devastated, irradiated Moscow. This all takes place after some thermonuclear war leaves Russia in ruins. Survivors of this war now carve out a meagre existence for themselves within the seemingly endless Metro train tunnels. The air above is thick with radiation that could kill a man in minutes. Mutated wildlife and monsters roam the land. Below isn’t any better with giant rats infesting the dark corners of the Metro. Human factions wage war with one another with each vying to rule the Metro. Welcome to the end of the world.
There’s one thing that games like Metro 2033 have nailed, and that is the atmosphere. Entering those claustrophobic, pitch-black tunnels with nothing but a torchlight and rifle is a harrowing experience. Being never fully sure of what lurks around the corner. Only ever appearing to the surface for brief periods of time, lest something foul finds you. Think Neil Marshall’s The Descent except far more gruesome and ambitious. A Metro 2033 film would be an utter thrill ride from start to finish, especially if it’s created along the lines of John Hillcoat’s The Road. A bleak, grim vision of the future capable of invoking both terror and despair.
3. The Elder Scrolls
Some of you may remember a time in 2011 when the world was introduced to one of the greatest role-playing games (RPG) of a generation. One steeped in a world that seemed as vast, storied and complex as our own. One populated with elves, humans, orcs and even freaking cat-people! I’m of course talking about the legendary The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. It should be noted that said game took in place in only one region of the Elder Scrolls’ land of Tamriel. There is a whole continent waiting to be fleshed out with plenty of epic stories to tell. I am talking about Lord of the Rings levels of grandeur and majesty here!
Its premise may seem daunting for any filmmaker to even wonder where to begin but luckily there’s a perfect narrative already there in the world. The Story of Tiber Septim, or Talos. An entire trilogy could be made about how one man, blessed with the voice of a dragon, rose to unite the kingdoms of men against the tyranny of the elves, or Mer. They could follow Tiber’s journey from liberator to the emperor of mankind to even godhood. Peter Jackson hasn’t been up too much lately. Perhaps it’s time for him to dust off his boots and adapt yet another sprawling high-fantasy IP for a new generation of viewers.
If there’s one thing that Valve’s Portal games are known for, it’s their distinct writing that leaves players laughing on the floor. A potent blend of gallows humour and absurdist comedy. The story of Portal is fairly straightforward: Chell, a human lab rat is trapped in a maze by a homicidal A.I. called GlaDOS. Throughout the game, Chell’s only means of overcoming GlaDOS’ increasingly difficult mind puzzles are her wits and her trusty, portal gun. If she manages to complete all of GlaDOS’ tests, she will apparently be rewarded with grief counselling and cake. Yes, I am aware that it sounds completely bonkers and totally something indie studios like A24 or Blumhouse would think of. Which is why it would be perfect for either studio to pick up the property.
Half the fun of the Portal games is hearing GlaDOS’ snarky, witty remarks as you attempt to escape the facility. Therefore, the game’s reliance on a snappy script means that it shouldn’t be too difficult to work with. I can picture a director and writer like Martin McDonagh, the man behind black comedies like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, nailing the tone and feel of the film. The only real challenge is crafting action set pieces around the portal physics of the game and how they would translate cinematically. Judging by the current trend of how far CGI technology has come, I’d say it shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Though it might not be as popular as other Bethesda games like Fallout 4 or The Elder Scrolls series, Dishonored has earned its stripes in the stealth-action genre. Apart from the impressive game mechanics and endlessly creative array of magical abilities given to your character, Dishonored’s main selling point is its world and story. The game is set in the Empire of the Isles, a fictionalized steampunk version of the United Kingdom powered by a massive whale oil industry. Once an age of wonder and prosperity under the enlightened rule of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin but now brought low by corrupt aristocrats, witches and assassins. It’s up to her loyal bodyguard-turned assassin, Corvo Attano to right the wrongs of the past, by any means necessary.
Dishonored, in my opinion, is ripe for cinematic adaptation. It has political intrigue, a fascinating world full of mysteries and secrets, a cast of interesting characters and a focused, clear story to be told. I even have the perfect actor in mind to play the stoic, silent assassin, Corvo, Keanu Reeves. Tell me you wouldn’t want to see a magical, stabby John Wick prowl the rooftops of a fictionalized steampunk version of London? I dare you! The plot of the film doesn’t have to follow through with the game’s central narrative. As long as it honours the spirit of the original games and their characters.