By Marshall Garvey
Mere weeks after we geeked/stressed out over the news that Netflix was developing an original TV series based on the Zelda franchise, the anxiousness (in both sense of the word) was quickly halted when Nintendo’s CEO, Satoru Iwata, officially denied any rumors that such a project was being developed. Many breathed a sigh of relief, but my response was neither one of disappointment or happiness. Rather, it was restless curiosity. After giving so much thought to what a live-action Zelda show would look like, I couldn’t stop considering the potential of giving certain games a strong filmed adaptation. A subsequent conversation with my good friend Ben Fitzgerald, where we pondered which of our favorite games were most adaptable, only intensified this curiosity.
As I and many others have said many times in reflecting on the state of video games today, they’ve achieved cinematic levels of length, detail and production value. While there is still some resistance to the notion that they’re on the same level of music, movies and television as respectable forms of media, it’s really only a matter of time before that perception is entirely shed. (Keep in mind, those other mediums of entertainment went through similar paths to acceptance in wider culture. Hell, even Shakespeare’s plays, now seen as the epitome of cerebral artistry, were considered mindless entertainment for morons in their day.) And as my colleague Isaac Smith said so pointedly in his recent piece about Pixels, making video games is indeed a complex, demanding process comparable to filmmaking or musicianship. Contrary to the limited image those outside the gaming realm might have, it’s an experience that requires tireless passion, devotion, imagination, skill, and sacrifice.
These similarities alone, however, don’t automatically mean we could suddenly see an abundance of strong movies and shows based on popular games. For one, part of the basic appeal of a video game, whether it’s a beloved arcade classic or a current AAA blockbuster, is that it’s a complete experience into itself. You can not only enjoy strengths like storytelling, voice acting, graphics, music and whatnot, but interact with them like you can’t with movies and television. This leads to a complaint frequently found in reviews of movies based on games: It’s no fun to watch it when you could just be playing it. Which dovetails into the other big problem: The fact that we’ve been seeing game-based movies for years now, and just about all of them have failed. Really, do we need to add to the graveyard? Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter: The Movie (and the utterly dogshit Legend of Chun-Li), the seemingly endless Milla Jovovich Resident Evil movies, Double Dragon, Wing Commander swapping out Mark Hamill for goddamn Freddie Prinze Jr., Max Payne with Marky Mark…the list goes on. And of course, the entire career of Uwe Boll.
Even so, it’s tantalizing to consider the possibilities. I do believe there are at least a few titles that could succeed, as long as they were done by trustworthy talents who respect the source material rather than cheaply milk them for a quick buck. My personal choice would be a television or miniseries of the Elder Scrolls franchise. Not only do we live in the age of Game of Thrones, in which complex fantasy is done with spectacular production values and top-shelf storytelling, but the games have a replete lore that would provide ample material for a series. Think of all the times you’ve stopped in a level to read one of the many books, and pondered what the backstory to it was. Stories and expanded lore like that could make for an engrossing series, as well as the long stretches of time between each game. If done right, they’d not only expand the franchise, but could even add to the games themselves when you revisit them.
Not to mention, video games in general have become a ripe subject for film in recent years. 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph was one of the best animated films of recent times, saturating an original story with scores of classic gaming references that require multiple viewing to catch entirely. Whether or not you agreed with our take on the Pixels trailer, its gesture towards older games (complete with featuring the creator of Pac-Man) will surely strike a nostalgic chord with many. And to top it all off, the word just got out that Steven Spielberg himself will be directing a movie adaptation of Ready Player One.
Thus, I open the floor to you. What games, if any, would you pick to have adapted in movie or television form? Or, as many felt when the Zelda/Netflix rumors were briefly swirling, should games and the filmic arena in general remain largely separated? Let us know in the comments below!