Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t exactly a household name, unless your house happens to be the film festival circuit. The young director is following in the footsteps of peers Colin Trevorrow and Gareth Edwards though by going from indie film festival darling to mega blockbuster director with no transition in between. In Trevorrow’s case he jumped from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World and next will be helming Star Wars: Episode X, while Edwards went from Monsters to Godzilla to the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
For Vogt-Roberts, he will be coming off indie hit coming-of-age drama Kings of Summer and then jumping right into the monstrous deep end with next month’s Kong: Skull Island. That may be a massive step up in scale, but it’s his project after that is actually his most daunting: a feature film adaptation of acclaimed long-running video game franchise Metal Gear Solid.
Since Vogt-Roberts was tapped last year to take the director’s seat, we haven’t really heard much about it. And with the divisive reception to Warcraft and abject failure of Assassin’s Creed last year, some people were wondering if this next video game movie adaptation might not be better off just stopping before it even began.
But chatting to Collider, Vogt-Roberts confirms that the production is still firmly on track, but that they prefer to rather take their time and get things right than rushing it and joining the ever-growing heap of video game movie adaptation failures.
“Metal Gear Solid is probably the most important franchise to me on the planet. It is such a genius, idiosyncratic work and being able to spend time with [Hideo] Kojima recently has been like a dream. He’s the best and his whole team is the best. We are working on the script. That is a property that I will fight tooth and nail to make sure is done properly because it’s so easy to screw it up and so easy for a studio to try and make it into G.I. Joe or try and make it into Mission: Impossible or try and make it into something that it’s not. Metal Gear Solid needs to be exactly what it needs to be, which is Metal Gear Solid.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the Metal Gear Solid games, then… well, then might I direct you towards the official Wiki page? The franchise’s story is just far too lengthy and convoluted for me to do justice in summary here. All you really need to know is that the series is a stealthy action game that (mainly) follows the exploits of a genetically engineered super-spy codenamed Solid Snake, whose adventures normally involved different variations of an advanced mobile weapons platforms named Metal Gears. The franchise has been around since 1987 and has sold 41.2 million copies over the course of about 20 different titles. And all of that means that there’s a hell of a lot of source material to draw from.
And the vast majority of that material comes from the mind of one man: Hideo Kojima. The legendary game designer has been the single creative voice behind the franchise, blending his love of anime, techno-conspiracy, spy craft and wacky fourth wall-breaking humour. And Vogt-Roberts just wants to make sure he lives up to that in everything he does.
“It’s so interesting because unlike a comic book that’s had 40 writers or 100 writers over the course of a decade or two decades or whatever, for decades now Metal Gear Solid has essentially had one voice. So you’re dealing with a highly, highly specific property that’s idiosyncratic to one persona and one person’s point of view and the way in which they interpret sort of culture and Western culture and twist that back around into this super pure amazing property that has a tone that I think is unlike anything else that is out there.
I actually think that when people see [Kong] they’ll realize like, ‘Oh tonally there are things that sort of line up with this’ where this can be incredibly serious and dark and intense or it can also be incredibly goofy and kind of take the piss out of itself and be slapstick at times, much like Metal Gear. Luckily there are amazing producers on it, but that’s a property that is so pure and important to my soul, because it’s something that I grew up on, that I would love to shepherd into the film that it needs to be. I think it’d be a massive film, I think it’d be an incredible film, but it needs to be done in a way that completely honors what Metal Gear is because it’s a classic and it’s a seminal work not just in video games, but in media.”
While the Metal Gear Solid games have never really been too visceral, some of the action does get a bit dark. And with the success of Deadpool and Logan would that prompt Vogt-Roberts and co to make this movie R-rated as well?
“I think that for me, I want to make the version of the movie that is most true to what it needs to be, so if that is a Deadpool or Logan route where you go with a smaller budget and you’re able to make it R, great. If you need to blow it out more and really get that bigger budget and go PG-13, I think it could exist in both avenues. There are hyper-violent parts to Metal Gear but I would not necessarily call the hyper-violent part the core element of it versus like the tone and the voice and the philosophies that the characters exhibit. Those characters sort of are these walking philosophies, so I think nailing that part is far more important necessarily than thinking about the rating at this point, because right now we’re just trying to get the best version of it.”
“I think right now the more important thing is let’s nail the voice, let’s nail a story that makes sense. You look at the scope of the Metal Gear world and you go all the way back to the ‘60s and before that in the lore, and then you go to the more contemporary games in the near-future and stuff like that, you’re dealing with decades and decades and decades of characters. You’re dealing with like okay how do Snake and Big Boss interact, how does Zero and all these other people interact with each other? How do you pick and choose the cyborg ninja and the sniper wolf and all these people and have them fit into a narrative that makes sense?”
One advantage Vogt-Roberts has in trying to work out how to put all these elements together, is that he comes into this gig already a massive fan of the games. And as such he realizes that adapting the game to the screen will require some changes, but he still just wants to make the type of movie a fan like him would enjoy.
“So first and foremost beyond thinking about budget, I wanna find the version that someone like you who’s like a superfan of this property would say, ‘They did it. That’s my Metal Gear. That’s my shit.’ Beyond it being a video game movie, beyond the difference between active experience and passive experience and why people haven’t been able to translate an active experience into a good passive experience in the shape of a film, beyond that question to me it’s not even about being a video game movie, Metal Gear is an important story, an important set of characters.”
“So it just needs to be approached right now from how we nail that, and once we nail that then budget questions will happen, then those things will happen down the road, but right now I’m just working with incredible producers and trying to make a version that you or a Metal Gear megafan would be proud of and where people would be comfortable with that version to say, ‘I know this is different, I know this is not exactly the way a normal movie might go, but this is very Metal Gear’ and that is what will make random Joe Schmoe in Nebraska who has no idea what Metal Gear is, that is what will make them fall in love with this franchise and with Solid Snake and these people, and that is what will make them say—beyond the nerdverse and things like that who already accept this thing as super important—it’s such a potentially massive thing that we’re focused on getting that right first.”
While the term “video game movie” will always be a very big warning sign to me, I have to admit that I’m very intrigued by what Vogt-Roberts is saying here, and his love for the source material is clearly apparent. Of course we’ve heard these types of promises and seen this type of passion before, only for the end result to be utterly crap. The real proof in the young filmmaker’s pudding is going to be Kong: Skull Island. If he can convince me with that, then I’ll definitely get on board with his Metal Gear Solid movie. Luckily, we only have a couple more weeks before we get to check out Kong for ourselves.