Producer Avi Arad talks video game movies; updates on UNCHARTED, METAL GEAR SOLID and MASS EFFECT adaptations

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While we do, quite obviously, love movies around here (the name up top should have been a dead giveaway), we also hold a quite the passion for video games. Unfortunately, when those two loves meet, it mostly results in something usually ejected from a cat’s bottom. Video game adaptations movies are mostly crap, is what I’m saying.

But so too were comic book movies a couple decades ago, and yet, they rule the box office today. One man who helped bring that reign about was producer Avi Arad, and now he’s trying to do the same thing for video games.

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Arad, whose resume boasts a mountain of superhero titles including Blade and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, arguably the two films that kicked off this current comic book craziness, and is currently President-CEO of Marvel Studios, spoke to Kotaku about how he thinks that video games could be the next big thing. The problem is that up until now, with very few exceptions (Silent Hill being the best of the lot, in my opinion), they’ve mostly been rather bad, as previously mentioned, and this hasn’t left film studios with much confidence in them.

“Converting games to film hasn’t been done yet successfully, though Resident Evil did very well—it was actually a great series. I remember when [Producer] Bernd Eichinger started it. I was working with him, I just couldn’t do that at Marvel but I had a good feeling about it, it’s a fantastic franchise.”

“I think that film studios are bankers and filmmakers are risk takers and somewhere in between we meet on the battlefield. And the moment one video game movie goes through the roof, it’s the same thing that I’ve been through with comic books.”

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And Arad has a couple of contenders that he hopes will make this breakthrough: Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima’s stealth actioner; Mass Effect, Bioware’s epic space opera; and Uncharted, the adventure actioner that follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake. It’s this last one, that has been in development for a while and seen a couple of directors come and go, that Arad thinks will be the spark that sets it all off.

“I think Uncharted will be very successful. It’s a father and son game. There are things about it that are interesting. I think the world of antiquities theft, there are many countries in the world that realised they’re being robbed and they’re trying to recoup these important pieces. Now, the script has a lot of character [and] I think that has a shot at being the first one [to succeed].”

It’s uncertain who will be at the helm, since Neil Burger also abandoned the director’s chair last year, or if National Treasure writers Marianne and Cormac Wibberley’s script is still the one in use, but whoever it is will have their work cut out for them. As Arad remarks, while some video games, like Uncharted, offer insanely cinematic experiences that immediately seem perfect to adapt for the screen, there is an inherent challenge in the fact that video games have a lot longer than your average film’s running time to engage the audience with a good story. And finding just the right story to do so in a feature film is the tricky bit now, something that Arad feels that Metal Gear Solid can do quite well.

“If you go to Metal Gear Solid, it’s actually full of storytelling. [As a storyteller, I’m always looking to operas or The Bible] and with Metal Gear, you have Cain and Abel.”

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There’s also of course the argument that many would make that the later MGS titles have already been nothing more than occasionally interactive movies. Even with that, shall we say, advantage, don’t expect to see the adventures of Solid Snake on screen for at least another 3 years, as that project is still in its infancy, with Arad planning to meet with the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, soon.

Read  Friday Debate: What’s the angriest that a video game has ever made you?

Mass Effect fans though, will have to wait even longer, as Arad remarks that this adaptation, is still five or six years away.

“It’s a big idea, that we, humans, are the least developed, the least trusted, it’s an interesting mirror image of our world, we are the aliens now. Love the project, it’s getting there, it’s been a lot of work; some movies take five, six years before they’re ready.”

I’m actually fine with that wait, as it gives Arad and co more than enough time to change Neill Blomkamp’s stance on directing big budget franchise films, because clearly, if you’ve seen Elysium, and specifically the look and feel of the world of the futuristic space station, then you know that he would be a perfect choice for it.

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There is so much potential when it comes to video game adaptations, but thus far we’ve yet to see the Batman Begins moment when a serious filmmaker takes it on and decides to stop treating video game movies as just that, but rather acknowledges them as amazing storytelling experiences that just happen to be made up of polygons and pixels.

This is probably why some video game publishing studios like EA and Ubisoft have decided to get way more involved than they ever have been in the past with developing their properties for the screen. We’ve seen this with upcoming adaptations of EA’s Need for Speed and Dead Space, and especially in the case of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, which Michael Fassbender will be producing and starring in,where the French game studio demanded from 20th Century Fox that they have a huge amount of control over the entire production or no deal at all.

And they’re not just doing that because they have control issues (well, they probably do), but because we’ve seen far too many poor video game adaptations ruin the chances of the really good ones, all because the folks pulling the strings didn’t understand all the aspects of how adapt video games well (Step 1: Don’t hire Uwe Boll). I have no idea whether Uncharted and the rest will be the success I hope it to be (especially since past propose iterations of the Uncharted movie seemed to have virtually nothing to do with the game), but at least it sounds like a man who kind of knows what he’s doing is leading the charge.

Now if only Arad can figure out how to fit an Afrikaans robo-ninja into the story of Commander Shepard…

Last Updated: September 2, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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