Every time I see or hear something about the “The Last of Us” or “Uncharted” movies, I get a little bit sad and a little bit angry.
It’s not that I don’t like the idea of movies based off of video games. Far from that – if there’s a video game I love, I would love to see more stories about the characters and their universe. But these two movies are doing what movies usually do to books. They’re going to attempt to take two very cinematic video games and completely retell their stories, and I think that’s wrong.
When it comes to cinematic video games, I think it’s important to ask why this story needs to be retold? If there isn’t a real reason, the film is pretty redundant; so what are these movies going to contribute to the franchise and to the fans? What do they do that the existing material does not? What is their purpose?
Both of these movies are going to take hours and hours of cinematics (not to mention in-game, story-driven dialogue) and condense them down to two hours or less. That means they’re going to have to change the story chop things up and cut things out, which begs the question does this need to happen? Are the current stories not good enough as they already are, as cinematic interactive experiences?
Regardless of why the movies are being made – whether it’s for profit alone or because the executives behind these movies really do like the source material – remaking the games into movies is a clumsy move. It’s still very possible to do things with the source material that does not involve reinventing the wheel.
Ideally what I’d like to see these movies do is one of the following: tell an entirely new story with the same main characters, tell an entirely new story with different main characters, or pull what I like to call a “Lion King 1 ½,” AKA telling the same story but following different characters. Any of those options would make for an interesting movie that would captivate fans and possibly pique the interest of people who haven’t played the source material.
Any of these would be a win-win for everyone involved. Retelling the story isn’t going to make anyone new want to play the game, because their curiosity will be satisfied by the sub-par version. Supplementary material is definitely the way to go, but unfortunately that’s not what’s going to happen.
Another thing I’d love to see these movies do is use the same realistic-yet-animated style of Naughty Dog games. “Movie adaptation” doesn’t have to mean “live action.” What’s so great about translating things into live action? There’s a stigma around animated movies, and a lot of people seem to think that anything animated is for kids. Obviously this isn’t true, and it has been proven wrong in both television (by things like Futurama, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers) and video games, but I’ve yet to see many movies try to challenge this stigma. There are very few animated movies marketed towards adults. And so far, I’ve yet to see many good live-action movie adaptations of video games.
Naughty Dog/Sony could really be a pioneer in the industry of “mature” animated films if they made either of these films a feature-length animated movie. Surely an animated movie would be the most respectful to the original actors and the people who animated the in-game cinematics. The actors in Uncharted and The Last of Us shaped their characters in so many ways; they put their hearts, souls, voices and mocap data into the roles they played, and the games feel very genuine because of that. With a live action movie you’re essentially replacing the original actors, but an animated movie would still allow them to have a role in the story they helped to create.
The bottom line for me, though, is that remaking movies from cinematic video games invalidates video games as a powerful storytelling medium. Video games are capable of telling stories & affecting audiences just as well as – if not more powerfully than – movies, and shrinking and chopping apart these stories in order to fit them into movies not only does the story injustice, but it does the medium injustice. The interactivity of video games is the medium’s greatest strength, but that’s something that’s still pretty hidden to the general public. Removing the interactivity from the stories of some of the most successful games of this generation only further reinforces that.
There’s no reason to make either of these movies if they’re just remakes, beyond cash flow. But Sony and Naughty Dog have the ability to give these movies a purpose beyond re-telling a story that’s already very well told. They’re just choosing not to, and that’s really disappointing.