Bioshock’s Creator Speaks Out As To Why – Is This Good News?
We’ve spilled a fair few words about videogame film adaptations and the problems that they encounter in their development. One of the biggest problems with these sort of projects is the fact that the Hollywood studios don’t actually care about the original properties instead of just the brand equities. Then they hire writers and directors that have limited experience with the originals and you end up with movies that barely resemble the qualities that made the original product so endearing. Quite often, if a game developer truly cares about their property they’ll attempt to get involved with the project to try to maintain some creative control and ensure that their original game is being represented properly. Unfortunately, a lot of these end up with the games never making it to the screen (the failed Halo movie being a huge example of this) because the game and film studios can never agree. In some ways these cancellations are often good news, because the original creators are standing by what they believe and will not compromise their original vision for a paycheque. It’s certainly a comforting thing to see in the world. At the same time, the stigma surrounding gaming being an activity that only nerds engage in has well and truly lifted, so it’s about time that videogames are shown respect.
Ubisoft are a company that is attempting to take matters into their own hands by creating their own film studio that will work in co-operation with other film studios to create accurate and authentic films to coincide with their games. They’re currently working on an Assassin’s Creed film with Michael Fassbender to star and a Splinter Cell film with Tom Hardy. There’s also rumblings of a Ghost Recon movie, but there are no other details surrounding that project yet.
Ubisoft’s dedication in trying to create a film adaptation that not only ties in with their brand, but something that they can be proud of is promising news. The studio are taking a small financial risk (let’s face it, these properties are huge and will more than pay for themselves, eventually) to ensure the quality of their product. It’s the hope that other studios will seek to do something similar, although they’re most likely waiting cautiously to see if Ubisoft will succeed first. Let’s hope they don’t leave it too late like Warner Brothers did with Marvel.
However, as previously stated, videogames aren’t being respected by the major film studios and that’s why it’s actually not entirely bad news that the big screen adaptation of Bioshock, has been cancelled.
Bioshock is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time and all the way back in May 2008, Universal Studios announced that they had made a deal with Take Two Interactive to produce the adaptation with Pirates Of The Caribbean director Gore Verbinski at the helm and with a script written by John Logan. It’s been five years since that news and there have been many battles between the production studio, Verbinski and the game developer until the plug was finally pulled and the project laid to rest.
For those not in the know, Bioshock is an incredible first person shooter set in the 1960′s, which begins with an unnamed protagonist swimming from the burning wreckage of a plane crash, before finding a seemingly abandoned lighthouse that contained a submersible craft. From there, he found himself descending into the underworld dystopia of Rapture – a once majestic civilization founded by Andrew Ryan, a great leader, as a place where the smartest and most creative people in the world could live, free from the pressures and stresses of the simple minded folk with their outdated ethics and poor man ideals. Unfortunately the once great utopia fell into disarray with a smuggler and gangster named Fontaine leading the lower classes of the city into a bloody civil war with their rich masters. Now, all that is left are grisly corpses, homicidal drug addicts and disfigured mutants, living a miserable and tortured existence skulking through the remains of a once great city.
Bioshock also contains one of the best written and mature twists in gaming history, making it a videogame that is truly perfect for a big screen adaptation, which in some way makes it a very sad fact that a deal was never worked out between the parties. Although, it could be argued that a game that is as cinematic and immersive as Bioshock wouldn’t necessarily adhere to the film format, as a large part of its charm is playing the central role, lost in the world of Rapture, rather than following a main character stumble his way through the haunted city. (Weirdly enough, even though you never see what the protagonist looks like I’d always imagined the main character looking a little like Adrien Brody while playing.)
The Bioshock film adaptation was originally resigned to development hell in 2011 when, after a long and draw out struggle, Verbinski left the project citing differences with the studio. Universal were not willing to part with the budget required to do the game justice, as well as keeping a hard R rating that Verbinski was adamant on. The dreaded R rating is something that many major Hollywood studios fear as they feel it will stop many people from seeing their film. There hasn’t been much heard from the project since, so it was a long assumed notion that the project was dead. Ken Levine, the game’s creator, filed an official autopsy report in the form of an interview about the upcoming highly anticipated game, Bioshock Infinite. Part of the discussion turned to the Bioshock movie and Levine had a lot to say about it. Here’s his statement:
There was a deal in place, and it was in production at Universal – Gore Verbinski was directing it. My theory is that Gore wanted to make a hard R film – which is like a 17/18 plus, where you can have blood and naked girls. Well, I don’t think he wanted naked girls. But he wanted a lot of blood.
Then Watchmen came out, and it didn’t do well for whatever reason. The studio then got cold feet about making an R rated $200 million film, and they said what if it was a $80 million film – and Gore didn’t want to make a $80 million film.
They brought another director in, and I didn’t really see the match there – and 2K’s one of these companies that puts a lot of creative trust in people. So they said if you want to kill it, kill it. And I killed it.
It was weird, as having been a screenwriter, begging to do anything, and then killing a movie on something you’d worked on so much. It was saying I don’t need to compromise – how many times in life do you not need to compromise? It comes along so rarely, but I had the world, the world existed and I didn’t want to see it done in a way that I didn’t think was right.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end for a possible Bioshock movie. Levine admits that he’d be open to reconsidering another adaptation if the “right combination of people” came along. “It may happen one day; who knows?” Either way it’s a pretty refreshing sight to see a creator refusing to compromise Bioshock‘s integrity for the sake of easy money. Decent video game movies can be counted on one hand, let alone good films. Bioshock‘s reputation as one of the best critically received games of all time, as well as the mature content and themes that it tackles would definitely never work outside of an R rating, and the fact that a studio was trying to fight for a watered down (geddit?) version is just shameful. Again, it indicates that major Hollywood studios are not interested in the legacy of the products that they are currently attempting to exploit, rather just how many bums on seats the name brand recognition can guarantee.
In terms of whether a film of Bioshock would actually work, that’s a different story entirely – one of the bravest and most innovative moments in recent gaming history comes from a profound meta-commentary moment specific to the nature of gaming and the interaction between the player and the narrative. Recreated in a film setting a moment like that would inevitably lose all of its power and instead seem like another mindless, generic twist. Not to mention with budget constraints it would be very difficult to create the world of Rapture, a sprawling architechtural marvel, whose scale and grandeur would be almost impossible to pull off. Let’s not even get into the idea of trying to do justice to the often brutal and mature content within proposed PG-13 constraints. It’s a good thing that Levine and co. chose to stick to their guns on this project, but at the same time this is another great property that we’ll never get to see because studios don’t have respect for videogames.
Personally, I think a lot of it stems from a very outdated way of thinking, from people who don’t actually play games themselves. Famous film critics like Roger Ebert and Mark Kermode have been known to criticize gaming before, even after admitting never having played any. Ebert most famously wrote an enormously criticized article about how games could never be considered as artistic (complete and utter hogwash) and while doing a review of Max Payne on his radio show Kermode can be heard saying “It’s a videogame, so it doesn’t have a story“. When hs co-host pointed out that Max Payne had been awarded accolades for its mature and progressive story Kermode scoffed and said “No. Games don’t have stories.”
Now, I actually like Kermode, while I don’t often agree with him I respect his position on a lot of things and he is a great scholar of horror. What these men’s comments demonstrate is a certain amount of ignorance that exists within the older generation towards videogames, and it’s this same generation that are making a lot of the important decisions in these type of productions. Their uninformed opinions are indicative of the frame of mind of the people in charge and that’s the problem with all of these productions. At least there are creators out there like Ken Levine that are willing to stand up for their creative vision, even if it means losing a movie deal.