So we’ve come to it. After years in development hell, an untold number of scripts, and a revolving door of directors, it looks like Sony is finally going to make good on their
threat promise and produce an Uncharted movie. The two leads are belted in. They’ve added more cast members. And Tom Holland says they’re to start filming in just a few weeks now that Venom director Ruben Fleischer has officially signed on.
It’s hardly a hot take to predict that this film will likely be an unmitigated disaster. A disappointing wannabe blockbuster that fails to make back the cash and rise above the sub-standard quality of other video-game-to-film adaptations.
Still, with my own intense investment in the Uncharted video games, this one feels really personal. And it bears worth considering the many, many factors working against this film. Not least of which because a number of them perfectly illustrate why Hollywood continues to flounder when it comes to adapting video games into movies.
For starters, there’s the problem with the lead himself. Tom Holland is a fine actor and, by all reports, he’s a very nice guy. I’m deeply skeptical that he will be the right person for this role. That he can carry off this Nolan North/Amy Hennig interpretation of the Indiana Jones archetype, latching onto the right level of bravado and wit.
But it’s more than that. It’s the approach with which the studio has taken to his character – not to mention the entire franchise itself. Did they consider all the factors when taking Nathan Drake’s character into account? Did they recognize the iconic nature of the role and make certain to find all the right qualities in looking for a lead? Did they audition, pouring through hundreds, if not thousands, of tapes to make certain they were picking the exact right actor for the part?
The answer is no. They did none of these things. By all reports, Tom Holland essentially won the part because Sony recognized his up-and-coming star status and wanted him attached to another franchise beyond Spider-man. So they gave him the role with very little other consideration.
Holland himself hasn’t really helped in this venture. By his own admission, he didn’t even play the games until last year (a full two years after he was cast). Whenever he opens his mouth, he betrays how little in the know he is on the task. His suggestion that it will succeed where others have failed because of the origin story suggests a painful lack of awareness surrounding the enormous complexities as to why video game movies continue to fail. His initial assertion that he’d like Chris Pratt to play Sully because Pratt is an actor he enjoys working with, speaks to the utter flippancy with which the film industry approaches video game adaptations.
Then there’s the matter of the games themselves. Uncharted was originally crafted by Naughty Dog essentially to be a summer blockbuster in video game form. Meaning you take the crazy action setpieces and varied locales and put that all in the hands of the player. Allowing us to directly experience what it’s like shooting enemies while climbing across a moving train, or survive a slowly sinking cruise liner while trying desperately not to drown.
To remove all these elements, the interactivity, the explicit engagement, and move them into a passive medium like film is, essentially, to backslide. Uncharted is a summer blockbuster + video game elements. Without them, it will most likely be just another generic action film. To say nothing of how story engagement (especially in a series as beautifully written as Uncharted) is specifically crafted for the interactive experience. Something that is nigh untranslatable into film.
Then there’s also the larger problem of how Hollywood approaches these adaptations. When making the Assassin’s Creed films, the director and lead actor both admitted that not only had they never played any of the games upon which the film is based, but they basically don’t play any video games whatsoever. Imagine Peter Jackson, halfway through the shoot of Lord of the Rings, admitting that he hadn’t read Lord of the Rings. Or any of Tolkien’s works. In fact, he had never really read a book in his entire life.
These people don’t believe it’s necessary to engage with the original text, or the form it’s presented on, because they don’t respect it. They don’t see it and recognize it as a valuable and creative medium. At best, film is likely viewed as improving on the source material by virtue of being a more “prestigious” form. And the end result is usually embarrassing, creative disasters.
Perhaps what really drives the cynicism of fans like myself is the blatant disregard the studio has for the source material. This isn’t driven by a desire to honor the original games, nor is there any indication of collaborating with Naughty Dog. Sony didn’t have a director come to them, a fan of the games, with a unique vision, determined to do right by them. There aren’t fans out there clamoring for this to be made; quite the opposite, in fact. There is absolutely nothing in any of the Uncharted games that suggests “this would be so much better if made into a move.” No. They’re making this for the money, pure and simple. This comes through in the attitude of the actors, the writers, the directors, and the studio. They aren’t making this because of a love for Uncharted. They’re making it because they hope to transform it into a new blockbuster franchise, never mind that, at best, it will only be redundant.
One need only look at the fan film from a couple summers ago to see all of this in sharp contrast. It was put together with no expectation for financial gain, from an ardent fan of the series, recruiting a long-time fan favorite for the role of Nathan Drake in Nathan Fillion. (Bonus points for the inspired choice of Stephen Lang as Victor Sullivan.) It was made with love, with respect, with passion, and even introduced some interesting new ideas for bridging the gap between film and video game. Watching this short, it’s not hard to see why fans responded far more positively to it than almost any other announcement made by Sony over the years of trying to make a feature length film.
So while we have a year to see what the end result is, it’s not out of left field to predict it won’t be very good. For myself, this brings an extra layer of disappointment, as I hate seeing a franchise and a character I love be exploited so. But in the end, maybe we’ll be lucky and someone somewhere will learn something good from it.
Or if not, we can all sit back and bask in the inevitable train wreck.