Adapting 'Uncharted' and 'The Last of Us' is Proving Impossible, And That's a Good Thingby HaydnSpurrell
Here at Cultjer, we specialize in film and television, but I'm not so much breaking the rules as taking advantage of them.
The Uncharted series is a video game saga for the PlayStation making its debut on the PlayStation 3 back in 2007. Three sequels have been made since then, and, in between, a film adaptation has been in excruciatingly slow development. That being said, maybe it's because developer Naughty Dog's property isn't in need of a big-screen service. It does fine all by itself.
The film adaptation of the series has been slated for June 30, 2017, though how likely that is to happen is debatable. The series details the adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake in Indiana Jones-type capers in which he tracks hidden treasure through puzzles and gunfights, and has made a name for itself as one of gaming's most cinematic sagas to date, if not the platform's greatest example.
As far back as 2011, acclaimed director David O. Russell was in the director's chair, with Mark Wahlberg as the peculiarly cast titular character. Russell compared his vision of the film to something like The Sopranos, implementing a family dynamic that just doesn't exist in the franchise in the sense that he referred to. Russell's script eventually got tossed away by Sony, who didn't like where he hoped to take the franchise, and it reportedly involved a bevy of new characters unseen in the series, in a crime-family heist type of film.
"We'll have the family dynamic, which we've done in a couple of movies now, and then you take that and put it on the bigger, more muscular stage of an international action picture, but also put all the character stuff in it. That's a really cool idea to me."
"This idea really turns me on that there's a family that's a force to be reckoned with in the world of international art and antiquities ... [a family] that deals with heads of state and heads of museums and metes out justice."
Since then, plenty of names have weaved in and out of the discussion. Game writer Neil Druckmann said in an interview earlier this year that "If you don't get [the relationships] right, I don't think the film's going to work." The film's 2017 release date was set back in August of 2015. In that same year, Nolan North, the voice of Nathan Drake, explained his belief that the fans simply don't want an adaptation.
“My opinion on the movie from what I’ve heard from fans is they don’t want an Uncharted movie, no matter who’s the star. Maybe because it is such a cinematic experience in itself. I don’t know if it is financially feasible for the studios to make this film anymore. Personally that is just my feeling because the most recent movie Hitman wasn’t received very well and others had not done very well. Some have, I know Resident Evil did okay, but that’s a different genre."
For a long time, film has been the premium storytelling avenue, blending narrative elements of acting, music and visuals to create two hours of emotion delivered in compelling, involving ways. That dominance has already been challenged by modern television, not to mention other mediums like comic books. Video games have also begun to make a case for their own validation as a medium deserving of the same recognition.
While the first three Uncharted Games, released for the PlayStation 3, were heavily cinematic, they arguably didn't reach the heights of other narrative platforms like film, instead achieving a kind of two-dimensional summer blockbuster vibe, with just enough character development to make Drake and his comrades matter. The developer has grown from early work on Crash Bandicoot, the PlayStation's own combatant against Mario and Rayman from other developers, to 2013's The Last of Us. With that game, a post-apocalyptic action drama, Naughty Dog took its official steps into truly cinematic, deeply sincere character drama.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End came out earlier this year, the final chapter in the nearly decade-long Uncharted tale. With A Thief's End, Druckmann followed up the post-apocalyptic epic with a finale that took all of the lessons learned on The Last of Us and applied them to the adventurous, less grim aesthetic of Uncharted.
This made for a game that's mostly cut scenes for its first hour or so, which enhanced the immersive nature of the climbing and shooting later on (the incredible action sets and cinematography didn't hurt either). In such a short time, a cast of already lovable characters from previous games were completely immersive, and relationships are explored on perhaps an even deeper level than a number of today's Hollywood blockbusters. And that's why there's no need for an Uncharted adaptation to the big screen. Uncharted 4 is committed as wholeheartedly to its theatrics as it is to its subtext and its drama. The Last of Us, similarly, is looking pretty much dead, following Drukmann's comments earlier this year.
"I know I said in an interview a while back we had a table read, got the script to a good place and it kind of entered development hell like these things tend to do. There hasn’t been any work done on it in over a year and a half."
There's a good reason for why these games are proving so difficult to adapt. They just don't need to be.
These are games that could play out on a big screen to begin with. They are, graphically, even more stunning than a number of films we see today. The action is involving. It's not like playing a cinematic game. It's a 10-hour-plus experience, an epic that a two-hour film could simply did no justice for. The games strike the perfect balance between film and video game, shining a light on the future of gaming without demanding that there needs to be a relationship between big screen and small.
I'll admit I'm looking forward to Assassin's Creed, but perhaps it's for two reasons: one, I haven't ever, properly, played through one of the games. And two, Michael Fassbender is a firm enough lure to any movie he's in. If these adaptations can draw more people into compelling stories played out on the console, then the more the merrier. But too often, they've failed to come even close to doing justice to the games their portraying. Going by what history tells us, then an adaptation of Uncharted, or The Last of Us, looks near-on impossible and, frankly, pointless.
Source: IGN, Nerd Reactor, LA Times, Cinemablend