We gamers are a cranky lot when it comes to putting our favorite games on the big screen. When you play a truly great game, you become emotionally invested in it; you've lived it. Naturally, you want a say in what happens to it. Like it or not, though, we don't actually get a say in the movie-making process, from picking a director to casting the characters or deciding how to best adapt the story for a different format and audience.
One of the best examples of this is when David O. Russell was picked to direct a film version of the award-winning PlayStation 3 game, Uncharted. It's old news now that Russell is no longer with the project, but before we move on to sizing up the new guy, Neil Burger, let's rewind a bit.
Before raking in some Oscar gold with The Fighter, Russell was known for his darkly humorous indie films (hello, Spanking the Monkey) and bad temper. Although you don't have to be a gamer to make a movie about a video game, it helps to have a healthy love for the medium. And the game you're adapting, for that matter. Say what you will about Paul W. S. Anderson's films, but he's a gamer through and through. He brings that love to his adaptations, even if they're battier than the Congress Avenue Bridge on a balmy summer night.
Russell, on the other hand, probably not so much. Then he really lost us when he cast Mark Wahlberg as Nathan Drake, the game's protagonist. As E. Daniel Arey, the former creative director of Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, commented, "I can tell you from our experience that there is a fine line between jerk and lovable rogue. We developed Nathan Drake determined to make him more human and accessible than most videogame heroes." Drake has famously been compared to Harrison Ford characters like Indy and Han Solo, two characters that have a sort of humor and vulnerability that seem pretty foreign to Wahlberg.
Apparently, Sony agreed that Russell's, er, unique direction for the movie was not what they had in mind. According to the L.A. Times, Russell left the project "because he had steamrolled ahead, but in a different direction than studio Sony wanted." The Times astutely compares this to how Aronofsky and Fox butted heads over Wolverine -- a case of big studios trying to coax big moneymaking movies from filmmakers who might be, shall we say, very particular about how much control they're given. Ideally, it would be very cool to see a director with arthouse cred take a crack at something big and flashy, as Alfonso Cuarón did with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but it's a big chance for a studio to take. Being prickly and/or precious is just not going to fly in this situation.
So, exit Russell and Wahlberg, and enter writer/director Neil Burger. Joystiq managed to sneak in a few questions with him last week at Comic-Con as he was promoting the DVD release of Limitless. Burger has an interesting resumé that includes the Bradley Cooper sci-fi drug drama, an indie about Iraq War vets called The Lucky Ones, and The Illusionist, a lovely and underrated adaptation of the short story by Steven Millhauser. Burger has chops, and he's on the short list for a bunch of projects. Plus, he's got the spirit of the game down pat.
"The character Nate in particular I like because he's this ballsy guy that lives by his wits, and who's capable of kind of anything and everything. He's fearless and he doesn't give a damn and he'll go after the thing. I dig that kind of character and it's a great character for a movie," he told Joystiq. So, either he's been studying up on how to charm video game reporters, or he's the man for the job. Since he's a busy guy, I'm going with the latter.
One aspect of Uncharted that might make it hard to adapt into a film is that it has so many pop culture references and influences like the Indiana Jones movies. Is it going to be any fun to watch a movie that's based on a video game that basically riffs on other movies? Or is that really not very different from what we're already seeing on the big screen, just with a different source material?
Hopefully, we'll see the fruits of Burger's labor sooner rather than later, although Russell's misfire mucked up the release date. In the meantime, fans are eagerly waiting to see who Burger casts as Drake. A bunch of folks have their hearts set on geek heartthrob Nathan Fillion of Castle, Firefly, and Buffy fame for the role. Fillion, as a kindly Canadian might, has suggested that fans might want to STFU about the matter and leave Burger alone to make his own decision.
"I am certainly still interested in playing Nathan Drake. I think every actor I know wants their action-adventure hero, their Indiana Jones. That would be a good one for me, I think. What I don’t want is people pressuring that poor man [director Neil Burger] and souring him on the actual idea. If we could somehow just… Do you remember the movie Inception? I think that's what we need to do. We need to let him land on the idea on his own," he told Screen Rant at Comic-Con.
Very crafty, Mr. Fillion. Very Nathan Drake, eh?