The Metal Gear Solid movie is still a long way off. Its director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, attached himself to the adaptation unusually early in the process, through a combination of passion, determination, and hard work. Back in 2014, he was relatively untested; now, with the successful Kong: Skull Island on his resume, he's using his newfound clout to course-correct the project closest to his heart.
"After Kong came out, and it was a commercial and critical success, my standing sort of changed in that world," Vogt-Roberts tells GameSpot, while promoting his new live-action trailer for Destiny 2.
"I really give credit to the people I'm working with at Sony, the executives and the producers," he says. "I was able to go to them and say, 'Let's stop where we are, because I think we're heading down a direction that doesn't fully capture why people love this game, what Kojima's voice is, why people who have played this game for decades love it, why people who have never played this game will love it.' I was able to say, 'Let's really think about whether we're making the truest, most balls-to-the-wall Metal Gear version of this--the most Kojima version of this. And even if that means we make it for a little bit less money, let's make the version of this that's true to what it is, fully committed to what Kojima's voice is.'"
"So we're sort of re-working the script right now, and hopefully we get a script that they are excited about, and then get more serious about making it," he continues.
Over several decades of overwhelming commercial and critical failures, video game movie adaptations have become a major anathema. Some fans are waiting for the great game adaptation that will break the spell and open the floodgates, like the comic book movie renaissance of the last decade or so. Others have given up; games themselves are more cinematic than ever, after all, so why even bother trying to adapt them to another medium?
"Let's make the version of this that's true to what it is, fully committed to what Kojima's voice is."
Vogt-Roberts has highly personal reasons for wanting to adapt Metal Gear. "If you put a gun to my head right now, and you said, 'You can go make a new Star Wars movie or you can go make Metal Gear Solid,' no question, I would be making Metal Gear Solid," the 32-year-old director says. "I just grew up on those games...At very important phases of my life, there was always a new Metal Gear Solid to go along with that. As I was maturing, the franchise was maturing."
He's waiting for a new wave of filmmakers he believes will elevate video game adaptations to the status they deserve. It will be a new age for gaming movies, and one he wants to be a part of.
Hearing Vogt-Roberts talk about it, you can almost believe. There are plenty of perfectly logical reasons why a Metal Gear Solid movie can't possibly work: The series' outlandish characters and tangled webs of narrative and theme; its insane moment-to-moment tonal shifts; the bloated universe that seems with every new game to have burst, fully-formed and intractable, from series creator Hideo Kojima's head. How do you translate that into a movie? Where do you even start?
It's a gargantuan task, but Vogt Roberts has so many thoughts and theories that, at times, he can barely stop talking about it long enough to take a breath. He wants to convey his passion, and you want to believe that if anyone can do it, he can.
"There's a billion ways to do this wrong, and that's why I've been so passionate and adamant about it--because it's something that I probably know better than just about anything on the planet. And it would be very easy for someone in Hollywood to screw this up," he says. "Metal Gear is so tonally complex, it would be so easy for a studio to make it generic, make it G.I. Joe, make it whatever. It's like, 'No, no, no. If you're going to do this, you have to double down and 100% not be afraid of what Metal Gear is.' You have to fully commit to it, and that's what's going to make people fall in love with it."
"There's a billion ways to do this wrong."
There's no simple way to do that, but he's been thinking for a long time about how playing games makes you feel, and how to bring not just a game's world and story, but also those feelings, to life. For him, the whole thing hangs on nostalgia.
"How do you recreate that type of tension when you're sneaking around, that thing that all of us felt as teenagers--when you're sneaking around Shadow Moses?" he asks. "The panic of evasion, holy s***, that alarm sound--when you were a kid, you used to go nuts!"
"How do you recreate that on film? How do you make that something that's cinematic?" he continues. "I think it's just about really, truly understanding what these games made all of us feel, and then figuring out how we preserve that, and how we build a movie around that."
That doesn't address what anyone who didn't play MGS as a kid will get out of a Metal Gear Solid movie. But Vogt-Roberts believes they'll get it, too--that he's capable of making a Metal Gear Solid movie "that feels unlike anything else."
"The characters alone, you're talking Marvel/DC level iconography, between Snake and Boss and Sniper Wolf and Cyborg Ninja and The End, there are just so many characters that are comic book-level iconic," he says. "I simultaneously want to tell a small story, and an enormously complicated one at the same time. It would be the easiest franchise to take on too much and to try and do too many things, but it's not going to make sense until you see it."
"We're playing with a lot of really cool devices, and something that I'm incredibly excited about that I can't really get into, because I think when people find out what we're trying to do, they'll be like, 'Well that's f***ing cool,'" the director continues. "I'm trying to tell a contained, emotional story, but also bring in the scope and weirdness of the Metal Gear franchise and to understand the different generations."
The Metal Gear Solid movie may be in the best possible hands at this stage, but that doesn't mean it will ever get made. Fans won't soon forget the infamous fallout between the games' publisher, Konami, and series creator Hideo Kojima. It's a shadow that now hangs over the entire series, especially since Kojima himself has moved on to a partnership with Sony and a new game, Death Stranding (although he's has expressed no ill will toward his former employer).
Vogt-Roberts hasn't run up against the games' publisher--yet. "I have not dealt with Konami at all," he says. "I'm very vocal about wanting to shepherd Kojima-san's voice. And that will never be something that I stop being vocal about. Konami, I believe, does have the rights, but I've not had a single meeting with them."
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Vogt-Roberts is fresh off of Kong: Skull Island and the new Destiny 2 commercial. On both projects, he flexed his tonal muscles and his ability to bring larger than life, video game-like (literally, in the latter's case) action to the big screen. So when is the Metal Gear Solid movie actually happening?
"I would make this my next movie, [but] there are so many things that need to happen before then," he says. "We need to get a script that everyone feels good about, then we need to cast the thing, then we need--you know, there's just so many things that go into whether or not studio movies get made, the least of which is like whether a script is good or not."
There always has to be a first step, though, and with his newfound clout, this director is doing his best to ensure it's in the right direction.