What game adaptations can learn from comics
Don't let the fact that the Metal Gear Solid movie already has a director make you think that it's far along in its development. They're still writing and re-writing the script, after all, as Jordan Vogt-Roberts told GameSpot while promoting his live-action Destiny 2 trailer. The director simply managed to attach himself to the project unusually early because he cares about it.
Vogt-Roberts has a clear vision for what he wants the Metal Gear Solid movie to be, and his passion for MGS runs deep. The director even claims he knows why video game movie adaptations have, historically, sucked.
"I think it's a couple of things," Vogt-Roberts told GameSpot.
"I think that [filmmakers] have looked at a video game movie and said, 'Oh, that's flashy! That's cool!'...and there's very little desire to really understand the tone and the atmosphere," he said. "A big part of it is not fully committing to the source material, being able to say 'No, this is what makes this great, so let's figure out how we translate it.'"
He compares video game movies with comic book-based films, which have experienced an astoundingly successful renaissance in the past decade.
"After some of the stuff that was made very early on, Richard Donner [Superman] stuff, there was almost a 30-year gap where people couldn't make [comic book] movies," he said. "I think a lot of it, frankly, had to do with studios not understanding genre, and not understanding comic books, and then not putting filmmakers that they could trust, who also had an embedded love of these properties. And it took bringing guys like Sam Raimi, who actually had an invested interest and a love of Spider-Man from his youth, to sort of say, 'I understand cinema, I understand comic books, so how do we translate this?'"
In the early 2000s, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies and Bryan Singer's X-Men films seemed like the exceptions, not the rules. But since then, comic books movies have built on those foundations and become some of the most successful, influential, and lucrative films on the planet. Unsurprisingly, given his role and his hopes for the Metal Gear Solid movie, Vogt-Roberts attributes those successes to the passionate individuals behind the movies.
"I just don't think that the right filmmakers have been paired with video game adaptations yet--people who have had their DNA and their brains re-wired by games," he said. "If you grew up on video games, there's a language to those games that I think seeps into your brain at a very young age."
"For me, it really does go down to that simple thing of: What does a game make you feel?" he continued. "I don't care if you're playing Halo or Gears of War or Call of Duty or Destiny or Zelda or Metroid--all of those games make you feel something specific. Each of them has a definable difference in what they make you feel and how they make you feel those things. What I'm fascinated in is saying 'How do you intelligently, and in a cinematic language, recreate that feeling?'"
In Metal Gear Solid, the director cited the feelings of tension panic as you sneak around classic areas like Shadow Moses, avoiding and fleeing from enemies. "How do you recreate that type of tension?" he asked. Vogt-Roberts is fascinated by game design and video game mechanics, and he thinks the feelings games convey should form the core of any game adaptation. Then, you build a world, characters, and story around that.
"I'm just trying to be a part of a wave of guys who view the idea of talking about a movie and saying 'it feels like a video game,' as a positive thing as opposed to a negative thing," he said. "Soon people will not negatively associate games and movies. I think it will be a positive comparison."
If Vogt-Roberts is right, Metal Gear Solid might just turn out to be the Spider-Man of video game movies.
Photo: Jordan Vogt-Roberts directing the Destiny 2 commercial, by Chase Madrid