Friday, November 7, 2008

Mass Effect Movie

This is old news by now, but I didn't hear about it until last week. Really, I had suspected someone might have such a plan in the works but had not realized that the rights had already been bought. So here it is: Avi Arad, of recent Marvel success, has optioned the rights for a Mass Effect movie (Variety blog). I have already discussed at length my feelings about turning video games into movies. History shows that they always turn out horribly (as evinced by the fact that the video game-based movie with the highest IMDb user rating 1) has only a depressing 6.4/10 stars and 2) is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which is not even really based on a video game). Still, I have hope that if they (Hollywood producers or others with the power to initiate a project) manage to find a game with a good plot and good characters, they might have a chance at a good movie.

Well, Mass Effect has a good plot and good characters. Heck, it's practically a movie already (though the movie could do without the hours upon hours in front of the lockers in the vehicle bay trading shotguns and assault rifles and frakkin' mods to ensure the best distribution of equipment among party members). But, as I discussed in my previous post was the case with most games I play, part of what makes Mass Effect so great is that the player designs the main character. Shepard is a virtuous war hero, though one scarred by her tragic past; her adherence to the most noble, compassionate path falters only when her rage and desire for vengeance blind her in encounters with slavers. Shepard was raised in a military family, which instead of instilling him with strict morals has made him a renegade (maverick?); he knows how to get the job done, but his tactics are frequently called into question. Who will Shepard be in the movie? Whoever Shepard is, and whatever choices Shepard ends up making, it will all be decided for the audience. People who have played and loved the game will not be satisfied by the story, for it will not be the "real" Mass Effect story.

Or maybe it's just me. I guess I just really clicked with my female Shepard; I could relate to my protagonist more easily than I could relate to a male version of her. Plus I think action and sci-fi could always use some more strong female heroines who aren't totally objectified. Does that make me a feminist (or sexist even)? I don't know. In the case of KotOR, I can make a very strong case for the protagonist being a woman instead of a man (don't get me started), though the "canon" for whatever it's worth totally squashes that, and yeah, I may be a little bitter about that. I can't really make a strong case for Shepard being a woman, though, but nor can I make a case for a male Shepard. And yet I would definitely be bothered by seeing Shepard as a man in the mainstream version (i.e., the major motion picture). I put the chances of a male Shepard at 80% (though I should add that 62.4% of statistics are entirely made up); if it were Joss or J.J. producing, I'd perhaps have more hope of getting my way.

So how will the plot of Mass Effect, a great video game plot, translate into a movie plot? The side quests, another hallmark of a great video game, should all be cut out, lest they become the hallmark of a really tedious 12-hour movie. This leaves the main quest: Eden Prime, the Citadel, Therum, Feros, Noveria, Virmire, Ilos. The movie will have to be careful not to give the feeling of "We've won the Feros level, now let's continue on to the Noveria level". It needs to flow more naturally. Additionally, Mass Effect is a game of choices. One might say that it beat the player to death with choices, always making it clear: You can only choose either A or B (or frequently C), and it will have consequences! In a video game, this is a welcome freedom for the engaged player. The movie will have to highlight the difficult decisions and ramifications but not dwell on them to the point of making it seem forced.

One thing that I'm definitely excited about with a Mass Effect movie is the prospect of seeing an original sci-fi world brought to life in the realm of film with movie-quality special effects. I want to see how they do all the aliens--Turians, Krogan, Hanar, Geth. I want to see the Citadel. Whatever doubts I have about translating Mass Effect to a movie, I have faith that they can do justice in the visuals department.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first movie adaptation of a video game that allows this much freedom in designing the character and influencing the plot (though really, you can't change the plot all that much). This may give it an advantage by improving its chances of being a good film, but it also means it will probably alienate its fan base. This is not a sentence of doom, though, merely a challenge. I've been surprised before (not in this genre, but still...), so maybe it will be the first video game adaptation to earn over 7 IMDb stars. There's a lot that has to happen before Mass Effect actually becomes a movie. But seeing as it's the first Hollywood treatment of a game I play and love (I am NOT counting Pokemon), I will be doing my best to track its development. As always, we'll see what happens.

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