Last week news emerged that Metal Gear Solid, that most beloved of stealthy stealth video games featuring a mullet-haired Kurt Russell knock-off as a hero, was about to be given the Hollywood treatment. This is obviously different to the Ravnos Treatment from Vampire: The Masquerade, which involves wrecking an entire city. No, the Hollywood Treatment involves making a movie out of something – in this case a game – and wrecking any fond memories fans of the source material had in the first place.
Most films based on games are rubbish but for some strange reason, whenever one is announced it garners a huge whoop of joyful expectation from the gaming community. Fans start chattering excitedly and gaming websites come up with articles positing theories about how the next film adaptation of a video game could manage to be anything other than a risible pile of hippo dung. It’s almost as though the announcement of any such project sends out a wave of radiation that eradicates the memories gamers have of any past attempts to translate gaming jewels into the medium of cinema. They forget the likes of Doom, Street Fighter and Max Payne. It’s like the existence of Uwe Boll and the stacks of celluloid turd he’s responsible for have evaporated from history.
Do you know what is probably
the only film based on a game that isn’t utter bollocks the best film adaptation of a game? Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time. It starred Jake Gyllenhaal, was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and was directed by no one you can remember. Actually it was directed by Mike Newell – he did Donnie Brasco, so maybe he was living in a cardboard box under a bridge at the time he said ‘yes’ to this project.
Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time isn’t a terrible film. It’s actually quite watchable – I should know, I’ve watched it and at no time did I feel the urge to chew my own tongue off. But it isn’t a great film. In fact, it’s barely memorable, which is depressing when you consider it’s a Bruckheimer film, and Bruckheimer films, as a rule, are pretty hard to forget. Take Coyote Ugly, for example; it’s an undeniable piece of tripe, but you don’t find yourself having to Google the phrase Coyote Ugly after reading it to know what the film is about. So think of just how ‘bleh’ Prince Of Persia is to be so utterly unmemorable. It isn’t just that it’s not up there with the likes of the first Pirates Of The Caribbean film, or even Bad Boys, Top Gun or The Rock. This film is less memorable than Gone In Sixty Seconds. Think about that: the best film adaptation of a video game ever made is more forgettable than film in which Nicolas Cage was stealing cars with Vinnie Jones while wearing the most ridiculous hairpiece he’d ever worn in his entire career.
Now before I come off sounding like a doom-mongering clod, let me make something clear; I’m completely open to the possibility that one day, someone somewhere will succeed in making a movie based on a video game that will be both thrilling and brilliant. All it needs is a change of tack; they should respect their source material and its fans instead of simply believing they have brand recognition and a built-in audience (you’d have thought the length of time it took Hollywood to produce a decent flick based on a comic book would have guided the way in this regard).
That having been said, I don’t think that Metal Gear Solid is going to be the movie that snaps the losing streak, and for once this won’t be the fault movie industry. The blame, this time, will lie with the source material. Metal Gear Solid is a great video game, but it falls apart as grist for a cinematic mill. The reason for this is that once you remove the player agency and the left-of-the-dial game design from Metal Gear Solid, you are forced to consider it solely on the merits of pacing, plot and characters and once you do this, it starts to look downright silly. The only way you could make a film out this mess that wouldn’t be absolutely appalling would be to pitch it as an action/comedy with its tongue planted so firmly in its cheek that it has ruptured the side of its own face.
First off, let’s go ahead and assume that, should this film materialise, it’s going to be based on the plot of Metal Gear Solid, because the plots for most of the other games in this series are bananas. In it, a group of super-powered terrorists take control of a machine capable of firing a load of nukes at the US. Rather than give into their demands to hand over the remains of a bloke called ‘Big Boss’ (yes, really), the US sends a lone agent (again, yes, really) called Solid Snake (AGAIN, YES, REALLY!) to infiltrate their island stronghold and thwart their plans.
So as you’ve probably worked out, the plot pitch for Metal Gear Solid is older than the Cold War: lone agent saves [fill in blank] and averts crisis. I think the only film maker who uses this rubric while keeping a straight face is Luc Besson, and he only does it to thread fight scenes together in screenplays he doesn’t even bother to direct himself. I suppose the film could work if they took it down the kung-fu action film route, but then that means that the notion of tactical stealth – you know, what MGS is known for – is chucked by the wayside. To make matters worse, the names of nearly all the characters in MGS are stupid. Oh, monikers like Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Decoy Octopus, Revolver Ocelot, Chaingun Badger and Flintlock Ferret work fine in a video game. On screen, though, they sound fucking ridiculous. Like I said, if the plan for the Metal Gear Solid movie is to take the piss, this could still work, but I doubt that would ever be the case, due to the sense of self-importance that the Metal Gear series imbues itself with.
Every game that roles of Hideo Kojima’s assembly line presents itself like it’s the video game corollary to War & Peace. This is hard enough to swallow when you figure that the games’ stories are populated by characters with names like Naked Snake and Big Boss, but in the face of the fact that each game has exactly the same underlying theme (‘War is Bad’ – is it, Hideo? Well pull me up a chair!) Metal Gear’s aura of worth can cause severe Dysphagia.
There are players who hold the opinion that Kojima is quite aware of how pompous some of his games feel, and actually, that’s something of an in-joke. Perhaps, they say, this is why he uses his characters to pinprick the seriousness of it all. It also doesn’t hurt that Kojima’s an eccentric genius responsible for some of the greatest moments in gaming history and it’s largely down to his vision that Metal Gear holds the place it does in gamers’ hearts today. That, of course, brings us back to our original problem again – how do you tap into the way Kojima uses player agency to convey moments of greatness, when player agency isn’t part of the medium you’re using? If you’ve played the Psycho Mantis boss battle from Metal Gear Solid, you’ll know it’s a mind-blowing exercise the first time you do it. But since a lot of its impact depends on an AI reading your console’s memory card and you unplugging a controller in the middle of the fight, there’s no way to recreate that mind-blowing experience in a film.
The more you start to think of how Metal Gear would work as a film, the less it feels like Metal Gear, so you’d have to ask, what’s the point in adapting it? Does the Metal Gear brand need a bump in popularity in gaming? No. Would a Metal Gear Solid film help convince audience members who have no time for video games that they’re seriously missing out? Probably not. So what’s the point in making it? Well, I suppose ticket sales as a litmus test for the franchise isn’t a bad idea. But then, why not just make another game?