In 2003, Ubisoft’s "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" pulled off a leap of faith worthy of its agile lead character, successfully transitioning a classic PC franchise into the modern age of gaming. Now with the with the help of a huge pile of money, the talent behind the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Ab Roller, the movie version of "Sands of Time" (opening Friday, May 28) hopes to make the even bigger jump into theatrical feature film success.
The history of videogames-to-big-screen-adaptation isn't very pretty, and a far-cry from the ongoing Hollywood success of gaming's comic book cousins. The first mistake seemingly always made by studios looking to make the Great American Video Game Movie is choosing a game to adapt by the financially safe arithmetic of "biggest built-in audience plus largest potential explosions equals box office gold." Instead, filmmakers should be looking for game titles that deliver the memorable characters, amazing visuals and solid storytelling.
Here are a few suggestions of games ripe with multiplex potential:
The World Ends with You (2008)
The Game: A disaffected teenage loner who wakes up in an alternate plane of existence has to learn to work with others to save himself and his hometown in this Action/RPG.
The (potential) Movie: The Teen Movie sub-genre has remained popular for decades, drawing both humor and drama from the transition to adulthood. The "TWEwY" movie’s ‘shopping mall as purgatory’ setting would blend "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with "The Breakfast Club" into a film dealing with body image, burgeoning responsibilities and teenage commercialism with a supernatural struggle over life and death.
Chance of Release: Good. Get a cast of young, photogenic rising stars, a sponsor to deliver the plot-critical cell phones, remove the underlining theme of teen suicide and set it in the U.S. and you have a hit.
The Game: Move from room to room in a nearly endless maze filled with deadly robots while being chased by the disembodied, but ever-smiling head known as Evil Otto.
The (potential) Movie: What’s better than zombies? Robot zombies! Shambling and moaning replaced by the ceaseless screeching of metal upon metal as soulless electronic voices taunt the living from the darkness. A small group of people (maybe borrow the family from "Robotron: 2084") must survive against a tireless foe with little means to fight back, and no chance against Evil Otto, the insane AI behind it all.
Chance of Release: Moderate. A haunting tale of technology run amok, the robots in the horror movie version of "Berzerk" would make the purpose-driven Terminators look reasonable by comparison. The perfect date movie.
Ecco the Dolphin (1992)
The Game: Aliens have kidnapped the family and friends of Ecco the dolphin, and it’s up to him to journey the seas on an adventure to bring them back.
The (potential) Movie: CGI animated undersea adventures have been made before, but only once with any kind of success, and the Ecco movie would strip away the cuteness and add a heightened edge of danger in exploring the already alien world of undersea life that’s infected with presence of actual aliens.
Chance of Release: Good. The "Finding Nemo" crowd is growing up, and an audience already open to talking sea life would be open to returning to that world, as long as they avoid celebrity voices and the pop-culture reference trap that robs most CGI animated films of their timelessness.
Perfect Dark (2000)
The Game: On her first mission for the private espionage firm The Carrington Institute, Joanna Dark uncovers a plot that reaches to the highest levels of international business, government and beyond, way beyond.
The (potential) Movie: “Jane Bond” by design, Joanna Dark is the perfect character to take the spy film in a new direction by not just breaking the gender mold, but exploring the new age of unscrupulous international business and the influence of private military companies. Slam-bang action tempered with the philosophical implications of killing not for a flag, but for a logo.
Chance of Release: Low. Action films with female leads are increasing, there are even some that don’t star Angelina Jolie, but have a long way to go before they reach parity with the volume quipping tough guy movies.
The Game: The simple act of filling out a change of address form plunges a nameless everyman into a farcical nightmare of red tape, incompetent customer service, involuntary world travel, an existential crisis of identity and the potential for a fatal stress-induced aneurysm.
The (potential) Movie: A perfect vehicle for a comedic star turn, the "Bureaucracy" movie would only need a few updates and a super-cathartic ending to create a madcap version of the little struggles with “The System” that real people deal with every day.
Chance of Release: Excellent. Sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams, who proved with his eponymous "Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy" that having a world of information and technology at your fingertips doesn’t necessarily make your life any easier, conceived the original game way before people began living their lives online, an errant mouse-click away from disaster. Moreover, the idea a simple error destroying one’s life is one that is rich with dark humor.
The Game: The prequel game to the movie "Pitch Black" finds intergalactic badass Riddick escaping from a series of increasingly severe prison wards solely by being that much more brutal than the worst criminals in the universe who have the misfortune of being locked up with him on a desolate world. Its star, the self-professed gamer Vin Diesel, oversaw production the game personally, lending authenticity to the character that made him a breakout star.
The (potential) Movie: The film version would look like a sci-fi prison escape drama on the surface, would really be the story of one man’s struggle to live his life by his own code and free of society’s rules despite the consequences, thanks to the fully realized Riddick character, one of cinema’s great anti-heroes.
Chance of Release: Low. Vin might be too old to play his younger self, and the bomb that was the theatrical sequel to "Pitch Black" would make any producer gunshy of telling a story where everyone already knows the ending.
Red Faction (2001)
The Game: Unsafe working conditions, abuse and virulent disease have fermented rebellion in the mines deep under the surface of Mars. A single act of compassion and bravery triggers a revolt with one unlikely hero finding himself in the center of some carefully laid plans amongst the chaos.
The (potential) Movie: The game is almost pure action, running almost non-stop from start to finish, but the cinematic version will explore more of the history and oppression of the miners on Mars, and how far you can push a man before he starts to fight back, and the consequences, for both sides, of doing so. A story as old as time set in cramped tunnels of the Martian underground.
Chance of Release: Good. Stories about "the triumph of the human spirit" are always popular, and seeing someone take a sledgehammer to bring down a whole building has "McG" or "Michael Bay" written all over it.
Crimson Skies (2000)
The Game: Air piracy is the name of the game in an alternate reality 1937 where the United States has fractured into over a dozen smaller bickering nation-states. Dashing pilot Nathan Zachary takes to the skies to defeat a conspiracy that threatens his way of life.
The (potential) Movie: The "Crimson Skies" universe of propeller aircraft, zeppelin based commerce and steam-punk technology has all the makings of a cult hit, especially from the aspect of ‘principled lawlessness’ that guides the story’s leads, something that made characters like Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds into pop-culture icons.
Chance of Release: Very Low. The bomb that was "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" left a radioactive crater around this sub-genre that will last perhaps for decades to come, but with a stronger ‘American’ feel and a lot more color a "Crimson Skies" could take off.
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (1998)
The Game: Code Name: RAINBOW is a multinational team of counterterrorist operatives formed to address the threats of the post-cold war era. A tactical shooter, Rainbow Six and its many sequels and expansions require the player to think and plan extensively before acting, rather than use the gun-charging and reckless missile launching technique that somehow works so well in other action games.
The (potential) Movie: Clancy’s techno-espionage literary universe had already been mined extensively for films featuring his Jack Ryan character, but two characters that appeared in "Clear and Present Danger," black-ops mastermind Clark and Army Ranger Chavez were spun off into their own series of books. The new "Rainbow Six" movies would embody the game’s cool detachment in the face of rabid terrorist threats, trading Chuck Norris-esce gung-ho action for an efficiency of movement and violence that borders on art.
Chance of Release: Excellent. It would be hard to dismiss the appeal of quick, clean counter-terrorism action in this day and age, Clancy’s name has been bankable in the past, and cameos from the "HAWX," "GRAW" and" Splinter Cell" characters could keep the franchise going indefinitely.
The Game: This First Person Puzzler equips you with a prototype inter-spatial portal device and challenges you to run a maze while ‘aided’ by a seemingly harmless series of automated instructions and advisories.
The (potential) Movie: Like the shark in "Jaws," knowing a monster is out there and not seeing it is scarier than any kind of special effect. In the "Portal" movie, what starts as a seemingly innocent test of physical and problem solving skills in a sterile environment slowly deteriorates in every sense of the word as a silent heroine struggles to maintain her sanity as she is prodded along by an disembodied voice that steadily grows more inhuman and dangerous. Pure psychological terror as special effects and camera tricks turn the viewer inside out while an actor transitions from placidity to confusion, though to fear and near-madness before finding the resolve to escape.
Chance of Release: Excellent. "Portal" would be the perfect small-budget indie art film that has crossover blockbuster written all over it.