The most misplaced video game movie pitch
The art of making movies out of video games has a long and bad history, but things have improved lately. A few good examples have sweetened the memories of the bad ones, but that doesn’t suddenly mean that every game that sells a few million copies can make the leap to the big screen.
The first salvo of good video game movies came in 2019 with Detective Pikachu and was quickly followed by the incredible double act of sonic the hedgehog movies. These films sold well, received positive reception from fans and critics, and significantly changed the cultural perception of video game films for modern audiences.
Several major video game studios are making clear their intention to shift their efforts into the cinematic space. Nintendo now has an in-house movie studio. Sega has named several large and small properties that will follow The Blue Blur’s lead. Thanks to the financial success of the recent Unexplored film adaptation, Sony enthusiastically joins the club. Several important and recent releases of Playstation should arrive on the multiplex or the small screen within the next year or two. The twin stars of this business plan are Ghost of Tsushima and The last of us. The former has a film adaptation in the works courtesy of John Wick director Chad Stahelski, while the latter is heading to HBO Max with Pedro Pascal in the lead role. Both are very cinematic gaming experiences with plenty of hints taken from existing popular film and TV projects. They are also working on a few less inspiring ideas.
Days gone was released in 2019, developed by Bend Studio, and it landed in the top 20 best-selling games of that year. It is an open-world third-person shooter that puts the player in the role of outlaw biker Deacon St. John. St. John wanders the post-apocalyptic wastelands of rural Oregon after a generic zombie plague and its generic aftermath. It sold well, over 8 million copies by some estimates, but it lacked the level of positivity one would expect from critics or audiences. The game has been criticized for its poor story, boring missions, stereotypical plot, and overwhelming lack of personality in its protagonist. It’s perhaps Sony’s least-loved title of its generation, forgotten as quickly as it came out. Sony even shut down the potential sequel. Despite this explicit demonstration that Sony doesn’t trust the IP, a feature film adaptation is in the works.
Days gone was explicitly inspired by a lot of existing media, mostly zombie movies and TV shows. Parts whose names were verified by Bend were World War Z, The Walking Deadand Sons of Anarchy. These three works brewed in a too long and boring malaise would be a perfect description of Days gone. All three started in the late 2000s or early 2010s. The zombie craze had died long before the game was released in 2019. Every media outlet had said all the right things about the collapse of society following the raising of the dead from their graves. At this point, it borders on an encore. Apart The Walking Deadwhich continues without a spark of life much like the monsters in its title, zombie media is mostly abandoned. Days gone would fall at least a decade after the fad ended. In addition to representing a trend well past its sell-by date, the specific work the film seeks to adapt is toxic.
One of the big problems with making video game movies in the first place is that removing gameplay from games leaves an often lackluster product. The games already have stories, the chained cutscenes are basically just badly paced movies, and the only thing that often saves them is the gameplay experience. The most praised element of Days gone was his enemy AI. Large armies of undead were able to simultaneously appear on screen and chase the player to death. This sense of tension cannot be found in film, and the closest thing has been captured by other stories. The most frequently criticized aspects of the game were its story and characters, which is all the film could faithfully recreate.
People don’t want another boring zombie movie. They certainly don’t want a character led by a character that players despise and forget. Sony doesn’t think The Adventures of St. John was worth revisiting in the medium that spawned it, do they really think it’s a better proposition on the big screen? Days gone got the lackluster reception it deserved, but adapting it to a movie would only amplify the worst parts while removing the only redeeming qualities. Whether Days gone goes through the process and eventually becomes a major movie, it should serve as a valuable lesson that Sony refuses to learn. Just because it’s a name people remember doesn’t mean it has a place in blockbuster cinema.
MORE: Uncharted has explosive debut on Netflix