Hollywood and Video Games Rekindle Relationship

The director of '2 Guns' talks about an upcoming project based on a popular video game

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Mark Mainz / Getty Images

Writer/director Baltasar Kormakur poses for a portrait during the 2006 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 26, 2006, in Park City, Utah.

Baltasar Kormákur’s resume is nothing if not eclectic. He’s the director behind such diverse projects as award-winning Icelandic movies like The Deep, an in-production HBO series co-written by Malcolm Gladwell called The Missionary and this week’s action-comedy shoot-’em-up 2 Guns.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that another one of his upcoming projects goes in an entirely new direction: he’ll direct the TV series Eve, which is based on the game EVE Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that takes place in space.

On the other hand, even if the project were under the supervision of a filmmaker with a less diverse background, that a project like Eve is going into production shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. More and more, Hollywood is turning to games as material for TV and movies. And no, not just Battleship. As video games have gotten more complex and interactive, and their fans have gotten more devoted, they’ve become ripe sources for storytelling. But, as Kormákur has already learned with Eve—which is still in early stages and has no announced timeline or network yet—the marriage of movie-makers and gamers presents a unique set of challenges.

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It was less than a decade ago that game-based projects seemed to be jinxed. As IGN points out in a run-down of failed game movies, a Gore Verbinski BioShock movie has been on pause since 2010, there’s been little news about a Brett Ratner God of War since 2009, and even a Peter Jackson-Neill Blomkamp Halo was cancelled shortly before they made District 9. Another (rumored) attempt at Halo, with Steven Spielberg at the helm, also failed to become a movie.

Prince of Persia

Walt Disney Pictures

The track record of game-based movies that did get made isn’t encouraging. Despite some success—Tomb Raider, for one, though that was all the way back in 2001—there have been duds like 2010’s modestly ambitious Prince of Persia, which only made $90 million domestically and scored a dismal 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (It worked the other way around too, with movie-inflected games failing. In 2005, Electronic Arts and Steven Spielberg were supposed to collaborate on a parkour-based action game, according to 1up.com, but it didn’t work out and was cancelled in 2010.)

Today, things couldn’t be more different. And it’s not just that Hollywood has come back to take inspiration from games, either. Hollywood is also bringing its star power and savoir faire to games themselves, and gaming systems are moving toward supporting material that resembles more traditional TV and movies.

Take Spielberg, for example: though he said in June that games have not yet reached the storytelling and emotional level that movies have—though, to be fair, movies have had decades more in which to get to that point—the legendary director is clearly gung-ho about the medium. He’s perhaps doing more than any other filmmaker to bring it closer to movie-making, and vice versa. That failed Halo project is back on as of May, but as a Spielberg-produced “television” series that can be watched on an XBox. And, in June, it was announced that Spielberg’s DreamWorks was back in partnership with Electronic Arts, this time on a movie based on the long-running car-racing franchise Need for Speed.

Nor is Spielberg alone in his interest in games. At an April press event for Elysium, Neill Blomkamp said that he’s still interested in Halo. In February, J.J. Abrams said that he’ll be working on Half-Life and Portal projects. At this year’s Comic-Con, a World of Warcraft movie was officially announced. Actors are getting in on it too: Ellen Page stars in the game Beyond: Two Souls, to be released this fall.

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And then there’s Eve.

Kormákur says the agreement with CCP Games, the company that owns the rights to the property, has only just been finalized. But already it’s clear that a good video-game adaptation has particular needs.

For one thing, Eve is an interactive game and some of the storylines in the Eve Online universe are fan-created, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t already exist. “The tag line is that it’s based on a true story that happens 20,000 years in the future,” says Kormákur. “It has happened, in the game, because in some ways the game becomes a reality.” That reality includes economic value—the money and goods owned in the game can be sold for real money*, he points out—and emotional value, blurring the lines between what’s a game and what’s not (and belying Spielberg’s assertion that games haven’t yet mastered true emotion). Kormákur wants to use the fan-created reality and be true to their vision of the game. Accepting the “truth” of the universe means accepting certain limits, but there’s no way to get around it without compromising the project.

After all, if you’re not going to use what’s there, why adapt it in the first place? “If you’re going to do it to be most creative guy in the world, you may as well come up with your own idea,” he says. “There’s no reason to take something dear to people and just tramp on it.”

At the same time, he has to make sure that the movie doesn’t only appeal to Eve Online fans. As a non-gamer—”I played Pac-Man,” he says, “and that’s about it”—he sees himself as a counter-balance to the Eve-immersed people on his creative team. The goal is to do something like what The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek accomplished, to bring in new fans without losing their core base, though he acknowledges that there’s some stigma attached to video games that may make it more difficult to pull that off.

But the joke will be on anyone who writes off a movie because it’s based on a game, Kormákur predicts. “I have a problem with movie-lovers who hate remakes or say ‘you can’t do this.’ You can do anything, as long as the end product is worth watching. You can make a film from a poem, from a dream, from a series of books, a novel, an article in the newspaper, a video game—as long as you manage to make it stand on its own feet,” he says. Now that games are so much a part of the entertainment landscape, there’s no way they won’t make it onto screens somehow, and having them there makes our movies and television a better match to the world we live in.

“In some ways games are like graphic novels were a few years ago,” he says. “Everyone thought it was the worst idea to make anything out of graphic novels—but it was actually a brilliant idea.”

And, if the company Kormákur’s in is any indication, it won’t be long before that idea doesn’t seem strange at all.

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CLARIFICATION: Though you can exchange game items for real money, that’s not actually allowed within the rules of game play.