Originally Published on Creators.co July 23rd, 2017
Not too long ago it was reported that Sony’s latest video game adaptation, Uncharted, was going to be restructured once again into a young Nathan Drake (the franchise’s titular character) movie with the new Spider-Man actor Tom Holland taking on the iconic role. The news took the internet by storm, leaving the fan base seemingly divided over this new direction. I myself had a very visceral reaction to the news, but I decided to take a few days to mull over the news rather than becoming a raging lunatic firing his keyboarded words across the Twitter-sphere.
The more I thought about the news the more disappointed I became. It’s been well documented that the video game movie genre has struggled (to put it nicely). 2016 saw the release of arguably the best video game movie Warcraft (which isn’t saying much), but also the abysmal Assassins Creed. There has yet to be a good video game movie. There are a few video game series that held the greatest potential to pull the genre out of the misery. One of the biggest games series that had that potential is Uncharted. The games are incredibly cinematic, well written, has character development, and has great trailblazing treasure hunts that fill the void that the lack of a (good) Indiana Jones movie has left us. A lot of the heavy lifting is done for the filmmakers. There is still an adaptation process, but the games are screaming to become movies.
However, it’s clear that Sony isn’t looking to adapt any of the games into movies. Instead, Sony is setting up this Uncharted movie into a prequel of the series with Tom Holland. Before I go any further, Holland is a perfect casting for a young Nathan Drake. Holland even looks a lot like Nathan Drake while he was young (as shown in Uncharted 3 and 4). This could make a good movie. But as an Uncharted fan, it’s isn’t the movie I want to see. I also don’t have much faith in this movie because of the casting despite the fact that I think Holland is perfect for a young Nathan Drake. This has nothing to do with Tom Holland as an actor, it has to do with the studio and the production history behind the movie. There are a couple of different narratives going on that gives me a bad feeling
The Sony Side
Sony has been looking to get an Uncharted movie off the ground for years now. Fandango provided a quick rundown at the history of this. This history stems back to 2011 when David O’ Russel was attached to direct and Mark Walberg to star. Since then, four different directors have come onto the project with many different screenwriters attempting to crack the “Uncharted Code” (so to speak). Currently speaking, Jon Carnahan is set to write with Real Steel director Shawn Levy set to direct. Years of development doesn’t make for a bad product, but when it’s surrounding a property that the studio is hell-bent on adapting, it makes me very suspicious that they don’t know exactly what to do with it or how to make it. Sony has been searching hard for some high-profit franchises. They ran into a lot of trouble a few years ago around the Sony hacks during the release of The Interview and the underperformance of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. All of this led to them desperately striking up a deal with Marvel to bring the web-slinging superhero into The Avengers world to keep the character relevant.
After Tom Holland’s first appearance of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War was met with acclaim and many excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming, Sony clearly feels they are getting the character back on track. But they are still searching for more franchises as evident by their intent to release a Venom movie and a bunch of other movies surrounding the villains of Spider-Man without anything to do with Spider-Man. Along with that, they are also releasing a full length animated movie in theaters centered on the Miles Morales Spider-Man. It feels Sony is throwing a lot at the dartboard to see whatever sticks. Like every studio at the moment, they want franchises.
Tom Holland is an upcoming star, he is not just known for Spider-Man. He also takes supporting roles in dramas like The Lost City Of Z and In The Heart Of The Sea(all of which he got some praise for). In an interview with Yahoo, Tom Holland revealed that Sony was looking to see what type of projects he was interested in doing. Sony is looking to push the young star. In the interview, it was also revealed that he was the one that pitched the young Nathan Drake story rather than “copying the games”.
Why this Worries Me
So what does this tell us? Sony has been trying to get this movie off the ground for years. They want franchises and they have a young star that they want to push and work with, so they decided to combine the two. They will push Tom Holland and get Uncharted off the ground by making the movie fit the actor. Why does this worry me? It shows to me (on the onset) that Sony doesn’t know what they are doing with Uncharted and made a snap decision to make it a Tom Holland franchise (based on a pitch from a young actor that has no writing credits or directing credit outside of a short film). It doesn’t sound like they want to bring an Uncharted movie to life, it sounds like they just want a Tom Holland action movie to brand with the Uncharted name. That’s not how you should start a franchise. You can have the actor to suite the franchise, not change the franchise to suite the actor.
An example of this would be Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starring Chris Pine. The character of Jack Ryan originated in the books written by Tom Clancy and had four movie adaptations surrounding the character. Paramount wanted another movie based around the character and wanted their big Star Trek actor Chris Pine to star. They decided to not adapt any of the books and instead took an original script (that had nothing to do with the character) and reworked it into a movie starring the character of Jack Ryan. Paramount took a brand to suite the actor. How was the movie? It was just okay. Oh, and it bombed at the box office as well.
This example can show what can happen when you just take a star and brand the movie around them. It didn’t feel like a Jack Ryan movie because it wasn’t a Jack Ryan movie. It was Chris Pine playing a guy named Jack Ryan, but the story around it wasn’t Tom Clancy. It was a halfhearted attempt to make a light action movie.
I don’t want a young adult action movie where Tom Holland plays someone named Nathan Drake and it doesn’t feel like Uncharted.
Why Adapting the Games is a Better Move
Just like with a book, you have to adapt something into something that works best for a movie. Even if you were to adapt one of the games, there would be things that would have to be cut out, trimmed down, and added. But when you start making your movie, you want to put yourself in the best possible position to have your movie turn out well. I’m not saying Tom Holland leading Uncharted can’t turn out well. But it doesn’t sound like the best possible position to make your movie turn out well. Why not take the foundations of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (the first game), a game that already has cinematic moments, characters, stories, and villains and fashions your script around that? You do this because this already has the elements of a GREAT movie! It puts the filmmakers in the best possible position of coming out with a great movie. Some video game movies try to be faithful and still fail. Being faithful isn’t the answer to making a great movie (just like book adaptations), but when your source material already has the pieces to make your movie not just good, but great, why the hell would you not take advantage of that? You could even skip the first game and make Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and be in an even better position! Watching the cutscenes alone could tell you this is the right move.
The young Nathan Drake segments in the games work so well because we know what he becomes. We played 2 games already, so it’s fun to see where he comes from. Introducing Nathan Drake to movie-going audiences as Indiana Jones Jr. doesn’t give the audience that same storytelling development.
When people talk about this game series they don’t just talk about the gameplay, they talk about the characters, they talk about the story, they talk about the dialogue, they talk about the development, they talk about tone, and they talk about things we talk about all the time when talking about movies. It’s not just a good game, it’s also a great story. The best movies are built around great stories, not just young stars. People have accused Hollywood of years of being lazy with cash grabs, remakes, and reboots (etc.). Well Hollywood, you actually have a chance to be lazy. You can literally copy sections of the game note for note, taking entire portions of dialogue, action set pieces, and characters without breaking a sweat. I’m sick of bad video game movies. The Uncharted games were built to be made into movies, and I really hate to see it go to waste.