Over the past 30 years, the video game industry has arguably seen more significant innovation than either film or music. Such an opening statement would no doubt be considered anathema to some, especially those more loyal to either of the latter two industries, like the late film critic Roger Ebert, who argued that video games do not even constitute art. While I hold a great deal of admiration for Mr. Ebert and his legacy, I find that the past two decades, in particular, have proven him to be sorely mistaken in this particular case. Video games have grown from the early days of 8-bit simplicity, to a multi-billion dollar industry bolstered by large-scale development and player interconnectivity. Another crucial factor in the industry’s growth, however, is the way in which its storytelling evolved and adapted to the medium, and of course Hollywood wasted little time in taking notice.
The issue, however, is that countless attempts have been made to adapt a wide range of video games, from the popular Assassin’s Creed, to the little known Postal, only to miserably fail with each effort…and I am not exaggerating. There has never been a single film, in my opinion at least, that ultimately does justice to its video game source, an issue that can be traced as far back as 1993 with the release of Super Mario Bros., which is not only one of the most horrendous adaptations I have ever seen, but also one of the worst films ever, period. It is understandable, then, that the upcoming adaptation of Naughty Dog’s acclaimed Uncharted series has left many of fans feeling apprehensive, myself included. Yet, with this being said, I would also argue that there is cause for tentative hope for the Uncharted adaptation, and possibly the future of video game adaptations as a whole.
Naughty Dog’s humble beginnings can be traced back to the mid-80s; an ambitious company attempting to establish itself in the ever-growing video game industry of the time. The developer made its first splash with the release of the Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation in 1996, developing two sequels and several spinoffs of the game during the PlayStation’s lifetime and becoming one of the console’s best-selling franchises. During the PlayStation 2 era, Naughty Dog continued its critical and commercial successes with the Jak and Daxter series. With the release of the PlayStation 3 came a significant shift in the company’s reputation, however, as this generation saw the release of Drake Fortune, the first in the Uncharted series, and The Last of Us, consequently earning recognition as one of the most accomplished producers of blockbuster gaming with expertly crafted narratives.
The Uncharted series owes a great deal to blockbuster adventure cinema, à la Indiana Jones and pretty much any stunt ever performed by Tom Cruise. It was the next step in adventure gaming and its narrative possibilities, so naturally Hollywood have been attempting to adapt Uncharted (and The Last of Us, for that matter) ever since its release.
The road to adapting Uncharted since then, however, has been a bumpy one to say the least. Aside from the numerous writers that have come and gone, the film has previously been attached to big name directors David O. Russell and Seth Gordon, both of whom have since walked away from the project, while numerous others have been courted by the Sony, most notably Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. As if all this was not enough, the already pothole-laden road to an Uncharted film has seen Mark Wahlberg drop out after having previously committed himself to the role of Nathan Drake, leaving the studio to scramble for a new lead.
Despite the numerous issues which have delayed Uncharted’s big screen debut, the project finally seems to be gaining some significantly encouraging traction. As things stand, Sony have confidently signed on industry extraordinaire Shawn Levy to direct, while fellow filmmaking veteran Joe Carnahan has been tapped for screenwriting duties. Although it is a positive step in the right direction, given that both filmmakers are experienced in the action/adventure genre, I still remain somewhat cautious given the hit-or-miss track records of both Levy and Carnahan.
While the Quebec native Levy has proven himself a prolific producer with a stellar slate of releases as of late, including 2013’s The Spectacular Now, 2016’s Arrival (the latter of which earned him a nomination for Academy Award for Best Picture), and the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, his directorial efforts have been a little more inconsistent. While films like Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen, and the Night at the Museum series have all performed well at the box office, it is hard to ignore the echoes brought on by their occasionally blatant hollowness.
Carnahan too has some impressive work under his belt, such as his writing and directing of Narc (2002), and in particular The Grey (2011), yet his work on The A-Team (2010) and writing on the recently released Death Wish ring hollow tones similar to that of Levy’s directorial work.
Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that both filmmakers know how to bring a production together, while also possessing a great deal of ability that could do great service to the Uncharted series, even by the standards of a super-fan such as myself. In the meantime, one can only hope that both are in their best creative forms for the project.
The most assuring news for the project as of late, however, is the casting of Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, and the creative direction in which his casting has taken the film. Not only is the addition of a talent such as Holland an exciting prospect, but the Uncharted film will now serve as something of a prequel to the game series. This allows a much greater breadth for creative indulgences in depicting the formative years of everyone’s favourite treasure hunter (sorry Lara), while hopefully still staying true to the breathtaking adventure and colourful cast of characters that made the series so endearing to begin with.
The ultimate question is, can the Uncharted film beat the supposed curse on video game adaptations? The honest answer: I have no idea. Production is still in its early stages, especially given the script is being rewritten to accommodate for the more youthful direction the film is taking with its lead protagonist. Nevertheless, things are taking shape in a whole new and inventive direction with a talented group of people involved, so it is hard not to feel even the slightest inkling of child-like excitement.