With Dreamwork’s adaptation of EA’s Need for Speed franchise opening up to empty theaters and terrible reviews, it joins a long list of failed Hollywood attempts at adapting a video game franchise into film. Production companies have been trying to draw gamers into theaters since the early 90s, when Super Mario Brothers reminded everyone why Italian plumbers should probably remain pixellated. With so many failed adaptations, it boggles the mind why some of the more obvious video game choices, like Diablo and The Elder Scrolls, have yet to be attempted.
Blizzard Entertainment owns the realm of PC gaming and has held that position ever since the release of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans back in 1994. Gamers have held mouse in hand and eyes glued to the computer screen for two decades with Blizzard video games series like StarCraft, Diablo and the aforementioned Warcraft. With such longtime success, that kind of success could easily keep audiences glued to a movie screen as well. Blizzard announced that the Warcraft series will get a film adaptation back in 2006, when the World of Warcraft was in its heyday, but what about the other two?
Starcraft, in particular, has become so popular and grown such a following, it is shocking that a film adaptation has yet to be attempted. Despite its original release almost 20 years ago, the series has held up well, especially overseas. The series itself is actually considered by some to be the national sport of South Korea. They have professional competitive leagues, with the matches televised and thousands upon thousands of people filling the arenas to watch. Yet, despite the untapped marketing potential there, a Starcraft film remains a pipedream. The closest adaptation would be the cult classic Starship Troopers. It should not be hard to take that film and improve upon it. Turn the Roughnecks into Terrans, the Bugs into Zergs, and add a Predator-like race to fill in the Protoss role. Hell, if you make the Protoss appear only at the end of the film, you open yourself up to sequels galore. The plot itself would not be hard to produce either, as Starcraft does a grand job to telling a story. The turning and eventual betrayal of Sarah Kerrigan would translate just as well on the movie screen as it did on the computer screen.
The Diablo series also tells a great story, though on a much bigger scale. The plot of demons versus angels has not been a rare occurrence as a plot for films, with movies like Constantine and Legion being recent examples of movies that took advantage of this celestial war. The Diablo franchise is so big, however, that it would be difficult to condense the entire series in a single film. Ideally, a film around the series should focus on the most popular game in the series, that being Diablo II. Much like the game itself, the film could be broken down into four acts: the rescuing of the oft-quoted Deckard Cain, the journey through the desert to defeat the wizard Tel-Rasha, trekking the thick jungle to defeat Mephisto, then finally entering Hell itself to take on Diablo. Even the expansion for the game, Lord of Destruction, could be a sequel or a movie in and of itself.
Any gamer that has played The Elder Scrolls series has marveled at the depth and detail Bethesda puts into each game in the series. Whether it’s the environment, the characters, or the quest lines, Bethesda ensures that video game enthusiasts will spend hours upon hours getting lost in the world that they created. Bring that kind of detail and effort into a film about the series and it is all but guaranteed to be a box office monster. The Elder Scrolls open world format may make it difficult to tie down a plot for a film, as well as the fact that the games themselves are set thousands of years apart, but there are a few details that must be in the film if they want to draw fans of the series in. First and foremost, the main character must start out as a prisoner. Almost every game in the series starts out as the lowly prisoner that finds him or herself thrown unexpectedly into a grand adventure. The most recent game in the series, Skyrim, has the player’s character lined up for a beheading before an angry dragon (and the game’s main villain) intervenes. Second, the diversity needs to be emphasized. The Elder Scrolls series has 10 playable races, each with their own homeland, history and behaviors. That’s not even including the extinct and non-playable races, like the Falmer and the Giants. The filmmakers must recognize this diversity and use it in the film to meet the approval of the fans. Finally, the filmmakers must truly understand and enjoy the game. This applies to all video game adaptations, but for The Elder Scrolls especially. This is a series that has very few marks against it, and a film about the series should say the same.
Why filmmakers continue to choose games like Need for Speed and Prince of Persia instead of the obvious choices is a question only they can answer. However, it does appear that they are starting to learn their lesson, as films about the Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect series have been announced. If made well, adaptations of games like those and the ones listed above will start to break the long-standing trend of video game series turned box office flops.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner