By Graeme Sutherland
Image Courtesy of Naughty Dog via Twitter
Good God. It’s quite masochistic to anticipate movie adaptations of video games, but it’s difficult not to get mad at the Uncharted teaser trailer. Or at least stand in stupefied wonder: The film isn’t even out yet— how do I already hate it?
Obviously, you can’t really tell how good a movie is by watching the trailer, but the Uncharted teaser is really something special. Special, in that I don’t think I’ve ever seen fans react so viciously to something like this. Then again, there was the Sonic one a few years ago that prompted a complete animation rehaul of the movie. And then there’s last year’s Monster Hunter. Oh, and the hilarious reaction to the cast list for the upcoming Mario film. Huh. What is it about video game adaptations, then, that pisses people off so much before the films have even been released?
I think the trailer for Uncharted might be a useful case study here. The trailer itself, while pretty bad, really just appears to be a below-average action blockbuster. Tom Holland plays Nathan Drake, the charismatic historian/adventurer and we watch him jump from set piece to set piece while characters engage in stilted dialogue and awkward one-liners. Throw in a few clichés and that’s all there really is from the film perspective—and, of course, we can’t really tell how everything will look and feel in the cinema, so there is some room for doubt. But aside from the natural frustration at a bad trailer and what this might indicate for the film, there are other things that need to be taken into consideration.
The main problem is the casting. In the games, Nathan Drake is around 30-34 years old. Now, I like Tom Holland but he couldn’t buy paracetamol without an ID check, and it’s pretty difficult to imagine him pulling off a version of the character that works as a faithful adaptation. Similarly, a lot of fans are pretty frustrated at the casting of Mark Wahlberg as Sully, a moustachioed, grey-haired man at least 10 years his senior. It really just plays into the ludicrous obsession that Hollywood has with origin stories. Why must a film set itself up for a long-running franchise? Why can’t things just exist in an already fleshed-out world? The world of Uncharted is already well established in the games, and Indiana Jones should be proof enough that treasure-hunting stories are the perfect genre for throwing the viewer into the middle of something. It’s ironic because Uncharted 3 actually creates an origin story for Nate and Sully, but this film, in a rush to get Tom Holland hanging off a plane, seems to have chosen to ignore the more drawn-out development that that story demanded. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this will make the Uncharted film inherently terrible, but I am suggesting that even if it’s a masterpiece, it’s not likely to be considered a faithful adaptation. (And it’s also probably going to be terrible).
These kinds of problems are rife in movie adaptations of video games, where filmmakers often seem to find it challenging to lean into the right things to please both fans and newcomers. The upcoming Mario movie, for example, might end up being a lot of fun, but a lot of people are still going to resent it for making them listen to Chris Pratt for two hours. It’s also pretty difficult to believe that someone sat down and wrote a film for Mario because of the inspiration that stems from his sheer narrative power. The point here isn’t that all video game movies are solely driven by capitalistic incentives, but that they really have to go the extra mile to justify their existence. This is because video games are already a visual medium, and the transition to cinema removes the interactivity that often functions as a foundation for what makes a series enjoyable.
Uncharted is in an especially weird situation because the series is very obviously inspired by Indiana Jones: Nate investigates unexplored ruins, hunts for treasure, travels the globe and fights off bad guys—almost dying at every step of the way. The games work largely because they are built on a foundation of Hollywood adventure blockbusters, and so they get away with ludicrous set-pieces by putting the player in the centre of the kind of stuff they’ve grown to love in cinema. Transforming all of that into a movie runs the same kind of risk as sending an important email after you’ve ran it twice through Google Translate. The Uncharted movie was always going to be risky because it could so easily become just another generic blockbuster. It’s such a shame that the trailer perfectly fits that description.
I really hope I’ve jumped the gun on this and that the film exceeds my expectations. It would be really depressing if the Mario film was better. Oh God.