If there’s one thing I like, it’s video-game movie adaptations. Nothing beats finding your favorite characters portrayed by less-than-perfect actors in a story that might, sort of, kind of resemble the narrative you’ve fallen in love with in a film loosely based on the original concept. Adam Jensen’s “I never asked for this” mantra from Deus Ex could sum up the relationship between the video-game industry and Hollywood rather perfectly — if it didn’t reduce grown men to tears on a yearly basis.
So it is, either with great sadness or as a massive load-off, that the planned Bioshock film has been shelved, at least for now. Concept images showing a fairly accurate rendering of the underwater city Rapture, made famous by the 2007 first-person shooter, have swarmed forums and sparked the murmuring of what could have been. Rapture was a city built on Ayn Rand-esque morality, meant to be a utopia for the rich and elite who wanted a perfect world built on the backs of laborers who work simply for the greater good.
It didn’t turn out so great for the residents, who became hooked on bioengineering themselves into horrible, 1950s-style monsters.
Cool concept, great game — but would it have translated? The world may never know. Judging by other video-game adaptations, however, Hollywood’s track record being somewhat grim and less than successful, it should strike fear into the Bioshock fan who just wants to see a Big Daddy go gangbusters on the big screen.
It isn’t impossible to make a good film based on a video game, it’s just highly unlikely. Let’s take a look at some of the more recent attempts (and steer clear of Super Mario Bros.).
Let’s talk Prince of Persia. Set in the ancient days when the fez was a popular hat, Prince of Persia follows the time-manipulating Prince as he battles his way to success, rescuing princesses and using his wall-hanging, base-jumping moves to inspire gamers everywhere to attempt parkour at least once.
The Disney adaptation, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (a white actor portraying a Persian prince), remained somewhat true to the source material but lacked the gravitas of the gaming series — and also the interest of fans. The film tanked in 2010 and no time-manipulation could change that.
The Resident Evil film franchise, based on the long-running series of the same name, wins the award for its abject apathy as to adapting the actual material to the big screen.
Resident Evil follows several main characters through a zombie-infested mansion in the first installment, out to the streets of a zombie-infested Raccoon City in the second, through halls of a secret military installation and finally to Africa, for some reason, in the latest releases. Given, the series has kind of lost its way, but that is no excuse for the poor transformation given to us in 2002, when instead of even trying to relate to the story, the film decided to go full RE-INO: Resident Evil in Name Only. The franchise found fans from outside the gaming community, but no self-respecting Resident Evil fan from the Playstation days would dare admit to enjoying the movies.
What does this all have to do with Bioshock? Consider the previously named games. Resident Evil and Prince of Persia aren’t exactly high concept. Heroes battle villains, things happen in between and boom goes the dynamite. Bioshock is an entirely different monster, a product of modern gaming in which morality and choices play an important part in the experience.
If producers can’t grasp the most basic themes in Prince of Persia or Resident Evil without looking at the script and deciding to rewrite the very essence of what made these franchises popular to begin with, what hope is there for an accurate adaptation of the complicated mess that is Bioshock? How does one portray a player’s choice on the big screen?
Regardless, don’t expect to find Bioshock in local theaters any time soon. While the concept art is fine, even World War Z looked to be loyal to the novels before its release, but (spoiler alert) it is not.
Chris O’Neal is working on an adaptation of Professor Layton. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.