Earlier this morning, the news surfaced that Valve would be working with J.J. Abrams to produce movies based on their popular franchises, Half-Life and Portal. The man who is to direct Disney’s Star Wars movies for the foreseeable future then came out and not only confirmed the reports but offered his own comments on the matter.
Allow me to quote those, for your reading pleasure.
“It’s as real as anything in Hollywood ever gets,” explained Abrams, regarding the truth to the announcement. “Which is that we are really talking to Valve, we are going to be bringing in a writer, we have a lot of very interesting ideas.
“We’re also aware of the cautionary tales of movies that became games and vice versa. Our goal here is to treat the world Valve has created in both these properties like anyone would a book or some great story that comes from a pitch or original script – just to treat it with the respect they treat their games and their players with.
“We’re not looking to make a movie in the gaming world, we’re not looking to impose what we do on that, we’re looking forward to taking some of our strengths and collaborating with some of these incredible minds that make some of my favourite games.”
I can respect that for one very simple reason which should be obvious to everyone, right about now: Movies about games with silent protagonists cannot work.
We don’t even see Gordon Freeman or Chell for most of Half-Life or Portal respectively, and now you’re going to ask us to look at them for an hour plus? That cannot work out in any way that isn’t damaging to the series. These are cult classics, meaning that their popularity has already destroyed any sort of further characterisation of the main characters.
The only possible way to tackle such a cul de sac, then, would be to not focus on the main characters but rather the world itself. Which is fine, because in both games the world plays the largest role in the game. In Half-Life 2, the world is in the midst of civil war under some strict control from the combine and their enforcement agents. When the citizens of City 17 see Gordon Freeman, his reputation comes before him and they revere him as a hero and saviour, to the point that the player is then overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations laid at his feet. In Portal, GLaDOS just wants to test and you’re helping her to do that, or spoiling her fun. The game works because it’s got comedic charm and gameplay. Take away the obvious one of those and all you’ve got are some jokes that are now entirely out of context.
Furthermore, if you actually centre a full-length feature film’s story around the location and the overarching plot, then how will you tell that story to the world? What plot devices will you use to carry your messages? Will you do this by centring, for example, Half-Life, around the life and times of Barney, the undercover resistance fighter who still owes Gordon that beer? Or will you take a fresh and new perspective and then, is it actually Half-Life?
All of this said, I will cream my pants in layers if I see Christopher Walken playing the G-Man in a Half-Life movie, but the rest of it I can live without ever being witness to. Also why are there movies when all of that money and energy could be put into Half-Life 3?
What are your thoughts on Valve’s move towards feature-length films based on their most popular game franchises? Do you think it’ll work, is it even necessary, do you see problems that I’ve overlooked? Feel free to comment and tell us, below.