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On the difficulty of game adaptations (Destiny)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Friday, February 04, 2022, 09:19 (808 days ago)
edited by Cody Miller, Friday, February 04, 2022, 09:22

There aren’t a lot of great video game film or TV adaptations. The old answer was that ostensibly Hollywood didn’t ‘get’ games. I don’t think that explanation holds up too much anymore, as there’s serious talent working on adaptations, both in front of the camera and behind. The real answer is largely academic, and I think I’ve cracked the code. It’s three major things:

1. Adaptation Set Theory
2. Narrative Differences
3. Focus on Lore

Set Theory

For set theory, think about what an adaptation is. You’re taking something from one medium and putting it into another. It seems pretty simple, but it all comes down to what you gain and what you lose. Book to movie is really easy to see this in. Books tell the story with text, and movies with sound and picture. The experience of reading a book is so dramatically different than watching a movie, such an adaptation is going to have a lot to offer. You can bring the world alive with images and sound, in a compelling, visceral, and immersive way. You can have actors breathe life into the characters. You lose something too though. Books can be atemporal, spending time on details that in a film would go by in a second. A glance, a thought, a detail, can be examined for meaning. Like, we all know the differences right? But the end result is going to be different enough, with the losses offset by gains, that the movie is its own, unique experience that is valuable on its own merits. Both can exist without one being better than the other, because they are fundamentally different, each with strengths. And most importantly, there are elements in each the other cannot possibly contain.

But think about game to movie. Let’s take Uncharted for example. What do we gain? Does the movie contain anything the game does not? The game is already using film to tell its story. The game’s got cutscenes, utilizing cinematography and editing. Characters are animated and motion captured, voiced by great actors. The game already contains film.

But Uncharted 4 has roughly 6 hours of cutscenes. Where’s the rest of the playtime? It’s in the things a movie can’t contain. The interactive elements. Ebert would have you believe no storytelling is possible when the black bars of the cutscenes end, but he’s wrong about that. Likely, he never really played games when he said that. Storytelling happens, but it’s a different kind of storytelling. Even discounting things like scripted sequences, and environmental storytelling, you’re connecting to the world through exploration. Curiosity. Watching a film you are interacting purely through interpretation of what you see, but your brain is in a totally different mode when playing a game. How do I solve this problem? Oooooo, what’s over here? You can switch between them seamlessly. Ebert wasn't just wrong, he was super wrong. Games might just be THE most capable medium for storytelling (IF the technology can improve significantly to facilitate more emotional interaction.)

I keep coming back to Tim Roger’s line in his Last of Us review, where he says that the game contains a lot of things a film editor would cut out. The guy can rant for literally ten hours about cyberpunk and say virtually nothing, and yet with one simple sentence cuts to the heart of why adapting these games is so hard. These moments wouldn’t be cut because they are bad; they would be cut because they simply don’t work when your brain is in interpretation mode. In Uncharted 4, there’s a level where you drive around a volcano looking for various things that will lead you to the next step of your quest. While you navigate the hilly, muddy terrain, Sam and Nathan talk to each other. They talk about a bunch of stuff. For a long time while you’re trying to find a way over that mudslide. In a film this would be deadly. 15 minutes of chit chat would kill a film. But here it’s fine. Because you’re not just sitting back and interpreting. You’re exploring and taking it all in. Your brain is engaged with active interaction.

So for modern AAA games, that utilize cinematic language to help tell their stories at all, you straight up lose all this when you adapt them to movies. And you really gain nothing in return. So at best, the adaptation can simply be a lesser version of the game. At worst, it’s just a boring disaster. Unlike book to movie, the experience is not different in a meaningful way. It’s merely a part of the experience.

You might have a few objections. What about games that don’t utilize cinematic language? Good observation, and we’ll get to those. For those games have a chance. Your other objection might be that of accessibility. What if I can’t play Uncharted? Wouldn’t the movie be valuable then?

Narrative Differences

Narratives in games and movies are obviously different. Movies ARE narratives, simply told with picture and sound. But not games. The narratives in games are not strictly necessary. They serve a different function. Story in games is there to give context to the interaction and make it more meaningful. Even the simple story of Doom enhances the experience. The levels make sense; This is part of the mars base. This is in the depths of Hell. Rather than a random set of rooms. The monsters are demon spawn, so shooting them feels good.

The story is there to facilitate the interaction. But most games, especially AAA games, have a limited set of interactions largely based around running, jumping, shooting, or punching. So stories often focus on giving you the opportunity to do those things. But this doesn’t translate very well into film; lots of mindless action is very dull. People connect with films emotionally, through their characters and theme. Action scenes are the icing, and the character conflicts and emotional arcs are the cake. Think of how many scenarios in Uncharted are set up in order to give you something fun to do. Scenarios which would otherwise be superfluous if you weren’t asking the viewer to interact. The whole general narrative construction would simply be different.

Even in adventure games like Life is Strange, or Detroit, which focus heavily on the characters and the emotional aspects of stories, the scenarios are still set up to facilitate the interaction of player choice. Plots and set pieces are created to present the player with the opportunity to effect the outcome with their choices. This distinction may seem unimportant, but it’s generally at the heart of why so many game stories just don’t work when straight adapted to film. They weren’t built for them.

So Change It

So far the best adaptations have skirted both issues. Take a game that doesn’t use cinematic language, and craft a totally new story built for film that utilizes the essential elements and iconography of the game. It’s the Angry Birds / Sonic method. Werewolves Within, the current highest rated video game adaptation on Rotten Tomatoes does this too. The game is essentially VR mafia. So the movie takes the simple premise, and write a whole story about it. League of Legends is a dumb MOBA, but take the characters and write stories for them? You get a hit with Arcane.

It seems like at least so far, you’ve got to do both things. I can’t really think of say, a visually simple game whose story is straight up adapted, that worked. Nor can I really think of an AAA game that uses cinematic language already, but whose adaptation basically writes a new story using the game’s essential elements (I guess that will be Halo, we’ll have to see). The most successful adaptations seem to require both, visually simple games and a totally new story, likely because in such a case the adaptation has most to gain.

The Trap of Lore

I didn’t much care for Mortal Kombat 2021. I think it falls into the lore trap, where they try to incorporate tons and tons of it into the adaptation in order to show that they ‘care’ and want to do it ‘right’, but it just ends up derailing the story and being dull. In games, because finding and reading lore occurs during play, it’s okay to ‘derail’ the narrative as I’ve explained above. But you can’t do that in a movie. Lore is superfluous, lore is poison, unless it directly affects the characters or the story. Mortal Kombat spends something like 17 minutes at the beginning setting up the histories of Scorpion and Sub Zero, and yet the main narrative really has fuck all to do with any of that. The 1995 movie did more in 3 minutes to meaningfully set up only what you needed to know about the characters and their motivations.

For film, more information isn’t always better. Time spent isn’t always worthwhile. Look at Dune. We have the first adaptation largely considered successful, and what do you get? Most of the lore is removed. The intricate politics explained in so much detail in the book are barely mentioned; just enough to let you know what’s at stake. Chapter 2 of the book has the Baron explaining the plot, and the intricacies of the political relationships to Feyd, in order to teach and groom him as a successor. This is totally absent in the film, as are much of the details from the book. Why? Because they bog down a film which requires continuous, real time presentation. Flipping back and forth through the footnotes and appendix is fine while reading. But stopping a movie kills everything. You just need to know enough to understand whats going on and why you should care.

Where does this leave Bungie?

I know the temptation is going to be there with the grimoire. I know this is where all the effort, all the writing, and all the world building went. Destiny already has cutscenes, but not really to the degree of other more story driven games. The story is totally not suitable for a straight up adaptation. This is why I think the first thought is going to be to go to the grimoire. But I think that’s mistake. The grimoire is like a history book. It’s events; facts without dramatization.

This must be resisted. It seems like the only way forward is to take the elements, the setting, the iconography of Destiny, and just craft a story inside of it that stands alone and has characters with emotional complexity. Like sure, incorporate some of it, but if it’s just side stories or pieces of lore Love Death Robots style, an anthology of grimoire, I can’t really see that working too well.

Care

Obviously this stuff is important to think about and consider. Time and time again game adaptations fall into this trap. Even with Sony behind them, that’s no guarantee if the wrong choices are made (See the upcoming Uncharted movie). One of the most cinematic games ever made… looks really uninspiring as an actual movie.

i would love nothing more than for Bungie to succeed with this, and I think a little look at what has worked and what hasn’t could go a long way. There’s a kind of revival of game adaptations lately, and I want Bungie to be on the side of the best of them.

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Thanks for taking the time to write that, Cody

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Friday, February 04, 2022, 13:55 (808 days ago) @ Cody Miller

It's not far off from a collection of thoughts you have already externalized in this forum through our time here, but have it all together in a single cohesive article is pretty cool.

It's a lot to chew on and I think I agree with you overall. Dunno what else to add here.

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Thanks for taking the time to write that, Cody

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Friday, February 04, 2022, 14:18 (808 days ago) @ ZackDark
edited by Cody Miller, Friday, February 04, 2022, 14:22

It's not far off from a collection of thoughts you have already externalized in this forum through our time here, but have it all together in a single cohesive article is pretty cool.

It's a lot to chew on and I think I agree with you overall. Dunno what else to add here.

Uncharted appears to be standard video game adaptation fare, but I truly look forward to seeing how both Halo and the Last of Us hold up.

Halo at least theoretically has a shot as explained.

Last of Us, at least according to my theory, has no chance. It's the same story as the game, and the game itself was already using film for visual storytelling. And yet, the pedigree of those behind it is impeccable. I'm having a hard time imagining it being done without thought and care. I didn't really touch on TV vs Film, and it does seem a limited series could be more of a suitable format for a game adaptation. And yet, I can't really conceive of the experience being better or different enough from the game to be valuable on its own.

But hey I don't know. People seem to be actually figuring this stuff out. I'm pulling for both of these series.

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Thanks for taking the time to write that, Cody

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Friday, February 04, 2022, 15:17 (808 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Last of Us, at least according to my theory, has no chance. It's the same story as the game, and the game itself was already using film for visual storytelling. And yet, the pedigree of those behind it is impeccable. I'm having a hard time imagining it being done without thought and care. I didn't really touch on TV vs Film, and it does seem a limited series could be more of a suitable format for a game adaptation. And yet, I can't really conceive of the experience being better or different enough from the game to be valuable on its own.

I mean, I'm pretty sure a lot of us would agree that even if TLoU loses some appeal, it will still be appealing as hell.

This post even made me think of the latest God of War. I think the worst part would be adapting its length, which I also think would be a problem with TLoU and will be a problem with Uncharted.

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Thanks for taking the time to write that, Cody

by Kermit @, Raleigh, NC, Friday, February 04, 2022, 15:51 (807 days ago) @ Cody Miller


Last of Us, at least according to my theory, has no chance. It's the same story as the game, and the game itself was already using film for visual storytelling. And yet, the pedigree of those behind it is impeccable. I'm having a hard time imagining it being done without thought and care. I didn't really touch on TV vs Film, and it does seem a limited series could be more of a suitable format for a game adaptation. And yet, I can't really conceive of the experience being better or different enough from the game to be valuable on its own.

I don't think fans of The Last of Us need the series. The way I see it, the issue is that the writing, story, and characters are so well done they don't need the dynamics of a video game for them to work. Stories that good doesn't grow on trees. Those of us who played the game had a kind of immersive experience that can't be replicated by watching a TV series. That's okay. Bungie said Destiny was inspired by top-shelf serial dramas like the Wire (pre-Staten's departure). It's obvious that Naughty Dog was inspired similarly, but they pulled it off. Since the Sopranos, long-form TV serials have been where the best stories have been told in popular culture. TLoU is paced very much like modern TV dramas. To me, The Last of Us being on HBO is a no-brainer.

But hey I don't know. People seem to be actually figuring this stuff out. I'm pulling for both of these series.

Me, too.

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Great post, got a nit

by Kermit @, Raleigh, NC, Friday, February 04, 2022, 16:31 (807 days ago) @ Cody Miller

There aren’t a lot of great video game film or TV adaptations. The old answer was that ostensibly Hollywood didn’t ‘get’ games. I don’t think that explanation holds up too much anymore, as there’s serious talent working on adaptations, both in front of the camera and behind. The real answer is largely academic, and I think I’ve cracked the code. It’s three major things:

1. Adaptation Set Theory
2. Narrative Differences
3. Focus on Lore

Set Theory

For set theory, think about what an adaptation is. You’re taking something from one medium and putting it into another. It seems pretty simple, but it all comes down to what you gain and what you lose. Book to movie is really easy to see this in. Books tell the story with text, and movies with sound and picture. The experience of reading a book is so dramatically different than watching a movie, such an adaptation is going to have a lot to offer. You can bring the world alive with images and sound, in a compelling, visceral, and immersive way. You can have actors breathe life into the characters. You lose something too though. Books can be atemporal, spending time on details that in a film would go by in a second. A glance, a thought, a detail, can be examined for meaning. Like, we all know the differences right? But the end result is going to be different enough, with the losses offset by gains, that the movie is its own, unique experience that is valuable on its own merits. Both can exist without one being better than the other, because they are fundamentally different, each with strengths. And most importantly, there are elements in each the other cannot possibly contain.

I know you know film well, and maybe you have a bias. You put a lot of weight on the gains of cinema, while acknowledging losses, but the vast majority of the time, the gains don't offset the losses, and it is rare indeed that gains make watching a movie surpass the experience of reading a book. When a book is working, it is more immersive than film. It's closer to games, actually, in the way it engages your brain and puts it in a different mode. Maybe that's my bias.

But think about game to movie. Let’s take Uncharted for example. What do we gain? Does the movie contain anything the game does not? The game is already using film to tell its story. The game’s got cutscenes, utilizing cinematography and editing. Characters are animated and motion captured, voiced by great actors. The game already contains film.

But Uncharted 4 has roughly 6 hours of cutscenes. Where’s the rest of the playtime? It’s in the things a movie can’t contain. The interactive elements. Ebert would have you believe no storytelling is possible when the black bars of the cutscenes end, but he’s wrong about that. Likely, he never really played games when he said that. Storytelling happens, but it’s a different kind of storytelling. Even discounting things like scripted sequences, and environmental storytelling, you’re connecting to the world through exploration. Curiosity. Watching a film you are interacting purely through interpretation of what you see, but your brain is in a totally different mode when playing a game. How do I solve this problem? Oooooo, what’s over here? You can switch between them seamlessly. Ebert wasn't just wrong, he was super wrong. Games might just be THE most capable medium for storytelling (IF the technology can improve significantly to facilitate more emotional interaction.)

I keep coming back to Tim Roger’s line in his Last of Us review, where he says that the game contains a lot of things a film editor would cut out. The guy can rant for literally ten hours about cyberpunk and say virtually nothing, and yet with one simple sentence cuts to the heart of why adapting these games is so hard. These moments wouldn’t be cut because they are bad; they would be cut because they simply don’t work when your brain is in interpretation mode. In Uncharted 4, there’s a level where you drive around a volcano looking for various things that will lead you to the next step of your quest. While you navigate the hilly, muddy terrain, Sam and Nathan talk to each other. They talk about a bunch of stuff. For a long time while you’re trying to find a way over that mudslide. In a film this would be deadly. 15 minutes of chit chat would kill a film. But here it’s fine. Because you’re not just sitting back and interpreting. You’re exploring and taking it all in. Your brain is engaged with active interaction.

So for modern AAA games, that utilize cinematic language to help tell their stories at all, you straight up lose all this when you adapt them to movies. And you really gain nothing in return. So at best, the adaptation can simply be a lesser version of the game. At worst, it’s just a boring disaster. Unlike book to movie, the experience is not different in a meaningful way. It’s merely a part of the experience.

You might have a few objections. What about games that don’t utilize cinematic language? Good observation, and we’ll get to those. For those games have a chance. Your other objection might be that of accessibility. What if I can’t play Uncharted? Wouldn’t the movie be valuable then?

Narrative Differences

Narratives in games and movies are obviously different. Movies ARE narratives, simply told with picture and sound. But not games. The narratives in games are not strictly necessary. They serve a different function. Story in games is there to give context to the interaction and make it more meaningful. Even the simple story of Doom enhances the experience. The levels make sense; This is part of the mars base. This is in the depths of Hell. Rather than a random set of rooms. The monsters are demon spawn, so shooting them feels good.

The story is there to facilitate the interaction. But most games, especially AAA games, have a limited set of interactions largely based around running, jumping, shooting, or punching. So stories often focus on giving you the opportunity to do those things. But this doesn’t translate very well into film; lots of mindless action is very dull. People connect with films emotionally, through their characters and theme. Action scenes are the icing, and the character conflicts and emotional arcs are the cake. Think of how many scenarios in Uncharted are set up in order to give you something fun to do. Scenarios which would otherwise be superfluous if you weren’t asking the viewer to interact. The whole general narrative construction would simply be different.

Even in adventure games like Life is Strange, or Detroit, which focus heavily on the characters and the emotional aspects of stories, the scenarios are still set up to facilitate the interaction of player choice. Plots and set pieces are created to present the player with the opportunity to effect the outcome with their choices. This distinction may seem unimportant, but it’s generally at the heart of why so many game stories just don’t work when straight adapted to film. They weren’t built for them.

So Change It

So far the best adaptations have skirted both issues. Take a game that doesn’t use cinematic language, and craft a totally new story built for film that utilizes the essential elements and iconography of the game. It’s the Angry Birds / Sonic method. Werewolves Within, the current highest rated video game adaptation on Rotten Tomatoes does this too. The game is essentially VR mafia. So the movie takes the simple premise, and write a whole story about it. League of Legends is a dumb MOBA, but take the characters and write stories for them? You get a hit with Arcane.

I've seen two episodes, and I really like it.

It seems like at least so far, you’ve got to do both things. I can’t really think of say, a visually simple game whose story is straight up adapted, that worked. Nor can I really think of an AAA game that uses cinematic language already, but whose adaptation basically writes a new story using the game’s essential elements (I guess that will be Halo, we’ll have to see). The most successful adaptations seem to require both, visually simple games and a totally new story, likely because in such a case the adaptation has most to gain.

The Trap of Lore

I didn’t much care for Mortal Kombat 2021. I think it falls into the lore trap, where they try to incorporate tons and tons of it into the adaptation in order to show that they ‘care’ and want to do it ‘right’, but it just ends up derailing the story and being dull. In games, because finding and reading lore occurs during play, it’s okay to ‘derail’ the narrative as I’ve explained above. But you can’t do that in a movie. Lore is superfluous, lore is poison, unless it directly affects the characters or the story. Mortal Kombat spends something like 17 minutes at the beginning setting up the histories of Scorpion and Sub Zero, and yet the main narrative really has fuck all to do with any of that. The 1995 movie did more in 3 minutes to meaningfully set up only what you needed to know about the characters and their motivations.

For film, more information isn’t always better. Time spent isn’t always worthwhile. Look at Dune. We have the first adaptation largely considered successful, and what do you get? Most of the lore is removed. The intricate politics explained in so much detail in the book are barely mentioned; just enough to let you know what’s at stake. Chapter 2 of the book has the Baron explaining the plot, and the intricacies of the political relationships to Feyd, in order to teach and groom him as a successor. This is totally absent in the film, as are much of the details from the book. Why? Because they bog down a film which requires continuous, real time presentation. Flipping back and forth through the footnotes and appendix is fine while reading. But stopping a movie kills everything. You just need to know enough to understand whats going on and why you should care.

Where does this leave Bungie?

I know the temptation is going to be there with the grimoire. I know this is where all the effort, all the writing, and all the world building went. Destiny already has cutscenes, but not really to the degree of other more story driven games. The story is totally not suitable for a straight up adaptation. This is why I think the first thought is going to be to go to the grimoire. But I think that’s mistake. The grimoire is like a history book. It’s events; facts without dramatization.

This must be resisted. It seems like the only way forward is to take the elements, the setting, the iconography of Destiny, and just craft a story inside of it that stands alone and has characters with emotional complexity. Like sure, incorporate some of it, but if it’s just side stories or pieces of lore Love Death Robots style, an anthology of grimoire, I can’t really see that working too well.

Care

Obviously this stuff is important to think about and consider. Time and time again game adaptations fall into this trap. Even with Sony behind them, that’s no guarantee if the wrong choices are made (See the upcoming Uncharted movie). One of the most cinematic games ever made… looks really uninspiring as an actual movie.

It does, but I have to be fair. I like character-driven intense dramas, and I've justified TLoU being made in part because I like that kind of story, and I want it more accessible, in part because I have people in my life who, if the series is done well, I can finally point and say, watch this. My Indiana Jones fandom peaked sometime in the 80s, and I'm not as interested in this kind of movie, and in my social circle, there's not that many people who I think would be interested, even if it's done well. All that said, Sony did give me a free ticket. :)


i would love nothing more than for Bungie to succeed with this, and I think a little look at what has worked and what hasn’t could go a long way. There’s a kind of revival of game adaptations lately, and I want Bungie to be on the side of the best of them.

Yep.

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As Expected

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Saturday, February 12, 2022, 17:42 (799 days ago) @ Cody Miller

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Yikes

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Saturday, February 12, 2022, 17:54 (799 days ago) @ Cody Miller

- No text -

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How could this possibly work?

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 10:38 (797 days ago) @ Cody Miller

https://variety.com/2022/film/news/bioshock-movie-netflix-1235182423/

The whole point of that game is ruined when you aren't the one doing it…

There are DOZENS of games out there that could make great film adaptations (simple visually, with adaptable stories), and they pick this one?

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Hopefully they go for the lore, not the game itself

by ZackDark @, Not behind you. NO! Don't look., Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 13:14 (797 days ago) @ Cody Miller

- No text -

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Hopefully they go for the lore, not the game itself

by Korny @, Dalton, Ga. US. Earth, Sol System, Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 13:38 (797 days ago) @ ZackDark
edited by Korny, Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 14:30

Castlevania and Arcane are two examples of explorations of the world and lore of a game franchise that manage to work and stand on their own.

Arcane especially, as it's an exploration of an era set before the games that it's based on, and which tells a complete story that ends long before the game series even starts.

Bioshock's world lends itself to a ton of stories, from Ryan's disillusionment and struggles to build Rapture, to the civil war within with "heroes on both sides".


In a perfect world though, Season 1 would tell the story of the rise and fall of Johnny Topside (which would be a great way to show the high point of Rapture, as well as its slow decay and the desperation that leads them to target their celebrities like Johnny). Johnny would eventually clash with Andrew Ryan, and after sowing the seeds of civil war, the finale would end with the reveal of Johnny becoming Subject Delta, being activated and trashing a room in a primal rage as his echoed ideals distort into noise, until a child's voice calls out to him and silences the noise. He turns to face a small figure illuminated by a doorway, and the season ends with this visual callback:
[image]


Season 2 would be focused on Sofia Lamb, as she has to deal with Eleanor's rapid growth as society starts to crumble. It would follow her personal decline (as well as showing the PoV of the lower class struggles of Rapture, to contrast the celebrity lives seen in Season 1). This would also introduce Brigid Tenenbaum, as she worked to find a stop to Rapture's collapse, leading to the creation of the Little Sisters and Big daddies. The season would show Eleanor's kidnapping and transformation into a Little Sister (and tie the Season 1 finale with the reveal that Eleanor is Delta's Gatherer, and Tenenbaum's regret, and escape with the other early Little Sisters besides Eleanor. The Season would end several years later, with Tenenbaum at a beachfront shack, reading about the abductions of little girls, and knowing it's to feed the Little Sister program. She looks among her research files and stumbles on a folder of one Subject Delta. The first, and un-bindable Big Daddy. She calls out to someone standing outside on the beach, telling them that they have to get ready. The camera turns towards the water, and the season ends with this visual callback:
[image]

Season 3 would unite Bridgid, Delta, and Eleanor to explore the main plot of Bioshock 2 from Eleanor's perspective as she witnesses and is shaped by Delta's struggles to find her with Tenenbaum's help, while trying to retain what little humanity he has left. with their shared experiences bringing their two separate storylines together, and Tenenbaum coming to terms with the consequences of her research, and her decision to stay behind in Rapture tofix what she has done as the last of the Big Sisters dies in her arms.

And during the finale, as Eleanor and the little sisters ride the bathyscaphe off into the sunset, the camera pans up past the Lighthouse into the darkened sky, where in the distance, we see the blinking lights of an approaching plane. Cut to black, as Neflix announces that they are cancelling plans for season 4.

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On Uncharted

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Saturday, February 19, 2022, 10:12 (793 days ago) @ Cody Miller

So Uncharted was better than Tomb Raider (2018). It's an interesting comparison, for while the latter had perhaps better craftsmanship, Uncharted had more charm and heart. Mostly charm, because while Uncharted was actually about something, it felt more compulsory rather than earned.

The short version is that it gets a lot of milage out of the likability of Tom Holland and Sophia Ali, but struggles with plotting, action sequences, and most importantly emotional establishment and payoffs.

The film is essentially an original story, but with some ideas and set pieces lifted from the third and fourth games. The big theme is essentially "Is there honor among thieves?". Can they learn to trust each other? And yes, there's an arc. Not for Nate, but for Sully. I can see what they are going for there, but the complexity of emotional conflict isn't quite there, and a lot of that has to do with the setups and telling but not showing.

The film starts (after a flash forward to the cargo plane set piece, which is a bad decision we'll talk about later) at the orphanage with a young Sam and Nate. They break into a museum, talk about Magellan's treasure and adventuring together, and get caught. Sam sneaks out before the orphanage sends him away, and gives Nathan his ring.

The problem is that we then jump to the present where Nate is a bartender working in NYC. There's nothing to really indicate that he really missed his brother, or that he took that keen an interest in adventuring. In short, I just don't see that it's something he cares about. Sully shows up at the bar and asks Nate to join him. I'm thinking… wtf. Why would he possibly want this kid? Several scenes later it's explained that Sully was treasure hunting with Sam, and he thought maybe Sam told Nate some clue in the postcards he'd send him. Nate refuses, but then accepts the next scene (because every hero needs to refuse the call, thanks Joseph Campbell).

I get no sense of emotional connection or longing though. If he did care about adventuring with Sam, why would he be a bartender in NYC? Why wouldn't he already be out seeking treasure? Seeking his brother? Trying to track him down? It's a pretty unfortunate lack of setup for something that is ostensibly important later. But it just doesn't track emotionally. Like, if the film began with Nate already a treasure hunter, trying to nab something before Sully does (or perhaps even stealing it FROM Sully!), and they meet that way, I feel like that would have been so much better. You could even have a nice action piece at the start, but more importantly it would show you that Nate is passionate about it. That he really cares because it's now his life. You simply do not get that sense from the film.

And that's supposed to be the thread of the story. "I'm doing this for my brother, not for you Sully". I… don't believe you. Turns out, Sully saved himself rather than helping Sam in a past botched job. That knowledge is supposed to drive a wedge between them, but it just doesn't land because I don't FEEL like Nate really cares about Sam.

The action pieces are actually fairly reserved for something as bombastic as Uncharted. Either they are not grand enough, or they are so over the top you don't feel like anyone is in danger. One of the first sequences is a foot chase as Chloe steals a map from Sully and Nate. "Don't trust her Nate!". Seconds later she's gone. Is it a cool parkour sequence like Casino Royale? Showcasing Nate's ability to climb and stuff? Nah. They both just kind of jog through a fountain and she gets in a car. What's worse is her betrayal here undercuts her eventual betrayal later.

The cross heist feels like it lacks stakes too. In the game, only Sully is invited to the auction; Nate and Sam have to sneak in. I the film, Nate can walk right in the front door, and kind of wings it. There's a reason why heist movies usually have the characters setting up and explaining the details of the plan. If we know how it's supposed to go down, then when there's a complication we then scoot to the edge of our seats wondering how they are gonna pull it off now. When there's not much of a plan, you never have that chance.

The cargo plane was split into two sections. The very first scene has it play out as a flash forward. We joked that this was probably because audiences at test screenings said the beginning was boring. These type of things just don't really ever work. "Our movie is cool, we promise! Here's what going to happen!". The issue is that when it does come time to revisit, you already 'know' what's going to happen, and because you've already seen it, it just gets truncated the second time killing a lot of the potential flow and tension. I can overlook the ridiculous physical improbability of it, but compared to previous action sequences it's an 11 when they were a 3. I don't buy he'd physically be able to hold his own yet so to speak, and his survival seems like dumb luck rather than conscious choice, kind of undercutting the danger.

The final sequence was nutso, and I can overlook that if it were thrilling. I think a good way to put why it wasn't is to look at the approach to one particular moment. Sully has to get to a helicopter, and to do so must climb a chain attached to it. He grabs the chain, then the very next cut he's at the top climbing into the helicopter. Now, this is a really difficult act physically, and really dangerous because the chain is swinging around against cliffs and rocks and stuff. What could be an impressive and tense moment is just skipped all together. Compare this to Ethan Hunt climbing into the helicopter in MI: Fallout. The rope climb is full of fraught and peril, and once he gets there you feel like he earned it.

Likewise the gold treasure is two barrels full of trinkets. It's supposed to be $5 billion worth. In Uncharted 4, the treasure is a room filled to the brim with mountains of gold. Yeah.

Chloe and Nate do not sleep together. There is attraction. But if you want to make your theme about trust and betrayal, come on. They have to get together. The def bang in the game, so don't tell me that's going too far.

But what was right and what worked was Tom Holland's sense of decency. It was exactly what you needed for this type of 'trust' theme to work. "You're a good guy Nate. Too good". He nailed it. He was fun to watch. So was Chloe.

It was fine, but it doesn't even give the game a run for its money anywhere, and certainly doesn't match the action of other modern films.

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