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Why I still want an Uncharted movie
by Andrew Testerman

A few weeks ago, reports surfaced that David O. Russell - director of films such as Three Kings and last year’s The Fighter - had left the Uncharted movie, and that Columbia Pictures is looking for a new treatment. This is just as well; Russell’s treatment of the Uncharted movie as it stood showed a profound lack of understanding as to what makes the franchise popular. Rather than an Indiana Jones-esque hunt for ancient treasure, Russell imagined a family (yes, family) of treasure hunters, emphasising the family dynamic over the adventure elements. Russell also cast Mark Wahlberg as Nathan Drake, but I’m not prepared to hold that against either of them just yet, despite having already seen and walked out of Max Payne.

Russell may be gone, but Columbia and Sony both seem bound and determined to make an Uncharted movie happen, and are currently searching for both a new script and director. The gaming community has largely celebrated the departure of Russell from the project, but many still feel that an Uncharted movie is unnecessary, redundant, and takes away from what is otherwise a very strong franchise. They don’t want a 'good' Uncharted movie; they simply don’t want a movie at all.

The argument goes something like this: the Uncharted series was based on old 1930s adventure serials, where affable explorers searched exotic lands for lost treasure, as well as the properties influenced by them over the years, such as Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics, and George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise. The Uncharted games themselves have been painstakingly designed as cinematic experiences, giving gamers the feel of a playing through one of these adventure movies. Why would studios want to take a property so steeped in cinema, but so assisted by the interactivity of a game, and turn it back into a movie? It would be like the novelisation of a movie based on a book, or Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game.

With the shaky initial treatment and the game-based movie’s reputation for poor quality (according to Rotten Tomatoes, the highest-ranking game movie so far is Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within - take from that what you will), it’s understandable why many Uncharted fans simply want Hollywood to leave the precious franchise alone. Let it simply be a good game, and don’t sully its name by attaching it to a poorly-executed film project. Personally, though, I’m excited that the project continues to move forward, because Uncharted has the potential to make a great film.

First, Uncharted’s narrative structure is more suited to film adaptation than previous games-turned-movies. Naughty Dog went to great lengths to put players in the role of a top-tier Hollywood blockbuster, and crafted the story and narrative to have more in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark than Modern Warfare 2. Rather than challenging the player with repetitive, mechanic-heavy experiences, Uncharted’s story provides both players and spectators with wondrous sights, quickly moving from one area to the next in a flurry of pitch-perfect pacing.

Also, unlike most games (but similarly to most good movies), Uncharted roots itself firmly in well-developed, compelling characters. It’s the characters in Uncharted who drive the action, instead of the level design or the player, allowing the whole experience to unfold naturally, rather than through cutscenes or ham-fisted plot points. Uncharted excels in character portrayal and development — Nathan Drake, Elena, and Sully are three of the strongest characters in gaming, with personalities, histories, and chemistry all of their own, much like memorable movie characters. Even if all gameplay was distilled from Uncharted, the strength of its cast would still be enough to pull the entire experience, and it’s this strength of character that makes Uncharted a perfect choice for film adaptation.

Lastly (and I may be alone in thinking this), the world just needs another awesome adventure movie. Not a bunch of CGI explosions, bullet-time moments, or slow motion running standing in for entertainment; but a good, solid adventure story that takes audiences to new, exotic places and makes them feel like intrepid explorers alongside the main protagonists. Certainly it would be a bit derivative, but the Romancing the Stone or National Treasure series haven’t suffered from feeling slightly familiar. Uncharted is one of gaming’s premier adventure franchises, and I see no reason to keep a fun, exciting property like this out of the hands of movie lovers everywhere.

Who knows whether or not this project will even be active going forward (remember the Halo movie?), but I think it would be a crying shame if a wonderfully cinematic franchise like Uncharted weren’t able to somehow be realised on the big screen. Sony and Columbia: take as much time as you need to build this project into the epic bastion of cinema it deserves. I’ll thank you with my wallet.

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- Andrew Testerman

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