The State of Hollywood 6:
The Reality of the Metal Gear Solid Movie
By: Lawrence Napoli
What could go wrong?
When the Metal Gear Solid film adaptation was confirmed to be in the works at Konami’s 25th Anniversary of the video game franchise, I was very intrigued at the prospect of bringing one of the most cinematic game sagas to the silver screen. I was also quite apprehensive of such lofty ambitions for the simple fact that Hollywood has blundered just about every gaming license it has gotten its greasy palms on, and I’d hate to see Kojima’s masterpiece sullied by anyone for any reason. Just look what they did to Super Mario and he was a fat plumber who curb-stomped turtles to save a princess. How can Hollywood possibly handle the “nuances, ideology [and] cautionary tales,” (quoting Avi Arad, himself) of global conspiracy by the military industrial complex to control the future of mankind via technology, genetics, economics and violence? (Wait, isn’t that happening in real life now?)
The answer to that question is that none of the above really matters to Avi Arad or anyone else in Hollywood because there are greenbacks to be made and ravenous fan bases ripe for exploitation. Hollywood’s goal is producing blockbuster gold in the form of a film that may or may not have something important to say about life, but is really more interested in wooing dollars out of our wallets with explosions.
In many respects, the meat of Metal Gear’s story contains ideas that average blockbusters wouldn’t normally give a second thought to. That is until the most recent culmination of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (who, by the way, is the only director Kojima has mentioned interest in allowing to helm a Metal Gear adaptation). Unfortunately, there is only one Chris Nolan and he will be too busy promoting the rest of DC’s alphas to Batman’s prominence on film. Thus, [insert director here] inspires far less confidence in this project’s production which attracts a smaller pool of actors and other talented filmmaking professionals to the cause.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2964:]]Why Metal Gear and why now?
The entertainment industry seems to see Arad’s alliance with Columbia Pictures as a response to Ubisoft using its own production facilities to create an Assassin’s Creed adaptation starring Michael Fassbender. I see it as Hollywood having sucked just about all the sellable juice from the comic book industry and it needs a new host to leach upon before it goes through a true “dry spell” of projects.
The big four of the entertainment industry: music, movies, books and DVD’s are averaging between $30-60 billion dollars of annual, global revenue in their respective categories and the video game industry is on par with each of them. This simply wasn’t the case 15 years ago, but considering the constant evolution of the internet and the increased demand for user interactivity as a result; it stands to reason that gaming continues to be on the rise and more people regardless of age, gender and ethnicity are plugging in. The best known franchises in gaming have high exposure for various consumer bases around the world, so considering Hollywood’s recent trend on focusing on global numbers (as opposed to [US] domestic profits), it makes perfect sense for more games to be remixed as movies.
Metal Gear, as a franchise, gives Hollywood everything it wants in an adaptation: relevance, popularity, violence and lots of opportunities for special effects.[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2965:]] Yet history has shown there is no such thing as “a sure thing” so not every gaming icon makes perfect sense to invest in. As marquee as Mario and Link are in videogames, neither could sell a contemporary blockbuster the way Solid Snake can because they are rooted in Nintendo’s stylized fantasyland which may not be for everyone above the age of 13. Halo also generates high visibility, but a film adaptation might turn off an audience more interested in action as opposed to being bombarded with too much sci-fi jargon and exposition. The same goes for Mass Effect and BioShock. The only other contemporary franchise that might out shine Metal Gear as a potential film would be anything that bears the name of Call of Duty, but please note the similarities between the two: modern day/future warfare, modern day army tactics, modern day violence (with a slight sci-fi edge to Metal Gear).
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2966:]]Dollars, cents and “success”
Let’s just say there really isn’t a lot of success when it comes to movies based on video games (as there isn’t much success in games based on movies). Hollywood measures its success in cash and despite the ever increasing cost of general admission and conspiratorial gimmicks like double the ticket cost for IMAX and Digital DLP projection, the industry is still not making the money it used to make. Yes, consumer feedback is most directly reflected in the dollars they spend and when you observe mega-films like Avatar and The Avengers take home multiple billions of dollars worth in global ticket sales, it makes you wonder how Hollywood could ever be struggling.
Hollywood’s problem in general (and game adaptations in particular) is that “success” measured in dollars is a skewed statistic as a result of the aforementioned inflation and tricks. Only focusing on the green has contributed to the overall decline in Hollywood’s product and whether you agree with that statement or not, the audience is showing disappointment due to its increased absence as the years go by. When you go to the movies, how often do you sit in theaters that one would consider “full?” When you talk to your friends about movies how often do complaints like “I’ve seen it all before,” and “they’ve run out of ideas,” come up in the conversation? It all sounds very circumstantial and unquantifiable, but if we tracked the number of tickets sold (regardless of price) we would begin to see an alarming drop in patronage overall.
Why should any of this be important to Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear franchise? Acknowledging the rising cost and decreased business of Hollywood has[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2968:]] placed even more pressure on blockbusters to over perform at the box office and this increased scrutiny demands stricter adherence to the “Hollywood formula”: good writing and plot are sacrificed for big name actors, elaborate set pieces, visual effects and tons of explosions (essentially style over substance). Even “the formula” cannot be considered foolproof, but no major studio will ever bankroll such a project unless “the formula” is in full effect. Cue, (Sony) Columbia Pictures which owns 15.5% of movie market share and is 2nd only to Warner Bros. in pure blockbuster production power. Big money is already behind this Metal Gear project, but accepting it implies the complete submission to whatever Hollywood says the movie will be. In the words of Amanda Connor regarding the adaptation of her husband’s Jonah Hex: “You don’t handle Hollywood. Hollywood handles you!” Sorry Kojima-san, you’ve just been kicked out of the writer’s room.
“Kojima approved” may be irrelevant in the Metal Gear adaptation.
Why it will fail!
Three words: TACTICAL, ESPIONAGE, ACTION! That is the subtitle for every Metal Gear Solid game and it designates to the player exactly what this fiction is all about in addition to the order of importance of each of these elements have within the story. Hollywood’s “formula” dictates quite the opposite by forcing the film to be focused on action/effects, rated PG-13 and entirely unconcerned with social commentary. When the base philosophical difference between the source material and the adaptation is that far apart, how on Earth could Avi Arad speak so smugly about staying true to Metal Gear’s “nuance and ideology?”
This is a sneaking mission Snake. The goal here is gathering information, so apply appropriate tactics.
Metal Gear Solidis not about war. War has changed. War is the escalating cost of gasoline and energy. War is hacking databases to steal identities. War is Chinese banks buying up American debt. War is corporations over people. War is the race to do things better, faster and cheaper than the other guy. War is less about proxy battles fought on foreign soil and more about the concept of human struggle and how interconnected every individual is in our daily toils as we live our lives. THAT is Metal Gear Solid. THAT is the story of Solid Snake: a super soldier coming to grips with how his warrior code of honor and discipline is completely at odds with his chain of command and the true authority behind it. It is a case study in refined, character driven drama where even individuals of immense power still answer to another; slaves to causality; chess pieces playing out their roles. The trick is they are all discovering this truth and not everyone likes it.
Solid Snake running around for two hours blowing sh*t up has 0% chance of producing a story that approaches any of the above.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2971:]]How it might succeed
The right people have to be recruited for the creative positions in this kind of production: writers, actors, crew and F/X. They must be led by a director that becomes intimate with the source material and creates a vision that he or she will not allow producers or executives to compromise. [Insert director here] is not well versed in having a spine, let alone creating a vision worth buying into. This is the reason why there are so many directors you have never heard of and will never hear from again. Any old person will not do to direct this adaptation.
Mechs must be fully animated, but discipline must be maintained so as not to turn Metal Gear into Transformers. One easy step in accomplishing this feat is by completely forgetting Michael Bay (or his agent) exists. The second step is putting serious thought into the final battle which involves Snake vs. Liquid who is piloting the mechanical behemoth, Metal Gear Rex. As ridiculous as 1 man fighting a robot the size of a house is, planning the action in a way that is not “over the top” is the only way the climax of this film (and Rex specifically) doesn’t come off as stupid. Of course, that’s assuming the director wants to play out the final confrontation in the same manner as the game. The answer to this situation becomes a little less daunting so long as “tactical” and “espionage” continue to prevail over “action.”
My name is Rex, not Grimlock!
Finally, the right actor must be cast for Solid Snake. Certainly, Metal Gear features one of the most colorful casts in the history of fiction, but the story is very singular in perspective and Solid Snake is the man. The internet has an interesting list of potential leading men such as Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen and Matt Damon (sorry David Hayter, you are invited to play some role on the film, but you can’t be Snake). My particular problem with these high profile, A-listers is that just about all of them have already represented iconic characters recently and franchise fatigue is inevitable. This affects both the actor’s performance as well as the audience’s ability to accept the actor in the role. I am most intrigued with the mentioning of Josh Holloway who is most remembered for his role on Lost. I like the fact that he has as much to gain from the role of Solid Snake as the role does from his performance. He certainly looks the part, but can he act it? Also, can he completely delete his southern accent? Both of which are vital to creating a viable, Solid Snake. I won’t give Josh my official endorsement, but the mitigating circumstances I just mentioned place him higher on the list than anyone else.
Adapting Metal Gear is not the slam dunk many would make it out to be. Otherwise, it would have already happened. It certainly presents a high risk/high reward scenario provided the creators approach this film with the intention of keeping it unique from other war/sci-fi/action films. It also presents a low yield/heavy backlash scenario if the adaptation simply sucks. I am not certain Kojima’s ego would survive such an outcome and I’d hate to have him stare that possibility down up close and personal. And perhaps that is the reason we haven’t seen this game in Hollywood scripts up to now. However, with the upcoming release of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (developed by Platinum Games) and Kojima’s desire to move into the producer’s chair for future Metal Gear Solid games, it seems he is being less possessive of his brainchild. Ironically, Snake and Kojima share the same problem of trust as both consider themselves to be true professionals that rely on their own efforts rather than others. Still, it’s much easier for a man to move mountains with the help of other men.