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Before I played an Uncharted: Drake’s Deception for the first time, I’ll honestly say I was skeptical it would be any good. I expected a pretty straight forward Tomb Raider copy with not much to offer other than scaling walls, swinging on ropes, and stealing relics. And, while those things do exist in the Uncharted video games, I was surprised to find rich storytelling and likable, compelling characters. I found myself not playing to experience the adventure of the game, but what might happen next in the story.
Then, it occurred to me—this could be a great movie. So, when I heard Uncharted was heading into production with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg set to star, you could say I was pretty excited. Not soon after, dread kicked in. I started to think about some of the mistakes it could make, like all of its video game predecessors before it. With that said, here are 6 mistakes Uncharted should try to avoid.
Straying From The Source Material
The Uncharted video game franchise is full of great storylines and characters, adventures and whimsey, and humor that gamers have come to know and love for years. It created a unique and captivating world that lends itself to the adaptation to the big screen. But, in an attempt to distance itself, a temptation might be to pull away from the video game source material. This would be a mistake.
The Resident Evil movies come to mind with this mistake. These bad video game adaptations barely look anything like the video games at all. They include zombies and the Umbrella corporation but that’s about as far as it goes. There was no reason to do this. The Resident Evil video games have compelling, scary stories. They could have easily stuck closer to the source material and made much better movies in the process. Instead, they opted for an over-the-top action franchise that is Resident Evil in name only.
From what I understand, the Uncharted movie will be based on Uncharted: A Thief’s End, but will focus entirely on a younger Nathan Drake, played by Tom Holland. I was a little disappointed in this at first, afraid they might stray too far from the source, but I think it can still work as long as they maintain the core of the game.
Having Too Much Video Game Fan Service
On the flip side, the Uncharted movie could focus so hard on trying to appeal to video game fans that they’ll alienate a wider audience, like telling a bunch of inside jokes that’ll only rub outsiders the wrong way. These nudge-nudge moments might be fine in very small doses, or as Easter eggs for the initiated, but they shouldn’t be overwhelming.
Warcraft is tragically guilty of this mistake. It tries so hard to appeal to World of Warcraft video gamers with needless world-building that it loses the rest of the audience by telling a sluggish, and boring story.
The good news is that this is an easy mistake to avoid. Uncharted can appeal to video game fans, but it just has to be subtle. Give the video gamers what they want but also remember there’s a larger audience that wants in on the fun too without having to feel like they need to have played the video game before they watch.
Not Getting The Audience Invested In Nathan Drake And Sully
Nathan Drake and Sully’s mentor relationship could be one of the best aspects of Uncharted. Victor “Sully” Sullivan is Nathan Drake’s friend, mentor, and sometimes father-figure throughout the games. They frequently partner together to find lost treasures and archeological artifacts, but all too often they butt heads and disagree on how to execute a mission. It’s this constant conflict and care for each other that makes the story so enjoyable and the characters so great.
Video game movies aren’t exactly known for their good writing and character development. They focus too much on plot and spectacle, instead. That, and just poor filmmaking, is kind of what earned the “video game movie” a bad reputation. When you’re trying to adapt something like Super Mario Bros., this might make a little more sense. But, video games like Uncharted have become much more sophisticated with much better stories. There’s no reason their movies can’t be the same.
The Uncharted video games practically hand the filmmakers Nathan Drake and Sully’s character development on a silver platter. All they have to do is take notes from the games and adapt that into the movie. If they can tap into that, they could not only avoid a massive mistake but also win a huge battle.
Focusing Too Heavily On Spectacle
Of the many reasons video game movies fail, focusing too heavily on style, special effects, and action-packed sequences ranks high on the list. And, while those things are great and needed to make a story exciting, they don’t ultimately satisfy.
Despite that, video game movies fall into this trap a lot. And, since the Uncharted video games have plenty of exciting, visceral, and adrenaline rush scenes, it’s in greater danger of making this mistake.
Similar in style and genre, the Tomb Raider reboot seemed like a promising video game movie adaptation before it released. It tried to distance itself from its predecessor by having a little more grounded tone and realistic action sequences, but it still made the mistake of focusing too much on spectacle. It took great pains to copy many of the stunts and sequences from the game, hoping that would appease video game fans. Yet, the story, acting, and characters in that movie lack depth.
I understand spectacle helps get people into seats, but when a movie depends on it too much, it becomes lopsided. I think Uncharted can have its cake and eat it, too. Include the spectacle, but make it the icing, not the cake.
Falling Into Cliché Traps
Archaeological adventure movies come around every so often, but they aren’t high demand pictures. And there’s a good reason why—the genre is littered with cliché traps. It can make writing a unique story very difficult.
This genre tends to demand things like MacGuffins, jungles, deserts, caves, clever traps, a talented archaeology professor (who also happens to be a crack shot and great with a rope/whip) that travels to exotic locations, and a hunt to find the MacGuffin before the antagonist. Too often there’s some kind of supernatural power involved. That’s typically it. It rarely leaves options for creativity.
Of the archaeology adventures to come out recently, I’d argue National Treasure did its darndest to escape the genre clichés. It stayed far away from jungles and deserts, choosing urban and residential locations for most of the film. Nicolas Cage’s character Ben Gates wasn’t exactly swinging around on ropes or shooting guns. He’s just an average guy with a slightly unhealthy obsession with history and clues. It also found a way to avoid the supernatural forces cliché. This is way more than most of these movies can claim.
Here’s where things get tough. The Uncharted video games dive headfirst into these clichés with gleeful abandon. Nathan Drake shoots plenty of guns, swings on lots of ropes, traipses through jungles, deserts, and wastelands, and hunts down MacGuffins like its no-one’s business. On the one hand, many of these are conventions that audiences come to expect in the genre, but conventions quickly become clichés when writers get lazy. The trick for Uncharted will be to find ways to embrace the conventions while also cleverly making them their own rather than falling back on something easy.
Not Escaping Indiana Jones’ Shadow
Since its release in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark set a precedent that has been difficult to overcome. Right now, it and its sequels are quintessential. This has weighed heavily on filmmakers for years. For instance, back in 2013, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were asked by Naughty Dog to make an Uncharted movie. But, they refused, saying, “it’s just going to be Indiana Jones.”
It’s undeniable that Raiders of the Lost Ark set a standard. Romancing the Stone and The Goonies followed it. The Mummy (1999) and Tomb Raider followed it. But I don’t necessarily believe all archaeological movies are doomed to be cast in its shadow.
The best thing Uncharted could do is not think through the lens of Indiana Jones. After all, Raiders of the Lost Ark is almost 40 years old. It’s a fantastic movie, but Uncharted has a window to tell a story with a modern cinematic language.
If the filmmakers want Uncharted to be different, they’ll have to tell the story with different shots, with different beats, and with different story cues for the audience. They could also dig deeper and write realistic and believable characters with more dimension than Indiana Jones and his villains. It could also mean finding a deeper subtext within the story.
Whatever the avenue, whatever the options, if Uncharted wants to go beyond a mere video game movie, a mere Indiana Jones copy, it’ll need to shoot higher and create its own path that will set the course for future adventure stories to come. I realize that’s a high bar, but at the same time, the Uncharted video games have plenty to offer that can be well-adapted to the cinematic experience, if done well. They just need to avoid the common mistakes and rise above them.