When it was announced back in May 2010 that Bioware’s critically-acclaimed Mass Effect would be making it to the big screen, fans were buzzing with excitement over the prospect of seeing Commander Shepard fighting the apocalyptic Reapers in his debut film. And why shouldn’t they be? Mass Effect has become one of those franchises with real blockbuster potential, having established itself in the sci-fi genre as a contender to Star Wars over the past eight years. So why, you may ask, have I bothered to write this article? Well, I’m going to tell you.
To begin with, history has not been when it comes to adapting videogames into movies. Admittedly, there have been some which have managed to avoid being discredited by their fans (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Hitman) but neither have they been Box Office hits. However, the development is being backed by some big time film companies, specifically Legendary Pictures (Nolan’s Batman trilogy/Inception/The Hangover) and Warner Bros (Harry Potter/The Hobbit/Sherlock Holmes) and what’s more, Bioware’s own Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschulk and Casey Hudson are said to be working very closely to the project, which should prevent the movie straying too far from the original storyline, to get the same response Bioware got with its games.
But here are my main concerns…
For starters, if Bioware intends to go through with a live-action adaptation of the game, then the characters will most likely be played differently to their voice counterparts (with the exception of Seth Green as Joker). For audiences new to the franchise, this won’t be much of a problem, but for those who have been dedicated to the trilogy since the beginning may feel that these new actors are imposters of the real Commander Shepard, no matter how big they are in Hollywood. For the alien characters, such as Garrus, this problem is more avoidable, as they will probably appear through motion-capture animation. This would allow the original voice actors to come back, therefore eliminating the problem. I mean, could you think of a viable replacement for Garrus Vakarian? His voice is as iconic to the series as Sean Connery’s is to 007. When playing LA Noire, I noticed his voice straight away and I thought: “That’s Garrus from Mass Effect!” He, like the rest of the cast, are not easily replaced and if Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros believe otherwise, they’ll be making a costly mistake.
Secondly, Bioware will have to be careful when it comes to the actual storyline. The RPG/decision-making elements are unlikely to hinder the movie’s appeal as the producers will probably take the Paragon approach with possibly a few Renegade decisions to mix up the emotions of their audience. But other than that, there is little room for modification in terms of the story. Since a typical playthrough of the game can cap at 30 hours, Hudson and his team can’t possibly expect to cram everything into a two a half hour feature.
Some areas will have to be cut, but what they’ll have to be careful with is that they don’t create any plot holes. Since Hudson, Muzyka and Zeschulk have all worked on Mass Effect for the past eight years, I hope they’ll be as thorough and dedicated as they were the first time round because if the story falls apart, so does the movie’s success.
Finally, Mass Effect is primarily a shooter based game. At every stage of the story, Commander Shepard and his two selected team members go to a new planet and at some point or another, start shooting whether its at Geth, Pirates or Rachni. They will need to more variation to the storyline other than ‘go here-shoot people’ but I do have faith that this can be avoided, but it is a factor that needs addressing. With so much to cram into so little time, Bioware couldn’t go wrong by cutting some action sequences to focus more on character development. Each squad mate (six in total) has a background history that reflects their personality, making them more three-dimensional and I believe that this will be an important to the film’s success – especially if they come to make Mass Effect 2!
Now, just to be clear, I am not saying they shouldn’t make a Mass Effect movie whatsoever. I just think that there are too many variables that would compromise a ‘live-action’ adaptation. Perhaps if it wasn’t based on the games, as was originally intended, and ventured into other elements of the Mass Effect universe, then I’d have more faith. There is so much potential already there, other storylines that could become movies without compromising the original series, such as the Discovery of the Mass Relays and the First Contact War with the Turians. These titles could provide additional insight to those who have played through the games and at the same time introduce the universe to those who have not.
Personally, I think that if Bioware is dead set on adapting the first game, they would have been safer animating it. Now I’m not talking about the cartoon-styled animation of ‘Paragon Lost;’ I’m talking about the gorgeous animation that goes into the cinematic trailers that are practically mini-movies in the space of three minutes. With motion-capture technology becoming more widely used in the film industry (Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. They could still achieve the standard you’d get in a live-action movie and invite the voice actors back as well, getting the best of both worlds.
Yet, I’ve always been a perfectionist. At the end of the day, I’ll still queue up for hours to see it when it’s finally released. I’m sure there are a lot of you that simply can’t wait for the debut trailer, just to catch a glimpse of Shepard, the Normandy or even Sovereign. But as Mass Effect has become such a critically-acclaimed series, it would be a shame if its trip to the big screen turned out to be ‘the end of its cycle.’ Do you think Mass Effect should become a ‘live-action’ movie?
This article was first posted on September 29, 2012