Mass Effect Becoming a Movie

Are you surprised? I’m surprised.

It’s both a logical and completely illogical step for Bioware with the Mass Effect property. On one hand, they’re all about building brands now. Thanks EA. There’s ample opportunity for a film, though, in that it could focus on characters living on after Mass Effect 1, or be a prequel focusing on David Anderson. On the other, Mass Effect isn’t a game that would make a good movie in a traditional sense; break it down some, and it’s just a boring science fiction story with good atmosphere and the ability to make choices.

You can’t make choices in movies. That’s one of the things Roger Ebert says that makes video games not art. You remember that debate, don’t you?

Mass Effect the movie, featuring Mass Effect the game, would be a disappointment on a number of levels. For one, my Shepard isn’t your Shepard. Yours is a brash but empassioned paragon male, or a renegade, punch you in the balls female. Mine’s a helpful paragon female who tends to shoot people in the face when they lie to her. It’s her way. And it wouldn’t be movie Shepard’s way, that’s for sure.

Simply put, how do they capture the essence, that role playing essence, of Mass Effect on the screen when only one man is role playing Shepard?

They don’t, that’s how. I’m riding the pessimism express to failville here, just like the movie.

What Mass Effect the Game the Movie made me think about, though, is what games would make good movies. Simply put, what games would function well as movies. This led me to a list of criteria, which goes a little something like this:

1. A lack of plot. Movies are 2 hours. Games are 10 hours, at their shortest. You wonder why Asteroids was optioned, and has a lot more potential to be a good movie than Mass Effect? Because Mass Effect has plot, and Asteroids has…people in a ship blowing up asteroids to save Earth or something.

2. A lack of special effects as a central storytelling device. You might say, “But Explosions are cool!” (so cool we capitalize them), but that doesn’t work. Explosions look just as cool in video games, and you get to cause them. Sure, you could get a perverse action movie like enjoyment out of a game with explosions, but it’s not especially a selling point. Also, cheaper movies make more money, and allow more money for actors.

3. Not be a movie itself. A lot of games turned movies are movies, just with interactive bits. These don’t work as movies, in large part because they are just long, shitty movies anyway.

Three simple rules, summed up as such: be concise, have places to build, not places to cut, and not be a cinematic experience already. This leaves markedly few games not released in the 1980’s, and is probably the most compelling argument for video games as a reasonable visual art form: because their work cannot be easily replicated in another medium.

Personally, I think Psychonauts would make a fine movie, though. I’m just saying. Even if it breaks most of these rules already. Sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules to be great, and, who the hell knows, Mass Effect could turn out to be a fantastic movie.

Pigs could fly, but Mass Effect the Game the Movie could be great.

One Comment

  1. Fernando Cordeiro

    The main problem, I believe, is that the plot for the original Mass Effect was crap and, without a good script, any movie will fail. The only thing Mass Effect has to offer are the alien races, the me-too! feeling of fighting droid armies and the Citadel.

    If I were to make a ME movie, I would focus on the human politics with the aliens – try to develop that more and make it less simplistic than the game’s portrayal. Then you give a character completely unrelated to Sheppard (because even showing a Sheppard is a no-win game) whose goal is to investigate what happened to the human colony – perhaps an aid to Ambassador Udina – but after visiting the colony, I would center my film completely at the Citadel.