The Case for a 'Mass Effect' Movie

Posted By on February 03, 2010 02:50 pm | Permalink
Tags: , Gaming
Categories: Karen Moltenbrey
For the uninitiated, Mass Effect is a sci-fi RPG video game series from developer BioWare that finds the player taking on the role of a human soldier, Commander Shepard, who is tasked with investigating an ancient race of aliens believed to be a threat to not only mankind but the known universe. With the recent release of the second game in the series (to as equally rave reviews as the first entry), it was revealed that BioWare has seen tremendous amounts of interest in a Mass Effect movie adaptation, but that they've essentially yet to be swayed by any studios. The way I see it, this means only one thing: Hollywood wants the property without BioWare getting creative control. And what that tells me is, Hollywood may just miss out on a gold mine.

There's a studio out there that needs Mass Effect. This is the single most robust, easily adaptable game property to come along in years; that it happens to be sci-fi is merely a bonus for us. Avatar has given Fox unprecedented grosses at the box office around the planet, proving that there is not only a desire but a need for new, big-budget, high-concept sci-fi movies with big splashes of action and side-dashes of sensuality. Sure, a few studios now have their own properties in development that have the potential to rope in a revitalized sci-fi fan base, but none of them is original to the big screen. The most prominent of the lot is arguably Pierre Morel's adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, yet as excited as I am to see someone take a new crack at that dense material, I'd much rather see those efforts go toward forging a new cinematic sci-fi property.

Avatar, for better or worse, proved a lot of things. Perhaps most relevant to this article is the fact that people are eager to see non-humans on the big screen. Audiences may still need an Earthly proxy for the story, but there is an appetite for alien species that aren't people-eating monsters that a smart studio should capitalize on. And it doesn't get any more multi-species-friendly than Mass Effect, whose universe is populated with a variety of non-human races, all integral to the story. Not only that, but they're humanoid enough that they won't look too goofy whether they're live-action prosthetics or CGI creations, yet they're unique enough to be as iconic as any of the denizens found in Star Wars or Star Trek.

The relationships Shepard (and in turn, us) forms with his crew take on the audience-friendly tone that defines the best men-on-a-mission movies. As Shepard and his ship explore the galaxy, ME morphs into an almost Dirty Dozen story that's practically begging for an ensemble cast of equal caliber. There are clear villains, but their motives are a bit more complex (and ominous) than what passed muster in Cameron's blockbuster.

That leaves us with an effects-heavy action film set in space with a complex plot and the potential to bring together the kind of actors whose careers have been defined by group work like this. But before this starts to sound too much like a flick tailor made for guys who love spaceships and explosions, it is worth pointing out that the only complaints ever raised against the game were from conservative groups (who never actually played it) bothered by the fact that your human player could form an intimate relationship with, if so chosen, an alien. So, if a studio is looking to lure in the vast crowds that ate up the Jake/Neytiri angle, ME already has one built in.

Now the only major obstacle in adapting ME into a movie is the fact that the game can take over 20 hours to complete, and even then there are easily another 20 hours of side stories waiting to be told should you take the time to discover them. That said, it's easy to imagine the core story getting boiled down to a two-hour film. Just stick with Shepard, his main crew and their quest to take down the mysterious Protheans before they corrupt everything. Not an impossible task by any means.

Having said all of the above, however, I'm not campaigning for some studio to court BioWare into handing over the rights so they can make a cash grab at them Avatar monies. I don't want anyone to even attempt making a Mass Effect film unless they're going to give it the love and care it deserves (I could spend another thousand words doing a fantasy draft of cast and crew). But, given the post-Avatar climate in which the industry now finds itself and the fact that Disney is probably going to have the first genuine blockbuster based on a video game this summer with Prince of Persia, now is the right time for a studio to pick up a multi-film franchise that practically delivers itself on a silver platter.

I guarantee that if Prince of Persia is a hit, Hollywood will scour the game world for its own properties; whoever gets Mass Effect is going to have a big advantage over the competition. If they buy it now they may even look like geniuses.