24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Video Games

Is 'Gears of War' grinding to a halt?

April 5, 2010 |  6:15 pm

EXCLUSIVE: All video-game adaptations these days seem like fraught propositions, but the movie version of "Gears of War" has seemed especially touch-and-go. First there were rumors that the property had stalled in development. Then the rumors were quelled. Then they started up again.

Now sources say the New Line project has really slowed down. The film's story and budget have been scaled back,  and director Len Wiseman, the filmmaker behind "Live Free or Die Hard" and the "Underworld" franchise (he's variously written, directed and/or produced the three films in the franchise), is instead turning his attention to "Nocturne," an apocalyptic thriller based on an idea from "Red Dawn" writers Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore. (Wiseman had previously been in talks to direct that property, which is set up at Fox. It's now official.)

In the "Gears" video game, main character Marcus Fenix leads a human group charged with protecting the fictional planet Sera from a pernicious enemy called the Locust Horde. Fenix is a former prisoner and soldier who comes with all the back story, and muscles, you'd want a movie action hero to come with, and the game features plenty of feature-ready weaponry and mythology.

Which is probably why (along with the millions of copies that the Xbox game and its sequel have sold) the project had generated a certain buzz: the script, from "Wanted" writer Chris Morgan and with some character work from veteran Billy Ray ("State of Play," Flightplan" the "24" movie), was to be a multi-generational epic with a big-canvas feel.

But the studio has now cut the budget, going from a film that would have cost more than $100 million to one that will cost a good chunk less than that. It's also reined in the story, turning it into a more simple, straight-ahead invasion story instead of a sprawling epic. Producers are looking for a new writer to handle all this, but haven't found one yet. And Wiseman, while technically still attached, will likely not be a part of it when all is said and done. (With him going, any possibility of Kate Beckinsale starring would go too; Wiseman is married to the actress and had talked about wanting her for a part.)  A New Line spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Video games are among the more curious properties out there. They tend to get a huge boost early in development -- titles ranging from vintage games such as  "Asteroids" and "Missile Command" to more modern games such as "Shadow of the Colossus" and "World of Warcraft." But their appeal -- of a story that's already been told on the screen -- can become a complicating factor as development moves forward, especially since the interactivity that made them so popular won't be incorporated into the new medium, leading to obstacles on their road to the multiplex. (And when a property does get there one can wish it didn't  -- see under: Max Payne.)

As for "Nocturne," there's no casting yet (and there may yet be a new title), but the project, about a group of people who survive the apocalypse and the mysterious circumstances of how they got there, now has heat at Fox. One of the more venerable writing teams around, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (they wrote "Iron Man" and "Children of Men"), are writing a new draft. They're working off a version from Fabrizio and Passmore, who with the "Red Dawn" and "Missing in Action" remakes to their name, are no slouches themselves.

Original ideas are hard to get off the ground these days, but those behind them may want to be thankful for one thing: at least they're not developing video games.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Gears of War. Credit: Microsoft Games Studios

Video game incursion into Hollywood could continue with Space Invaders

March 2, 2010 |  3:08 pm

With a movie version of Missile Command essentially set up at Fox and an adaptation of Asteroids in development at Universal, it was only a matter of time before a studio decided to take on the grandfather of all video games, Space Invaders.

And now it looks like one could.

Warner Bros. is negotiating to acquire feature rights to the landmark shooter from Taito, the Japanese company that originally manufactured the game. If the rights issues all work out, the project would bring on Hollywood fixtures Mark Gordon, Jason Blum and Guymon Casady as producers.

Gordon is a film veteran with experience at the big-budget art house ("Saving Private Ryan") as well as the big-budget commercial ("The Day After Tomorrow"). Blum is best known for producing horror breakout "Paranormal Activity," while Casady is a manager-producer with a slew of high-profile clients.

It's not surprising that Warner Bros. would look to jump-start a Space Invaders movie; last summer the studio bought Midway, the video game's U.S. publisher (which does not control theatrical rights), and also is developing a feature of another video game, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."

Space Invaders was of course the iconic game that helped start it all, a Japanese-created arcade title from 1978 that featured roving attacking ships raining vertical fire on the player's craft, which dodged and fired back. It later vaulted to prominence via the Atari 2600.

There's a bit of a loop-closing thing happening, since the game itself was inspired (loosely) by sci-fi movies like "Star Wars." Still, like most games of the era, Space Invaders features little back story, which is why it's anyone's guess what shape a movie might take.

Which we suppose is also part of the appeal, since any script involving science fiction, or invasions, or shooting, can reasonably be produced and released as a Space Invaders movie. Still, we do have to ask: With three vintage video games in development at three studios, can Pac-Man or Frogger be far behind?

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Space Invaders. Credit: Midway.


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