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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

Comments () | Archives (7)

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The best video games have compelling back stories to help drive the action forward. Why not focus on a Gears movie that enhances the story of the video game (or its characters) rather than simply retelling the story we have seen on screen already?

Video game movies may be more popular if studios took the time to tell well-constructed stories instead of relying so heavily on the brand recognition of the source material.

Games should not be made into movies. A movie is a passive experience while a video game is an interactive experience. It is the interactivity that drives the gaming experience. Instead of wasting effort on a movie, the ideas should be incorporated into future game sequels / spin-offs.

You know what irritates me? Hollywood types try to re-write the stories of videogames to adapt them for movies. Gears has a good, solid story, why not just wait till Gears 3 releases and condense the stories into one 2-and-a-half hour long engagement, while maintaining the plot from the games. Make it 3D, have some statues made for theater displays, and the Gears of War movie will be the next Avatar. (So long as some "wise" writer doesn't futz up the story too much.)

Make it into 3D yeah! Lets make all movies into 3D! Great idea. Morons. Quality story and characters is all you need for a great movie. See The Dark Knight. Please stop with the fashionable 3D fanboy idiocy please. Because that is all it is - a fashion.

I agree wholeheartedly with Dana, and I'm almost offended by Vijay. Movies can tell ENTIRELY different stories than video games. Some things can't be done in games because they're too passively told (for example, the Metal Gear Solid cutscenes that last ten minutes apiece) but make for hard-punching stories in movies.

Books are also different; there's no way the story of 'Aspho Fields', the first Gears of War book, could have been told in a Gears game. It could have been tried, but it was much better off as a book in my staunch opinion. The fighting between the COG and UIR during the flashbacks was much too (dare I say) realistic to be fun in a game, and the 'present-day' portions of the book only amounted up to a period of about three days filled with lots of very small skirmishes and the occasional explosion. More or less, it focused on characters and the games can't do that.

This is why I'm pissed off that they're scaling back the Gears movie. I'm sure Epic is pissed too, considering that they just sold the rights to make a movie out of their game, and it was shaping up to be huge and memorable (in a good way), but now they're stuck with a bunch of lazy-ass producers who just want another DOOM movie. I really hope those producers prove me wrong and produce something of quality.

But a sprawling epic of a movie, with brilliant actors and directors and visuals, would have turned a Gears movie into something that could have transcended the game-to-movie genre. Revolutionized it like Spiderman and Batman Begins revolutionized comicbooks-to-movies.

Diarma, thanks for your sanity. I'm so tired of all the brainless generations of idiots out there who think that tons of crappy CGI and 3D are all you need to make a great movie. 3D is a fad as it always has been, and CGI still doesn't look real.

hey so i just started recently playing gears of war, not my fault, ive just never been in a position to buy the newest gaming systems and such, anyway, i must say the first gears game, which i just finished is awesome and amazing i know the newer ones will rock as well once i play them, i have seen the atrocities of what happens when bigshot directors get a popular franchise and destroy it, mortal kombat annihalation anyone? but while playing the game it really was an intense experience, and sometimes found myself thinking, "this would be awesome if i could have the same intensity, and feeling i get playing this, but actually able to relax and be passive as ive heard alot of people say. i think in the right hands, with the right actors, writers all of that, a gears of war movie would be extremely sucessful, you have to remember in the game you go off one way alot, and you never really exactly see whats going on with your team, a movie would capture everything you miss in a game, while honoring the game itself, to me it would be a satisfying experience. as for 3-D that fad was around in the 80s and tanked, im sure it will suffer the same fate now, who wants to have special glasses everytime they want to enjoy a movie the way it was intended, im sure 3-d looks awesome, ive never personally seen any 3-d movies in theater with everything, but it just seems a hastle, and in alot of 3-d films lately, theres a huge sacrifice of story quality, plot quality, and the likes, because theyre all banking on the fact its 3-d and that will sell alone. horrible ideas lately, i must say. -M


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