We all do it. Gamers love to sit around and cast their favorite video game characters for live-action movies. Most of the time, we simply rehash fan favorites (Nathan Fillion in EVERYTHING!), but I like to think a little further; a little more realistically. In this feature, I plan to think through a film further than the big-named actor attached, but also the director, writer(s), etc.
This time I’ll be tackling gaming’s biggest space opera, Mass Effect.
Director: Sam Mendes
Here’s a name you probably don’t think of when considering big-budget science-fiction. Until only recently, Mendes has be relegated to quiet Oscar-bait like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. But, with the release of Skyfall, arguably the greatest James Bond film ever, Mendes proved that his well-defined directing muscles could translate into success, both critically and financiall, for genre films.
With Mass Effect, it’s crucial that it sets itself apart from the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek. While those have tended to be more on the family-friendly and goofy side of the spectrum, the Mass Effect games were heavy and dealt with the mature themes of death in a much more adult way. I’m not thinking a Mass Effect film needs to be rated-R, but it should be more in line with Skyfall and The Dark Knight tonally than, say, Die Another Day.
You can rest assured that Mendes would be capable of bringing just that to a Mass Effect movie. He’d allow a heavy focus on defining the characters and making the universe a believable one.
Runners up: Marc Forster; Rian Johnson; Duncan Jones
Pass on: JJ Abrahms; Brad Bird; Jon Faverau
Writer(s): Drew Karpyshyn
There’s been a trend recently with video game adaptations wherein the game’s writer/creator works on the film adaptation’s script. Neil Druckman is reportedly at work on a The Last of Us screenplay and Todd Fixman is the writer on the upcoming Ratchet and Clank movie. So why not continue that trend with Karpyshyn writing Mass Effect?
When dealing with a universe like Mass Effect, you’d be wise to hire individuals who are either a.) willing to learn about the universe, inside and out, or b.) hire someone who already knows all of that. Karpyshyn is obviously choice B here and he seems like a likely choice for several reasons.
- He’s likely to be much cheaper than more established screenwriters. This isn’t to say he can’t write a great script. He just hasn’t proven himself yet.
- He already knows the story inside and out. Mass Effect is undoubtedly aiming to be a blockbuster trilogy, so let’s make sure the groundwork is laid properly for future installments.
- Fan-service. Video game adaptations already have a bad rap, so we need to do everything we can to make sure that fans have faith in our decisions
Runners up: Neal Purvis; Ben Ripley; Charles Leavitt
Pass on: Orci & Kurtzman; Joshua Zetumer
As I mentioned earlier, building solid characters and creating a believable universe should be the most important things while creating a movie like Mass Effect. So instead of focusing on an intricate plot in the first movie (leave that stuff to the later films), let’s focus on a more personal tale of Shepard and co. versus Saren, whilst laying the foundation for the epic invasion of the Reapers.
Because this will be a big, studio-funded blockbuster film, we’ll likely have to go with male Shepard this time, much to the dismay of many fans. Studios don’t typically put the weight of a $100m blockbuster on the shoulders of a woman (I know, it’s terrible considering the success of movies like Resident Evil and The Hunger Games) and a young male audience will likely be the target demographic.
With that out of the way, I really want the focus to remain on several key members of Shepard’s crew. Obviously, John Shepard is going to be the main character, with Ashley, Kaiden, and Garrus acting as his sidekicks; his most trusted crew. I want there to be a tension between Garrus and Shepard that wasn’t really there in the game since both Garrus and the film’s villain, Saren, are both Turian.
A romantic relationship between Shepard and Ashley will begin early in the film, however it would be great (and a nice nod to the game) if Shepard has to choose between saving Ashley and Garrus at some point in the film. Of course, saving Garrus will be the more right thing to do (perhaps not doing so will save more lives, or something to that effect – think in Spider-Man when he has to save the girl or the bus full of children). Shepard will choose Garrus, thus killing Ashley causing a further rift between Garrus and Shepard, and giving Shep a reason to really hate Saren (having a “this time it’s personal” is totally befitting of the situation).
As for the rest of Shep’s crew, there’s only room for so many characters, especially of the alien variety, in one 2 to 2.5 hour long film. Joker’s a must, and will be the Normandy’s pilot and at the very least introducing Wrex would be nice. Joker will maintain his smart-ass, silly demeanor, while Wrex could be played in a way very similar to Sully from Monster’s Inc. – lovable and big, but also extremely dangerous.
As mentioned earlier, the film needs to set up the Reaper invasion, however I only want to see a single Reaper in the first film. He will, along with Saren, destroy much of the Citadel, resulting in a climactic battle between Shep’s crew and Saren. Much like the game, I want Saren to be indoctrinated by Sovereign (the Reaper). While Shepard is battling Saren, the rest of the crew will be laying siege to the Reaper. Upon it’s final destruction, Sovereign’s grip on Saren goes away and Saren has a moment of clarity. Before Shepard can realize this, however, Saren is killed.
Shepard sees this and realizes that the Reapers are the bad guys, not the Turians or the Geth (yeah, they’ll be there too). I really want to have that be the take-away at the end of this: the Reapers are the real threat, not anyone they indoctrinate. Seeing the light, Shep and Garrus will grow to be closer friends. This will be developed further in subsequent films.
M83 did great work for 2013’s Oblivion and their techno-driven style crossed with more traditional orchestral music would be a perfect fit for Mass Effect.
Commander John Shepard: (tie) Gerard Butler, Jon Bernthal
Of course, the studio’s going to want to slap a big name on the poster that’ll put butts in seats, and they’re probably going to want Channing Tatum. I don’t hate that idea, but my vision for Shepard is an older man that has a commanding presence. Tatum’s a fine actor (really, he’s become a much stronger force in recent years), possibly even better than Butler, but he lacks the age and experience that an actor like Butler exudes.
Butler can also be both rugged and handsome, something many actors are missing these days. Harrison Ford, Sean Connery… these were very masculine actors, but today that’s not something that audiences necessarily care about. Butler feels like a great throwback to this era of macho actors.
Another great choice is Jon Bernthal (Shane on The Walking Dead). He’s certainly has acting chops (outside of The Walking Dead, he was great in The Pacific) and, like Butler, he’s pretty manly. He also is younger than Butler, which the studio might be more inclined to lean towards and has an up-and-coming status. If anything, Bernthal might edge Butler out just based on this.
I really like the choice of Tom Hardy, but it’s possible we might see an over-saturation of him in the future (plus, he’s already got one video game adaptation coming).
Runners up: Bruce Willis; Channing Tatum; Tom Hardy
Pass on: Alex Pettyfer; Liam Hemsworth; Taylor Kitsch
Ashley Williams: Lena Heady
This choice is actually more difficult than Shepard. You need an actress capable of not only being extremely likable in short amount of time (for her death to mean anything to the audience), but also bad ass. Lena Heady is a great choice for both of these. Her performance as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones expertly walks the line of being despicable and tragic, perfect for Ashley.
On top of this, she’s already had experience working with Butler in 300. They’re chemistry should be able to carry over from there to here and ignite yet another steamy romance scene.
My only concern with Heady is that, if Jon Bernthal was cast, Heady is a bit too old (she’s 40, he’s 37). In that case, I’m tempted to choose another Game of Thrones cast member, Emilia Clarke. She, like Bernthal, is an up-and-comer and carries significant clout with the nerdosphere.
Runners up: Emilia Clarke; Mila Kunis; Famke Janssen
Pass on: Jennifer Garner; Katie Holmes; Angelina Jolie
I’m going to draw from geek-TV again on this one and choose the star of Supernatural, Jensen Ackles because, in supporting roles for films, you can’t have an actor that’ll be more recognizable than the lead, but having an actor like Ackles, who is recognizable to fans of his show, will likely elicit a very positive fan reaction.
Also, Ackles can easily fit into my idea of Kaiden: a tech-focused soldier, while Shepard and Ashley will be the guns. Ackles can be the leading guy someday, but he’s a ways off from that until Supernatural is over.
Runners up: Hunter Parrish; Mike Vogel; Jonathon Rhys Meyers
Pass on: Really, any big muscle head wouldn’t fit…
Actors love doing voice work. It pays well and only takes a few days of work. Asking for bigger names to voice characters isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibilities and allows us to consider all of our options. As we know, Legendary Pictures has the rights to make a Mass Effect film, and the most successful films that Legendary has produced is undoubtedly the most recent Batman films.
Murphy already has a relationship with the studio following those films and is the only villain to appear in all 3 of Christopher Nolan’s films. Why not bring him back to voice everyone’s favorite Turian? He must have a voice that is cool and calm at most times, and this is perhaps Murphy’s greatest strength. His performance in Red Eye (not a great film, but he was absolutely stellar) is kind of what I’m aiming for: collected, even cool, but when it’s time to get down to business, there’s a certain level of dedication in his performance that is rare for younger actors.
Urdnot Wrex: (voice) John Goodman
Although I don’t expect Wrex to be a heavy player in the first film, having a lovable character voiced by such a lovable actor is an instant win in my eyes. I said earlier that I want to see Wrex as something similar to Sully in Monsters Inc, so why not have it be voiced by Sully himself.
Goodman would have to keep it relaxed the entire time. Wrex speaks slowly, even when under stress. He’ll also need to be prepared to have more than a few emotional scenes as Wrex deals with his species nearly dying off.
Saren Arterius: (voice) Bryan Cranston
Cranston as a villain in a film isn’t that much of a stretch following his performance in Breaking Bad, and he was heavily favored by fans to play Lex Luthor in Man of Steel‘s sequel. That honor went to Jesse Eisenberg – a choice I’m confident will actually pay off – so why not pass this along to Cranston?
He’s clearly got the acting chops to play such a prominent character and, again, like Ackles, he’d be someone fans would feel confident in.
Another possible choice would be Willem Dafoe, but my fear is that he could end up being too campy of a choice.
Other Things to Consider:
Film or Digital: Film 100%. I’m not a film purist by any mean, but Mass Effect had a great filter in place that added a certain graininess and made the whole game feel like a 70’s space opera.
3D?: Not this time, mostly because I want that gritty feel. 3D seems to take away from much of that.
IMAX?: Definitely. A huge series deserves a huge screen.
CGI vs. Practical: A mixture, honestly. I want characters like the Turians to be tall men in high-quality costumes and elaborate make-up. Many other species would be great for CGI.
Release Date: November 3rd, 2017. A Star Wars film is expected to come in 2017, and my guess is they aim for a mid-December release, if not a Memorial Day weekend release. Staying enough away from that would benefit Mass Effect greatly.
Anything else?: There’s a massive element of choice in the Mass Effect games that will be impossible to transition onto film. I want the choices that Shepard has to make fall somewhere between the ones he made in the game.
Thanks for sticking with me on this one! I know it’s long, but I have a lot of fun doing this. Feel free to leave suggestions for future features in the comments and let me know how awful (or great) my choices were!