Let’s Make a Movie!: Bioshock

January 7, 2015 by

Even though the movie failed to come to big screens, we sift through our own adaptation of Bioshock.

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 we’ll be looking at the defunct adaptation of Bioshock. You’re likely to see some things carry over from that movie, as well as my own ideas. So, without further ado…

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Director: Gore Verbinski

Right off the bat, I’m interested in the original proposed director, Gore Verbinski. Verbinski has the perfect chops for a film like this. First off, he knows how to craft a creepy movie, as evidenced by his excellent adaptation of the Japanese horror film Ringu, with The Ring. Not only was he able to scare the pants off of us (perhaps even more so than the original), but he was able to do so verbinskiwith a certain amount of flair. Simply put, The Ring is one of the most beautifully shot contemporary American horror films. And though the idea wasn’t originally his own, Verbinski was capable of taking the mundane – like the static coming through a television – and make it terrifying.

On the other side of the coin, Verbinski is also a master of the big budget movie. His Pirates of the Caribbean series should have been a financial bust, but somehow he was able to adapt a story about ghost pirates into one of the biggest franchises in movie history. It’s this aspect of his career that will give producers and studios the necessary confidence that Verbinski is their man for this movie, and that confidence will be very much needed for such an ambitious and expensive film.

If Verbinski is unable to take the reigns, Thor‘s Kenneth Branagh would be another great fit, especially after seeing how he brought Asgard to life.

The other possibility, who undoubtedly has leagues more talent, is Joon-ho Bong, though I’m hesitant to bring his name into the mix because Snowpiercer, as great as it is, is already essentially a Bioshock movie, set on a train.

Runners Up: Kenneth Branagh; Joon-ho Bong; David Fincher

Writer: Simon Kinberg

kinbergSimon Kinberg is a bit of a hot name right now, and that’s for good reason. The last two X-Men movies are arguably the greatest in the series, and there are certainly some people who think that one of them might be among the greatest comic book movies ever made (I’m guilty of this). Kinberg is very much a big part of that series’ success, and he also helped with the launch of the Sherlock Holmes franchise starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

That’s what Kinberg does so well. He takes an established universe or property and evolves it into something that works both on film and with mass audiences. That’s exactly what the studios and executives are wanting when bringing something as massive as Bioshock to the big screen, and if anyone can make this franchise dark, dreary, violent, and creepy, as well as appealing to tons of people, it’s Kinberg. And, let’s face it, he’s also capable of making PG-13 movies that feel decidedly somewhere between PG-13 and R (you’re high if you think Bioshock is getting a big budget and an R rating).

Runners Up: Mark Bombanek; Dan Gilroy

Plot:

Adapting the plot from Bioshock is actually going to be a lot more difficult than one might imagine. Firstly, and most importantly, the game’s over-arching narrative relies heavily upon player agency. Specifically, I’m referring to the “Would you kindly…” plot point, and I think Irrational doesn’t receive enough credit for having constructed a story that is not only deep and interesting, but entirely reliant upon the nature of the medium. Translating that to screen is absolutely going to be the biggest hurdle, followed by the way the game has bosses and boss battles. Unfortunately, those aren’t particularly great at telling a concise (2 to 3 hour) story, without the film feeling episodic.

Instead, the film needs to focus on the big plot points and characters. Andrew Ryan founded this big, beautiful underwater city that grew from his distrust of governments and that he wasn’t a fan of where the world (specifically the United States) was headed. It’s important that Ryan isn’t necessarily a big-bad, but instead someone who’s ambition was too big. And while it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and hate his political ideals, it’s far more important that we just see that his society collapsed under the weight of these ideals. The movie should be indifferent to his politics, and instead allow the audience to gather what they will from it. It will certainly lead to some audience members finding his values insane, while others find them hopeful. The character should split audiences in support or opposition.

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The city, called Rapture, is introduced to ADAM, which was originally meant to assist with medical advancements, though it soon gives way to God-like powers. Frank Fontaine is something of a gang leader, who sees dollar signs with the rise of ADAM, while Ryan sees the potential for the fall of Rapture. In desperation, Ryan makes the sale of ADAM illegal, and Fontaine sees this as going against everything Rapture was built upon. He takes up arms against Ryan and his supporters, and a Civil War erupts, leaving the vast majority of Rapture in ruins.Who_Is_Atlas

It’s important that much of this is revealed to the audience as it is to Jack, the film and game’s central character. While the game could allow for audio logs and journal entries to tell backstory, the film just can’t do that, so keeping the backstory brief and taking some liberties with the source material (as I did above) is of the utmost importance. Just like in the game, Jack will be led via a radio by Atlus through Rapture in an attempt to find Ryan and ultimately escape Rapture. Obviously, Jack will be pulled into the Civil War (which apparently never ended) and have to fight his way through Splicers (ADAM addicts) and become a user himself in order to defeat his greatest foes.

In the end, Ryan reveals that Jack has actually been brainwashed by Atlus, and to prove it he forces Jack to kill him. With Ryan dead, Atlus reveals himself to be Fontaine and his plan is to now take the ADAM in Rapture to the surface to sell it and become rich. Obviously this can’t fly with Jack, who must find Atlus and stop him.

This is obviously the “elevator pitch” of the Bioshock movie, and the details will be filled in by the writer(s) and director, but the overall plot points are what matters. Keeping it to the basics is ultimately what will save Bioshock from feeling too complicated (and I think the game suffered from bloat).

Composer: Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer is a guy I don’t normally want to use for movies. While he is certainly talented, more often than not, his scores are too bombastic and sometimes take the center stage in a movie. That said, that might be exactly what Bioshock needs. The world of Rapture is a bit of a hard sell for most movie goers. Part of what is crucial to world-building is creating a singular score that unites everything, and if Zimmer is brought aboard to do just that, he’ll knock it out of the park.

In Inception, Zimmer did a great job of creating emotional, small tunes that would suddenly erupt in major, epic moments. See what he did with Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien and how he slowed it down to an almost unrecognizable speed in order to give Inception it’s very own feel while simultaneously keeping the importance of the original track in tact. He also has experience working with Verbinski on the Pirates movies.

 Actors:

Jack: James Marsden

James-Marsden-looked-dapperJames Mardsen is just famous and recognizable enough to lead a movie of this size and calibur. He also fits the aesthetic pretty well for what I have in mind for Jack. He’s an athletic and handsome central character, though not devastatingly good looking. This ultimately rules out actors like Ryan Gosling; men with considerable talent, but perhaps distractingly good looking. Most importantly though, Marsden is a scene-stealer and generally the best part of whichever movie he’s in, even the bad ones (27 Dresses). Considering the gravitas that comes with both the Andrew Ryan character and the Frank Fontaine character, Marsden’s ability to be the most likeable guy on screen will be key.

Runners Up: Joseph Gordon-Levitt; James Franco; Hugh Dancy

Andrew Ryan: Johnny DeppJohnny-Depp-clean-cut

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the real star of Bioshock is Andrew Ryan, and when Verbinski was originally is discussion to direct Bioshock, Johnny Depp was the first actor many thought of when considering an actor to play Jack. Though Jack is the character through which we witness everything, Andrew Ryan is the character who has the most to say, along with Fontaine/Atlus. My original thought, especially after seeing The Master, was that Philip Seymour Hoffman would be perfect as Andrew Ryan, but since Hoffman passed away just a year ago, it’s time to consider someone else.

Johnny Depp is just the man for the job. He’s got the star power to put his face on posters and billboards; he has the talent to pull off the grandeur of a character like Ryan; he has experience working with Gore Verbinski on, arguably, Johnny Depp’s most famous role (Jack Sparrow). If Depp is still searching for that character that could match the potential iconography of Jack Sparrow, Andrew Ryan is it.

Also on the short list are two very different men named Tom: Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise. Hanks might be too likable for the role, but that could also work to the character’s benefit. Cruise could bring something to the role that Depp just can’t, and that’s a genuine sense of reserved lunacy. Kevin Spacey is another option, though I think audiences might grow tired of seeing him as the powerful lunatic.

Runners Up: Tom Hanks; Tom Cruise; Kevin Spacey

Frank Fontaine: Gary Oldman

Frank Fontaine is known for his ability to utilize alter egos to get what he needs. In fact, that’s a pretty big plot point in Bioshock. He tricks Jack into thinking that he’s actually this man named garyoldmanAtlus whose intention is to help Jack save himself, and that’ll be a tricky thing to pull off on film, especially with recognizable actors. But Gary Oldman is known for being a chameleon on film, to the point where audiences are surprised to discover he was actually is some of their favorite films.

Gary Oldman is so capable of playing the bad guy and the good guy in a movie, that there really isn’t any other choice. If you can only guarantee one actor in the Bioshock movie, it has to be Gary Oldman as Frank Fontaine.

Runners Up: Did you not read that last sentence!? Ugh, fine… Michael Sheen; Stanley Tucci

Brigid Tenenbaum: Kelly Macdonald

Brigid Tenenbaum is a character which went unmentioned in my elevator pitch earlier, but she’s almost as important as the other 3 characters mentioned. She’s the geneticist who discovers ADAM and Kelly_Macdonald_Photo20goes on to raise and care for the Little Sisters. She’s the one decent person still living in Rapture (at least, in the movie she will be). Because the studios love to include some sort of love interest (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), I think Tenenbaum is the closest thing that could fit that role. She doesn’t need to exist as a damsel in distress, or even a traditional love interest, but a spark between Tenenbaum and Jack could exist, especially since in the film, Jack will largely work to keep the Little Sisters safe (and you’re a real sick bastard if you’d have it any other way!).

Kelly Macdonald has proven herself to be an outstanding actress, one which exudes confidence, intelligence, and beauty (but in a way that never detracts from her other merits). In the game, Tenenbaum had a thick Eastern European accent, and while it’s understandable that some fans might like to keep it that way, I don’t think her (admittedly interesting) backstory is really all that crucial to the story being told here.

Runners Up: Kate Winslet; Emily Blunt; Isla Fisher

Minor Characters:

Peach Wilkins: Callum Keith Rennie

Sander Cohen: Matt Ross

Other Things to Consider:

Film or Digital: Considering the amount of digital effects that will be necessary to build Rapture, perhaps shooting on Digital would make the process easier.

3D?: Yes. The biggest challenge in making Bioshock a success is making the world of Rapture a believable place. 3D will give it an extra layer of depth.

IMAX?: Just like with 3D, I think playing Bioshock on the biggest screen possible is crucial to the world building.

CGI vs Practical: As with all great, big budget movies, a combination of the two is preferable. In order to allow the actors work within a living world, utilizing detailed sets and projector screens will work wonders (see how well it was used in Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion).

Release Date: Bioshock just doesn’t feel like a Summer movie, and I think putting it out in the Fall/Winter would be preferable. Dark movies aren’t terribly successful when released on Thanksgiving weekend, and the weekend after (the first of December) is one of the worst times of the year for movie releases. Throw this in as the first movie of November, though, and you’ve got yourself a hit. If that doesn’t work, a mid-August release could work as well.

Anything Else: There’s been little mention of Big Daddies or Little Sisters, and they’re easily the most iconic images from the game. These will be tough to translate to film. The Big Daddies aren’t hostile towards Jack until he shows interest in harvesting the Little Sisters, and since the movie doesn’t give the audience any choice in this matter, I think it best if Jack does not kill the young girls. Instead, I think it’d be great to see the Daddies protecting the Sisters from Splicers. Jack is morally ambiguous in the game (depending on the player’s actions), but since that’s lost in the film, we’re forced to make the decisions for the character ahead of time. Jack’s a good guy, plain and simple, and serves more as someone to witness the events in Rapture than be an agent for good or evil.

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!

About Tyler Nope

Tyler lives in the Portland, OR area with his wife and cat. He loves pizza, comic books, and video games.
  • owl

    It needs to be rated R, end of story. Since Jack doesnt talk at all in the game it would be interesting to see how he tuns out in a movie. I see him as a brave and fair person based on the things he had to go throug in Rapture and the good ending in the game. So it kind of already showed his personality even without him saying anything unlike Booker and Elizabeth. Speaking or Booker and liz if theres going to be a bioshock movie it should be split into 3 movies. One for bioshock, another for bioshock infinite, and the last part for burial at sea with both parts 1&2. It gets the story across with three movies like this. Each movie shoud follow the story of each game and the movie would be average time. It would be fast pased but have enough details for someone who HAS NOT played the game to understand the story. Then with a reliable fast pased story all you need is good actors for our beloved characters, good scenery with imax, 3d, ect , the end…or is it? So, MAKE A BIOSHOCK MOVIE ALREADY, would you kindly?

  • Kevin

    I sometimes wonder if a Bioshock movie would be better off following the story of a different character. Tenebaum might actually be the best character, as she has a strong story arc and is at the center of everything happening in Rapture. It would be interesting to follow her story at Rapture’s tipping point, with her caught in the middle of the feud between Ryan and Atlas. Honestly though, I’d really love to see a high-budget tv series adaption of Bioshock more (not that it’ll ever happen).

    Interesting that you mention Tom Hanks as Andrew Ryan. I had thought of him too, and I think he could pull off a similar voice and stature to the game’s interpretation. The challenge for someone like him would be emulating Ryan’s disdainful personality.

    • mbmarquis69

      I second this. The main story of Bioshock works well within the framework of a game and experiencing it as a gamer was thrilling. But the story doesn’t quite work for a movie. Rapture’s backstory, however, with it’s political ideals, twisted philosophy, and scientific weirdness is pretty cinematic in its own right. Bioshock is my favorite game of all time but I worry that its weirdness (how do you pull off Little Sisters and Big Daddies on film without making them look like B-movie horror creatures?) would not translate well to the screen. How Rapture was built and how it ultimately fell into choas, however, is already tailor made for a movie. And if done right, with the right tone and budget, it could be successful enough to warrant a sequel… one involving Jack.

      I also agree with the article in saying that Snowpiercer was as close to a live action Bioshock film as I think we may ever see. And it was done on a much smaller budget. I think I can be happy with that if it’s the closest we get.

      • Anonymous

        “how do you pull off Little Sisters and Big Daddies on film without making them look like B-movie horror creatures?”

        The film could be animated. It could even look like the video game, then. It’d be hard to sell execs on the idea of an R-rated animated feature, though.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand why anyone would want a Bioshock movie to follow Jack. In a video game, it’s more interesting to piece together a story through things in the environment than it is to watch things happen. In a movie, you.. watch them happen. That’s why the book adaptation of Bioshock told the actual story without the lens of Jack, and I think the movie should too.

    • Bongo1138

      You’re saying a film that doesn’t have a central character, but instead focuses on a lot of events happening? Can you give an example of a movie that does this?

      • Anonymous

        Bill McDonough was the protagonist in the book and, ideally, would be the protagonist in the film. If you want examples, though, go watch Star Wars. Luke, the supposed main character, doesn’t even appear until.. what, a half hour in?

  • Phil

    Tyler, I am ridiculously passionate about Bioshock and you did an excellent job at summarizing what a movie might look like! I too am in the Portland Oregon area and am working with a few well-connected friends in LA to work out script to release a teaser trailer. :)
    I’d love to talk to you further about it if at all possible.

    • Bongo1138

      Haha thanks! Sure, I’d love to chat. If you can, send me a DM on Twitter @tylernope and we can get in touch.