Commentary: ‘Uncharted’ Underscores Why Video Game Movies Don’t Work

by Frank Martin

Video game movie adaptations are notoriously difficult and with good reason. The medium is composed of primarily active experiences. What makes it so special is that it is a mixture of story and gameplay putting the audience into the work itself. Films and television are, for the most part, passive experiences. Rather than get into the story, the audience sits back and has the story come to them. A video game adaptation works best when there is a lot of story material within the game to work with. If a game has blockbuster gameplay, it is very difficult to translate that to the screen. The recent film Uncharted is a tremendous example of this.

On paper, it is a solid investment. The video game franchise is wildly popular and the movie featured two big name stars — Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg — and a huge action budget. While the film itself varies from the game somewhat, its spirit is more or less there thanks to a plot filled with adventure, puzzle solving, and plenty of action. It is about as good an adaptation of the video game that fans are going to get. And yet, the film never rises to a level of greatness simply because the video game itself was never primed for adaptation.

The Uncharted series is a great series of games. Nathan Drake is a charismatic character and the gameplay is so immersive that it’s a hell of a lot of fun. But gameplay is only effective because the audience gets to do it. Translating that onto the screen doesn’t work the same way. Video game physics and ridiculousness are only acceptable because the player is the one experiencing it. But aside from that, Uncharted simply does not have the depth of story to carry a cinematic viewing on its own. So while the the film probably succeeds very well at being an Uncharted movie, it was doomed from the start because Uncharted was never fit to be a movie.

Uncharted is now streaming on Netflix.

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