Writer of ‘Deus Ex’ Movie Explains Challenges of Adapting Video Games

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Deus Ex Movie Sinister Director Writer of Deus Ex Movie Explains Challenges of Adapting Video Games

Information has been hard to come by regarding the live-action adaptation of the Deus Ex video game series since it was announced that the dark, sci-fi thriller was to be directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Exorcism of Emily Rose).

This week at San Diego Comic-Con, the film’s co-writer C. Robert Cargill spoke about the challenges posed by the growing desire to adapt video games to film, giving a better idea of how the writing duo will be turning a sprawling, open-ended role-playing game into a streamlined film.

Some may already claim that video game movies are certain to be the next ‘superhero’ phenomenon in Hollywood, but Cargill admitted that he was less than confident when the minds behind the game approached him about penning a live-action movie. But the more he learned about the game’s universe, the more he realized that the publisher wasn’t going to be satisfied with a mediocre adaptation:

“It’s not a video game movie, it’s a cyberpunk movie.

“Eidos Montreal has given us a lot of freedom in terms of story; they want this movie to be ‘Blade Runner.’ We want this movie to be ‘Blade Runner.’ ”

High hopes to be sure, but there’s no question that the Deus Ex franchise shares the same bleak view of science fiction as Blade Runner – even though Cargill maintains he and Derrickson aren’t looking to mimic director Ridley Scott’s noir game-changer. It’s the overarching elements of the fiction that Cargill seems most ruled by: blending of humanity with technology, a darker future for the world, and corporate espionage.

Deus Ex Human Revolution Adam Jensen Writer of Deus Ex Movie Explains Challenges of Adapting Video Games

But you can’t have a gripping story without a central character, and Cargill claims that was always the biggest challenge. Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s protagonist Adam Jensen is undoubtedly the hero (Cargill claims that following someone other than Jensen was never considered), but the question then became “which version of this character will be the most cinematic?” Since the original game series left customizing a character up to the player, finding a happy medium is at worst impossible, and at best a risk that seems necessary when adapting the most story-heavy games.

Paring down the potential story to a core plot meant removing elements, characters and subplots that may have been fan-favorites, but are “convoluted” in comparison to what Cargill was most enthralled by: the central themes.

Surprisingly, Cargill claims that much of the challenges comes from the studios becoming too familiar with specific beats or aspects of the game. That demands that one must “be good at explaining” – explaining to the movie studio why some of their favorite scenes won’t work in a film, and explaining to the game’s publisher why what’s most important to a game may not be needed for an adaptation.

That being said, fans may see more elements left intact than expected, as it sounds like Cargill and Derrickson have managed to work in the game’s boss fights. Having a big baddie appear from nowhere to oppose the hero makes sense in a video game structure, but for the film, seeds must be planted early on to make the conflict a satisfying one – in others, the film builds to the fight in ways gamers may take for granted.

It’s an interesting idea, if a risky one; few video game adaptations have so explicitly attempted to adapt mechanics and level design into live-action, so the success remains to be seen. But there is one film that attempted the same feat, and despite its polarizing reaction among audiences, Cargill is taking lessons from the most infamous, if not the best:

“When people ask me if there’s ever been a truly good video game movie, I always say: ‘Yes, Mortal Kombat.’ And they say: ‘but that was twenty years ago.’ And I say: ‘Yeah, It was.”

Cargill cited the fact that while some may take issue with the quality or style of the live-action Mortal Kombat (1995), the adaptation kept the spirit and structure of the game intact – a fighting game became a movie built around a fighting tournament.

Mortal Kombat Movie 1995 Writer of Deus Ex Movie Explains Challenges of Adapting Video Games

How that philosophy can be applied to Deus ExHuman Revolution, the most recent entry in the series specifically – isn’t clear, but it was apparent that simply applying a game’s title to a generic story (with some inspiration taken from the source material) isn’t an approach the writers approve of.

Although some fans of the series may take issue with the clear decision to adapt Human Revolution – the newest and most cinematic installment – instead of the game that launched the series, Cargill isn’t overlooking the bigger picture. Adam Jensen may be the star for now, the writer explained that the stylish hero is in reality the star of a prequel; kicking off a chain of events that could bring the films up to the time of the original game.

What do you think about the choice to select one version of the game’s hero and stick with it? An issue only to the niche audience, or a significant one that game adaptations will need to solve? Sound off in the comments.


No release date has been set for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Follow Andrew Dyce on Twitter @andrew_dyce
TAGS: Deus ex
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  1. Honestly i feel what Video Game movie adapters need to do is to realize fanboys are gonna B**** and moan if the film isnt a shot for shot remake of what they have played. And then god forbid the actors arent who they have envisioned playing them since they first saw a Cinematic trailer. Probably gonna get hat but i love the RE movies. Sure they are not like the game but i dont need that i KNOW the games!! WHy pay to see what i could play myself for cheaper. Or hell just watch all the cutscenes from a game problem solved. That being said if after RE6 film the series isnt rebooted then im not obviously gonna watch a number 7

    • My only problems with the RE movies are:

      * horrible script

      * bad story

      * trying to use characters from the games instead of building an extension of the videogame world

      I mean, the Gears Of War movie, people on gaming message boards were casting their choices for Dom, Marcus, Cole Train etc and I was the only one saying “I’d rather they tell a story with characters running concurrently to the videogame plot rather than try to cast characters we already know and love”.

      Same with Halo, I wouldn’t have a story about Master Chief, save that for the games. Starship Troopers did it brilliantly with that amazing 3D animated series that featured none of the characters from the movie (I pretend the sequels never existed) until the very end of the final season and told us more about the world and the different elements of the story that the movie never went into.

  2. Just have the adaptation loosely based off of the game with orignal elements, who wants to see a rehash of what they played? Not me. I’m surprised Sony hasn’t started to adapt their own games into movies, anyone who has played Infamous knows that it would make an excellent superhero story.

  3. The director of emily rose? Based on a script by a nobody whose ideal movie is mortal kombat ??! Boy this movie is screwed….

    • Ya do know every “somebody” writer was at one point a “nobody”. The Joss WHedons and James Camerons weren’t hatched in labs.

      • Plus the Mortal Kombat movie is great. Sure, it’s cheesy in parts and they messed with Scorpion and Reptile for no reason but it’s still a fun movie that didn’t suck.

  4. I personally think Adam Jensen is a better character than J.C. Denton despite the original Deus Ex having a better narrative. From a movie standpoint it makes sense to have events occur chronologically especially when introducing a world to a new medium of storytelling. I hope this movie works. Deus Ex is a great video game series.

  5. Oh noes, the screenwriter is obscure! This is gonna SUCK!
    And I can’t believe he said Mortal Kombat is his favorite movie, I mean, who’s dumb enough to think it’s that good?!
    …Oh wait, not him, because he never said that.

    Actually these people, especially Cargill considering he’s a film critic, seem to have the right ideas in mind. Namely, they’re trying to make the movie not suck.

    • He did say that it was the only good video game adaptation…. His model so to speak. The fact that he fails to see that a tournament fight videogame is the easiest thing to adapt, that he ignores tekken that did just the same and is better and more recent (thus invilading his salespitch about how the only good adaptation wad twenty years ago), and lot of common sense things he said makes me think he’s dishonest, an idiot or both. This guy like a politician put a twist ( yeah mortal kombat was good) on well used speech ( we re going to respect the game) to please his dumb audience( gamers I understand you). Kubrick ignored shining, Ridley Scott brought to a whole new level do android dream of electronic Sheeps? Great movie comes from people with a vision, not from people that focus on the inspiration source. The former make movies that become legend, The latter are people like zack Snyder that most certainly did perfect shot for shot adaptation but failed to create anything exciting.

      • The Tekken movie was good?


        Damn, did we see the same movie or is there an obscure Tekken film that doesn’t suck?

        • @Dazz – Who is spreading that awful lie about Tekken being good? It’s on Netflix. It’s a really dumb movie, even by video game movie standards.


  6. Im sorry but blade runner had cool/interesting visuals and took place in a world (that was fresh and new for movies at the time) but jebus it was a boring movie.

    • Boring? That’s fascinating to me; it’s in my all-time top five, and more than thirty years on I find it infinitely rewatchable!

      • I wouldn’t say it was boring but most of the “all time classic” movies sag in places.

        Unless they’re The Godfather, It’s A Wonderful Life or Citizen Kane. I’d went through half my life not seeing them and when I did, my god, they were a chore to finish.

        • I realise standards of appreciation change with the times, but I do wonder what havoc hyperactive music video editing and the gamer’s illusion of control over a narrative structure has wrought on the average attention span, and what expectations and a general sense of impatience people go into movies with at present.

          I remember watching old films as a kid and thinking, well, this doesn’t really correspond to anything that’s familiar to me (in terms of pacing, acting style, camerawork and even subject matter), but I’ll try and watch it for what it represented when it was made, rather than trying to pigeonhole it into my limited frame of reference right now. Not that I’d have been able to put it into those words back then…

  7. This movie has so much potential. As long as they stick with the core concepts, they’re golden.

  8. Just change the story from the game enough. That is all you need to do to adapt a game into a movie. Otherwise, you are just giving a built in audience a game they cannot play but have already played and would probably just rather go back and play to compensate for the fact they are just watching a game they cannot play.

  9. This is a pretty silly thing to say. Those are not mutually exclusive things.

    It’s like if Peter Jackson had said ‘Lord of the Rings is a fantasy movie, not a ‘book’ movie’.

  10. I’m not optimistic that this will be any good, seeing as every adaptation so far has failed to work, because of the desire to pay lipservice to fans rather than try and tell a compelling story, that works in the format. The Deus Ex games are deeply ambitious in their storytelling and one of the key aspects of the games’ success, choice, is the first thing that is taken away in a film adaptation of any game. Trying to cram in boss fights, for example, is exactly the kind of thing that will potentially stifle the flow of a story, one that is already too much for one 2 or even 3 hour film. I think if this is going to work, it should (logically, really, considering it’s thematic and stylistic roots) resemble something more like the Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex series – high quality animation, with plenty of time to flesh out characters, complex plot arcs and ideas. I’m just not convinced a typical expensive Hollywood production is going to do any of these characteristics justice, though I would love to be proven wrong on this one. Using Mortal Kombat as an example of a good video game adaptation though does not fill me with confidence, as anyone citing the work of Paul Anderson as a good example of anything makes me suspicious.

  11. The thing is, Dues Ex: Human Revolution is the best story ever period. It’s far far better than Bladerunner story for example.

    What would be disappointing is if they watered down some of the dystopia and grittiness that is so inherent in the game.

    Characters are what make a film a good film, so as long as they keep them well developed and not punctuate this development with too much ‘action’ it should be great. Take Bladerunner as an example again, this film had brief moments of action, a few chase scenes and meaningful fight scenes, but the story didn’t hinge on them.

    Honestly can’t wait, I think it’ll be great.