It's been a long and arduous road for the film adaptation of BioShock, one of the most critically-acclaimed video games of all time. The story began back in May 2008, when Universal announced that they'd made a deal with games publisher Take-Two Interactive to produce the adaptation, with Gore Verbinski directing from a script written by John Logan.
After several years of battling for a film that would maintain the edginess and maturity of the game's story, the project was eventually euthanized.
The video game is a first-person shooter set in the 1960s, which begins with the protagonist swimming from the burning wreckage of a plane crash, finding a submersible in an apparently abandoned lighthouse and descending to find himself in an underwater city. Rapture is a once-grand civilization that has since fallen into ruin and become populated by mutants, homicidal drug addicts, crazed geniuses and a boatload of grisly corpses. The player must make their way through Rapture in order to locate and aid their only ally: Atlas, a working-class revolutionary who led the downtrodden citizens of the city into civil war with their wealthy masters. A direct sequel - BioShock 2 - was released in 2010, and a spiritual successor called BioShock Infinite will be out later this month.
The BioShock film was originally consigned to development hell in 2011, when Verbinski finally abandoned the project after a drawn-out struggle to obtain the budget required for the underwater dieselpunk fantasy, and to keep the R-rating that he believed was required to do justice to the game's story. Ken Levine, the game's creator, has since expressed a continued interest in seeing a good adaptation of the game, but has also said, "there’s no burning [desire] to have a movie made just to get it made."
The death of Universal's BioShock movie has been apparent for a while now, but an autopsy report has just been filed in the form of a recent Eurogamer interview with Levine. In between discussions of what to expect from Bioshock Infinite, Levine confirmed that he personally decided to kill the Bioshock movie after being given the option by 2K Games, and explained why he made the choice.
There was a deal in place, and it was in production at Universal - Gore Verbinski was directing it. My theory is that Gore wanted to make a hard R film - which is like a 17/18 plus, where you can have blood and naked girls. Well, I don't think he wanted naked girls. But he wanted a lot of blood.
Then Watchmen came out, and it didn't do well for whatever reason. The studio then got cold feet about making an R rated $200 million film, and they said what if it was a $80 million film - and Gore didn't want to make a $80 million film.
They brought another director in, and I didn't really see the match there - and 2K's one of these companies that puts a lot of creative trust in people. So they said if you want to kill it, kill it. And I killed it.
It was weird, as having been a screenwriter, begging to do anything, and then killing a movie on something you'd worked on so much. It was saying I don't need to compromise - how many times in life do you not need to compromise? It comes along so rarely, but I had the world, the world existed and I didn't want to see it done in a way that I didn't think was right.
Does this mean the end of all hope for a BioShock movie? Not necessarily, according to Levine, who says he'd be happy to reconsider another adaptation if the right director and the right budget came along. "It may happen one day, who knows," he said, whilst also reiterating that he would only allow the film to go ahead if "the right combination of people" were interested in making it.
More than a few fans will no doubt be grateful to Levine for his refusal to compromise BioShock's integrity. The number of decent video game movies can currently be counted on the fingers of one hand, and BioShock has a reputation that would be difficult to match. Without going into details, one of the most powerful moments and famous moments in BioShock is a profound meta-commentary specific to the nature of gaming and the player's interaction with the story. Reproduced in the context of a film, the scene would almost inevitably lose a great deal of its impact. Moreover, the scale and grandeur of Rapture would be a difficult set to pull off on a limited budget, and it would have been a little disappointing to see the mature and often brutal content of the story tamed to fit within PG-13 constraints.
Is it worth waiting for the perfect combination of factors, or should Verbinski and Levine have agreed to a smaller budget and lower rating for the sake of delivering the Bioshock story to theaters?
We'll keep you up to date if Levine ever signs-off on a new BioShock film attempt.