There’s no question that a Mass Effect movie is going to become a reality at some point, since science fiction epics that manage to grab mainstream attention are few and far between. Even though Star Trek and Star Wars may be grabbing headlines, fans would argue that the Mass Effect universe has even more potential than the game trilogy could cash-in on (and others might claim that calling it ‘the next Star Trek’ would be an understatement).
As the lead writer behind the first Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, as well as the accompanying novels, Drew Karpyshyn is somewhat of an expert when it comes to BioWare’s most well-known mainstream release. Meaning, the story elements he feels should be adapted – and which should be scrapped – is advice the filmmakers would be wise to take. Even if fans won’t like the sound of it.
Speaking with Kotaku, Karpyshyn voiced his thoughts – and concerns – about any Mass Effect film that may end up being made. We don’t know if his take will have an impact on the script drafted by the new screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl, but as fans of the series ourselves, his opinions seem more than wise.
While admitting the issues that video games have when adapted to film (we don’t need to list examples of the failed attempts), Karpyshyn notes that what made Mass Effect such a unique hit with fans was its role-playing. And while the movie is still going to be based on the game, that aspect won’t work for a feature film:
“I think taking a video game and putting it into another form—book, movie, or whatever—is very complicated, especially a BioWare game. We have 30 hours of content! Obviously, you’re going to have to define Shepard which is going to annoy a lot of the fans. ‘Hey, my Shepard was female.’ ‘Hey, my Shepard was Paragon.’ Or ‘my Shepard was Renegade.’ ‘My Shepard didn’t have a romance.’ That is something you just can’t avoid as a film. You just have to bite the bullet and realize that’s going to happen.”
The need to remove some of the nuances that players were able to inject into their own stories goes farther than Commander Shepard. With a central cast of over half a dozen characters in Mass Effect, and just as many (if not more) in Mass Effect 2, Karpyshyn doesn’t think they could all be done justice in a film.
The only solution the writer sees – as unpopular as it may be – is to focus on what is achievable in a single feature:
“What you have to do, and I know fans don’t want to hear this, but you have to remove some of those characters. I think you just have to realize we can’t tell everything that’s in the game in a two-hour movie. Some of them are just going to be cameos, like in Ocean’s 11, ‘Oh, that guy was in there. I don’t even remember his name, but he’s the bomb guy.” It’s going to be a muddled mess if you don’t do that.”
It’s hard to disagree with Karpyshyn’s assessment, even if ensemble casts are common in Hollywood. But as he points out, ensemble casts generally don’t have upwards of 100 hours to give each character their fair share of focus. Even if other favorite characters may show up down the line, smaller is better to get more than just core fans on board.
But rather than just spoil the hopes of fans with his thoughts on what must be cut out of a Mass Effect adaptation, Karpyshyn also explained what should stay. In other words, what the core concept is that should drive the major conflict and character progression of Shepard in particular.
Over the course of three games, BioWare crafted a story that explores notions of humanity, xenophobia, racial supremacy, artificial intelligence, and even extinction. That’s far more than any film could handle – and some would say, the final game in the trilogy failed to do justice to those same issues – so Karpyshyn clarifies where he thinks the filmmakers should start:
“As far as what I think they really need to leave in, for me, [Mass Effect is] really about this idea that humanity is the newcomer and trying to prove themselves to the other races or trying to find their place. It’s a great set-up, especially if they want to go forward and base the second movie on the second game, which brings up Cerberus. They’re sort of the epitome of the conflict that arises as humanity tries to carve out their place in the universe and are sort of the polar opposite of Shepard.
Karpyshyn goes on to argue that Shepard’s ability stand in for mankind under scrutiny from other races is key, and is going to be what lets fans into the story. Since that was the essential plot of the first Mass Effect, it makes sense that he’d feel a film series should follow the same road map, at least to start.
What these comments make clear is the decision that the minds behind a Mass Effect movie are going to need to make early: tell a story that fans of the game will think is made just for them, or one that a larger audience will be intrigued by. The first game carries a sizable story itself, so the film poses a massive challenge regardless. Following Karpyshyn’s advice could be risky or controversial, but would certainly make the job simpler.
What do you think? Should a Mass Effect movie stick to the game in its entirety, or lose anything that would take away from Shepard’s core adventure? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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