Grinding Gears


New Line Cinemas announced this week that they have acquired the rights to produce a movie based on the hit Xbox 360 game, Gears of War. When I first read this, I was intrigued. I’m currently playing through the co-op campaign of GoW and I have found that this game lives up to its pre-release hype. This is some wonderfully epic stuff set in a shattered world of ‘destroyed beauty’ and I am in awe of the gameplay and art design that went into crafting this top-tier title.

In fact, the one knock against the game has been its inability to flesh out a potent back story. As I’m playing the game, I can see some of that (it would be nice to learn a little something about this world outside of picking up the manual) however I also see what lead designer CliffyB was going for. He wants to pop you in the middle of the story so that you and your onscreen avatar Marcus Fenix have to work to get your bearings straight while battling the hell unleashed all around you.

CliffyB has bemoaned the use of cut scenes as a narrative choice but there are ways to impart a tale without using these pre-rendered sequences. I played through Metroid Prime which dropped its storyline through scattered artifacts, downloaded files and cryptic alien hieroglyphics that are decoded throughout the game. That game allowed the player to either ignore these elements or use their Scan Visor to read up on them, making the story an interactive part of the experience. In Gears, CliffyB does something similar (press ‘Y’ to focus on key events) but there certainly seems to be an opportunity for more.

That’s something the movie could – scratch that – NEEDS to remedy. If the movie plays exactly like the game, then we have another DOOM on our hands with uber-linebackers marching through desolate hellscapes spraying lead at every bug that moves. Yeah, I know, former wrestlers gotta’ eat, but I don’t have to watch.

I think the toughest component to bringing GoW to the screen is tied directly to the game’s ample cinematic design. Gears already plays like a movie with massive set-pieces scored to a bombastic action flick score. A lot of this stuff is derivative of popular sci-fi flicks with Marcus and his brood an evolutionary step ahead of Aliens’ Colonial Marines or Arnie’s commando squad in Predator – of which this group shares a common language. There are shades of The Matrix with alien devices that appear similar in design to the ‘Squiddies’ not to mention the general look of Sera matching the scorched Earth aesthetic in that flick’s ‘real world.’ And then there’s the Kryl, sort of avian piranha, who only come out at night and swarm their victims in the dark. One set-piece, where you make your way through the darkened city (cautious to stay in the light provided by burst propane tanks) is derivative of the underrated Vin Diesel flick, Pitch Black.

I don’t bemoan any of these influences – in fact, the great melting pot of cinematic references is what makes Gears of War so fun. The problem is, by retelling these elements on the big screen, suddenly the cinematic forbearers look less like inspirations and more like the victims of highway robbery.

Which is why I continue to scratch my head over Hollywood’s hot potato treatment of Halo. Halo brings with it a more fully-formed original mythology. Yes, the Colonial Marines and their drop ships are represented here too (King of the World James Cameron’s reach is long) but the religious and political shadings to the Covenant back story is intricate and great fodder for an original film experience. I truly believe that whatever studio ponies up the cash for Halo will have just nabbed the next Star Wars franchise – as its universe is as infinite with storytelling (and merchandising) possibilities. Merchandising? Maybe that’s the linchpin.

Anyway, I’m not sure if Gears of War offers the same longevity.

Comments now closed (9)

  • I don’t make any bones about my preference for Halo over GoW, so I agree that Bungie’s universe offers a richer opportunity for cinematic quality. Bungie made their name in the 1990s with the Marathon trilogy of games, which was not only the Mac alternative to Doom but also the alternative for those who wanted a little story with their shooting. As complicated as Halo 2‘s storyline is, it doesn’t even come close to the criss-crossing timelines of Marathon: Infinity.

    As I said in a post on Sean’s blog, Epic sacrificed a lot of the story elements to make room for graphics and gameplay. And Epic isn’t exactly known for its storytelling (their–former–most popular product, Unreal Tournament, doesn’t even have a campaign mode). Bungie, on the other hand, made their name with story.

    I’m not saying GoW’s story isn’t interesting. It’s just a bit too derivative (really, what major sf franchise doesn’t it poach from?) and somehow manages to be both convoluted and thin. What bothered me most, though, was how little I cared about the characters, particularly Marcus–despite the fact he was voiced by Bender. The only characters I liked were Dom (“‘Sup bitches!”) and Cole (“The Train’s at home on the rails!”).

    Somehow Bungie made me care more about a faceless guy in armor and an AI construct.

  • I think GoW would make for a good flick, if only for one installment. I don’t care that it took ideas from lots of other places because it put them together in a way that works. The game is fun to play. The lack of a story and an apparently annoying multi-player (I haven’t played MP at all) are the only two knocks on it.

    All that said, Halo should be production right now and it is a crime that it isn’t. I can’t believe no studio is willing to grab what little take Microsoft will give them.

  • You are making my point. I said that the game is fine for taking ideas from different places. My exact quote is:

    “I don’t bemoan any of these influences – in fact, the great melting pot of cinematic references is what makes Gears of War so fun. The problem is, by retelling these elements on the big screen, suddenly the cinematic forbearers look less like inspirations and more like the victims of highway robbery.”

    The problem is – if these elements are retranslated back to the silver screen where they were cribbed from in the first place, then suddenly GoW looks like a Greatest Hits of sci-fi blockbusters.

  • My comment was agreeing with you… it was JFCC that I was disagreeing with… it was my intention to back you up son. 🙂

  • All I meant was, I think Halo would make a better movie than GoW.

    Like the poster Baby Carrot said in a comment on my blog, I think GoW would probably be easier to translate to cinema. Halo has an epic, star-spanning scope that would require massive special effects. GoW is gritty, down-to-earth, and could probably be filmed on a leftover war film set with a few guys in latex monster outfits.

  • Boys, boys, boys. You’re both making my point. I’ll break it down as follows:

    1. Gears of War is a great game as is Halo.
    2. Halo would make a better movie (in terms of original content.) Bear in mind, I’m thinking of this through the eyes of someone who has never played either game. If they were to watch GoW, they might start ticking off the cribbed references where I believe Halo offers a more original story to the virgin audience.

    The bottom line is there is no defense needed. EGO – Everybody’s got opinions.

    The only one that is absolutely correct is MINE!!!

  • I’ll just clarify my point/opinion:

    1. I agree
    2. I think GoW will be a good single film, despite the borrowing aspect for virgins, and Halo will be an excellent film franchise.