The video game-to-film adaptation process has become infamous for producing legitimately bad pictures. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Most video games don’t emphasize narrative, instead revolving around the repetition of a single mechanic. Shooters like Call of Duty have the player killing enemies nearly ad infinitum—an image that couldn’t be ported verbatim over to film.
The Metal Gear franchise has long been discussed as a candidate for adaptation, owing largely to its heavy use of cutscenes. The games are laden with exposition, with the majority of the action left to the player. Later entries in the franchise focused heavily on story. The fourth game, Guns of the Patriots, had more non-interactive cutscenes than it did gameplay. With the wealth of story to pick from, Metal Gear would appear, at least prima facie, to be a fine choice for a movie spin-off.
It certainly seemed such to Sony Pictures. Some five years ago Sony purchased the rights to make a film out of the franchise, but the project never seemed to find its footing. In 2010, reports of a rift between Kojima Productions (the Metal Gear developer) and Sony emerged, detailed in an interview between Collider and the project’s Hollywood producer, Michael De Luca. According to De Luca, the movie had been shelved due disagreements about the film’s production. Hideo Kojima, the franchise’s creator and director, wanted a budget ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars—something Sony wasn’t willing to give, offering instead a budget around $80 million.
Though little information has subsequently been offered by either side, it seems evident that Kojima no longer has the will to allow a Metal Gear film with such limits placed upon the production. Both he and fans of the franchise demand nothing less than a high quality product; perhaps he found $80 million insubstantial.
It’s worth noting that 300, the stylized Zack Snyder film about the Battle of Thermopylae, had a reported budget of $65 million. It was filmed on a digital backlot and made heavy use of computer generated graphics, with startlingly beautiful results. One could imagine a Metal Gear picture being made in a similar fashion, in which case $80 million would be well within the realm of acceptability. In fact, considering the games are rife with outlandish characters and story elements, a small 300-like approach, aping a large scale rather than demanding it, would likely have been more successful.
But do fans of the franchise really want a film adaptation of the games? Or, to put it another way, is it actually in the fans’ best interest?
A Metal Gear movie project would have to confront more than simply fiscal challenges. For one, filming a literal interpretation of any of the Metal Gear games isn’t viable. Hideo Kojima’s narrative, though doubtless laudable for its scope, is not without major flaws—flaws that would cause a faithful adaptation to be eviscerated by critics and mainstream viewers alike upon release.
Take the very idea of a bipedal nuclear-armed tank, the titular “Metal Gear” (forgive the somewhat awkward name if you can). While the tank’s design is striking, the weapon itself is utterly redundant. Its purpose is to surmount all land conditions and to launch a nuclear warhead from anywhere in the world, but no military in its right mind would ever build it. Why? Ninety years ago we invented submarines—silent, near-invisible ships that negotiate the world’s oceans with the ability to strike any land or marine target. Unlike land-based units, submarines don’t have to contend with difficult terrain or surface weather. Even aerial bombers would be more effective than a large, hulking, top-heavy mechanism with spindly legs. (It should be noted that “Metal Gear RAY,” the machine introduced in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, is amphibious, though it remains orders of magnitude less efficient than a submarine.)
The Metal Gear’s sole purpose is to impress. That it does, but it is also illogical and utterly fantastical. One imagines an armed Star Wars-like array of satellites would be cheaper to produce and deploy than a single Metal Gear, let alone a whole contingent of them (as we see in the final stages of Metal Gear Solid 2).
The franchise’s titular constituent, the main focus of the games, cannot withstand scrutiny—at least not in the form in which it appears in the games. Yet, to strip the Metal Gear weapon from a movie based on the games would be to distance the movie from the source material immeasurably, so integral is the weapon to the games, and at that point, why even have the franchise attached? Moreover, the Metal Gear is but one of the many logical errors that players must attempt to endure. Perhaps Metal Gear’s narrative can evade criticism in the young, developing world of video game narrative, but any attempts to copy those qualities to film would be chided.
It shouldn’t be ignored that plenty of films are released with middling to subpar stories. That criticism isn’t exclusive to video game adaptations, though examples like the Resident Evil films are certainly handy. But shouldn’t one strive to make the best film possible, with the best story possible?
In order to adapt the Metal Gear franchise one would have to carefully select the elements of the games that do work and arrange them in a manner palatable to a mainstream audience. The characters in the games, particularly the protagonists, are salvageable. The idea of a genetically modified and specially bred embryo designed to develop into a ‘super solider’ (that is, the character of ‘ Solid Snake’) is on its surface an interesting one, and holds some potential if the philosophical and ethical issues about the process in which Snake was conceived were to be examined. The dynamic between his father, ‘ Big Boss’ or ‘Naked Snake,’ and his father’s female mentor, ‘ The Boss’ (again, forgive the awkward character names), is also an interesting one, and could be capitalized upon given the unusual twist of a female lead, provided certain character elements are dropped. (Such elements include The Boss apparently giving birth while under fire on the battlefield, and the birth apparently necessitating the incision of a snake-shaped wound from her navel to her chest—what part of a baby is removed from between the breasts, only Kojima knows.)
The character of Snake would fit neatly in a Jason Bourne- or 24-like plot, something about a private military contractor acting without morality, hell bent on destroying the world. Snake is sent in to prevent disaster. As in the fourth game, the leader of the PMC is his brother, his genetic equal, the twin that went bad. That is but one scenario, where most of the inexplicable elements of the franchise’s story are ignored.
But to strip away all the craziness is to remove what uniqueness the Metal Gear narrative has. If one was to file down Metal Gear to a film about a super soldier, as suggested above, the result would be a generic action thriller, perhaps an interesting film, but a generic film nonetheless. Conversely, anything that attempts to package all the franchise’s elements together is doomed to collapse under its own weight—observe the trouble Kojima and his cohorts had when attempting to wrap up the entire franchise (their solution was to resort to ‘nanomachines’ as a means of explaining away near every occurrence the player witnessed over the franchise’s history, an utterly dissatisfying and almost offensive result). Perhaps trying to fit Metal Gear into a movie is simply more trouble than it's worth. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the craziness of the Metal Gear saga, but it’s a craziness that should be confined to the medium in which it originated. Any attempt to duplicate it to another form would surely disappoint.