Few video games have the reputation of BioShock, a gorgeous first-person shooter that is equal parts exciting, horrifying, and bitter condemnation of Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged. So acclaimed was this game back in 2007, so successful, that it was scooped up by Hollywood and almost became a movie, directed by Pirates of the Caribbean and The Cure For Wellness filmmaker Gore Verbinski and written by John Logan (Rango).
Alas, it was not to be. Even though BioShock had one of the most surprising and exiting narratives in contemporary gaming, and even though it would have seemingly translated well to the cinematic medium, and even though fans often suggest that it could have been the first GREAT video game movie (and let’s be honest, we’re still waiting for one), the production fell apart.
In a recent Reddit AMA, Gore Verbinski explained why:
Well it’s no short answer to that question but we were eight weeks prior shooting when the plug was pulled. It’s an R rated movie. I wanted to keep it R rated, I felt like that would be appropriate, and it’s an expensive movie. It’s a massive world we’re creating and it’s not a world we can simply go to locations to shoot. “A Cure For Wellness”, we were able to really utilize a variety of location to create the world. “Bioshock” it wouldn’t work like that, we’d be building an entire underworld universe.
So I think the combination of the price tag and the rating, universal just didn’t feel comfortable ultimately. At that time also there were some R rated, expensive R rated movies that were not working. So I think things have changed and maybe there will be another chance, but it’s very difficult when you’re eight weeks away from shooting a movie you really can see in your head and you’ve almost filmed the entire thing, so emotionally you’re right at that transition from architect to becoming a contractor and that will be a difficult place to get back to.
Gore Verbinski’s insistence on an R-rating is in-keeping with the tone of BioShock, an ultraviolent video game about an underwater city which all of the world’s scientists have, by eschewing conventional morality in favor of progress, transformed into a nightmare dystopia full of monsters and madmen. The game is full of disturbing imagery and grotesque moral choices, like whether the protagonist will suck the life out of little girls, or simply remove disgusting sea slugs from their bodies.
It’s worth noting that with the success of Deadpool and, potentially, the upcoming success of Logan, we may finally be exiting the era of PG-13 ubiquity. But even those R-rated genre films weren’t epics on the scale of Gore Verbinski’s BioShock, which the game’s writer and co-director Ken Levine said was originally going to cost $200 million.
Meanwhile, Hollywood keeps making video game movies and audiences keep wondering why it’s so hard to make a genuinely good one, not just entering matinee fare like Mortal Kombat or the stylish but thematically vacant first Silent Hill adaptation. And we’ll keep wondering until somebody makes that first great video game movie. The streak can’t continue forever… can it?
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Top Photo: 2K Games
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.