Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Question: Blood Meridian as a Rockstar game?

Coram McCarthy adaptations are inevitable. Some will be great (see the Coen Brothers). Some will be alright (The Road). And some will be total crap (poor Billy Bob). With the recent artistic and commercial success of Rockstar Game's Red Dead Redemption, should they attempt adapting Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian?

Anyone who has read the novel laughs at the notion that someone might be foolish enough to write a screenplay for the book. It's epic, biblical, poetic, and brutal. The pacing, landscape, and lush descriptions become just as beautiful as the language. This is where films fail. They're divorced from language and lyricism. They don't let you travel through the environment at your own speed. And the medium of film does not treat the viewer as an individual.

[from The New York Times]
In an interview last month, Dan Houser, one of Rockstar’s founders and the company’s creative leader, described the challenge and opportunity [of creating Red Dead] quite aptly. “Westerns are about place,” he said. “They’re not called outlaw films. They’re not even called cowboys-and-Indians films. They’re called westerns. They’re about geography.”
Red Dead Redemption is much like a film, too. It shines when its characters converse like normal people. The plot is surprisingly emotional without relying on cliché. The environments are stunning. A very talented and published friend of mine admitted to watching a thunderstorm in the game for five minutes before shutting it off to go to bed. All that said, the game, with its gorgeous moments of storytelling and grit, transcends when in its remarkable silence. You’re alone. There’s sparse music and animal scratching in the distant brush. Nothingness. You feel there because you are there, inside it, part of it. Silence and nothingness in film… even when it’s done well its kinda boring. And I love Terrence Malick.

This is where game developers can capitalize on the immersive strength of gaming and mimic what novels do to the reader. Would Cormac work closely enough with Rockstar to create Blood Meridian as a story-mode only work of art? Little dialogue. Traversing great, lonely distances with Pulitzer-worthy narration? Professional voice acting. And, of course, The Judge: the perfectly haunting and existential  anti-Christ. Thinking about Rockstar’s spot-on Western and its dedication to making real art, I say static film just ain't the way to go. A game adaptation of Blood Meridian could shatter the industries.


Kate said...

Todd Field is writing the screenplay for the movie due out in 2011. I don't have a lot of hope-- no, I don't have any hope-- that it will be "good." Down-playing the violence is inevitable. On the other hand, seeing baby brains bashed out on terracotta walls is so horrific it becomes cheap, laughable on screen. I don't see a way for the themes to be successful on screen. I completely agree with you about how the book is about pacing and place and how the movie will not allow such a slow story to unfold. The game would allow a less static telling...I admit to knowing nothing about Red Dead's story line. I'm curious, though-- if Blood became a video game, would the player be participating in the genocide of Native Americans? Would his goal be to scalp the most Indians and then get the most money for those scalps? If the player was the Judge, what would his aim be? The complete corruption of...

Justin Sirois said...

All good points there.

I’ve been thinking more about how readers/players travel through media. Like, you spend 40-50 hours with a novel and the same amount of time with a game, sometimes more. You almost physically travel through the words as well as the pixels. You become invested in it unlike TV or film. The typical elements have to come together – compelling plot, characters, surprises, all that. People enter films differently. No one will watch a 40-50 hour movie. HBO/Showtime series aside. ;)

There a weird “walking meditation” that occurs in Red Dead, and I think anyone who has spent the same amount of time with the game would agree. It’s something I’ve never felt playing a game. And I think I only have the balls to admit it because other people have commented on the same thing.

Not sure how a Blood game adaptation would really work. Maybe you’re the Kid, you “grow up”, fight, perform tasks for people, join the gang, and you witness the gang’s atrocities, but you’re participating as well. Morally you can choose to participate more or less. That would later the game play much like Red Dead’s good vs. bad perspective. Then the perspective flips to the Judge, maybe earlier in the game) You lead the gang, murdering, terrorizing – you not only kill but draw in your notebook, take notes, collect flora. That weird volcano scene would be insane. Some of this is taken right out or Red Dead’s formula; you do collect flowers and herbs in the game.

The perspective switch would be key. Games do that all the time. There would be a lot of opportunity there for plot and epiphany or whatever.

Obviously, this is where a good game developer and/or director steps in and comments…

Either way, I hope no one touches Blood Meridian, but Todd Field , like you said, is already at it. Ridley Scott and someone I already forgot about optioned the novel before and nothing happened.

Paul said...

This is something that i have given a lot thought to. I even listened to the audio book version of Blood Meridian shortly after I started playing Red Dead Redemption so that I could look for ways that it would be possible. It seems do-able, all of the set pieces are in the game with the exception of the pacific ocean / san diego. Gameplay wise, I'm not sure how it could work. It seems to me that while the Kid has his moments of action (and i don't mean action as in action style gameplay) he seems to be more of an observer. His story is the story of everyone around him. The judge, Glanton, Toadvine, the Jacksons would all make great supporting characters and rivals in a game but I am not sure what would be left for the character to do.

An interesting aspect of gameplay would also be choice or lack there of. I would be worried that the game could end up as a 13 hour "No Russian" style level where to play the game you must take part in the carnage that may seem questionable or even horrific to you.

Rockstar has always been very smart as to how they choose their influences. I would not be surprised if we saw a DLC pack that is laden with Blood Meridian references and themes if not outright characters but it would not be like them (or any other development team) to make an out right adaptation. Bioshock did so much for Ayn Rand without being any real form of an adaptation.

Justin Sirois said...

I think we all agree, Paul, a game adaptation would be really tough. It might mean a whole new type of game. I haven’t played Heavy Rain yet, but maybe there are qualities that that game posses that might make more sense? I’m not sure. Really tough call.

A loosely Blood Meridian inspired DLC pack though… we’d have to co-op that for sure.