games reporter

Prediction: Pen will be most mighty in games

Grant Morrison has written for comic books ("The Invisibles," "Zenith"), video games ("Battlestar Galactica," "Predator: Concrete Jungle") and movies (DreamWorks' upcoming "Sleepless Knights"), so perhaps we should pay attention when he says we're at the cusp of a new era in entertainment.

"Look at something like '300' and it's clear to see that games and movies are developing hybrid forms and cross influences," says Morrison, now at work taking Midway Games' best-selling video game franchise, "Area 51," to the big screen for Paramount Pictures. "Within 10-15 years, we'll be moving into a situation where it's all 'games,' I think, and movies as we know them will become less populist and more specialized, in the way that theater, opera and poetry have become in the past."

Morrison believes that the online interactive experience is likely to be the dominant entertainment form of the next century. He says he imagines it won't be long before we look back with wonder at the idea we used to pay people so much money to pretend to be other people for our entertainment.

Morrison says that because video game protagonists tend to be "bad-ass" military cyphers, assassins and thugs, adapting them to the big screen can be more interesting to a writer than adapting someone else's "Spider-Man" or "Batman," where the heroes' personalities are established.

"The video game adaptation allows us to create new and more contemporary screen heroes for the 21st century while still enjoying the safety net of an established franchise," he says.

Fans of the "Area 51" first-person shooter games will find some familiar characters in his big-screen adaptation. Morrison, who's finishing the first draft of his script, says Doctor Cray and Mister White will be in the film. As for the team sent in to investigate, they'll be a collection of new characters for the movie. There will be settings and environments in the film inspired by the new Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game "BlackSite: Area 51," which ships in September. But the story comes from the mind of Morrison.

Like many creatives working in the Hollywood system today, Morrison has played games for a long time; he goes back to the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the U.S.) in 1992. He's a big fan of the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise and recently completed "Just Cause" on Xbox 360.

"I think it's always important to honor the source of one's material," he says, "and only by playing games can a filmmaker know what makes them tick and how best to translate game effects into the very different language of Hollywood drama."

Morrison has been developing his own dream game project, "Citizen Death," which he created in 1998. He says next-generation consoles today are just at the point where technology can bring his original vision to life.

When it comes to why many big-screen adaptations of such blockbuster games as "Doom" or "Street Fighter" have not translated well to the movie theater, Morrison says many of the films "have tended to feel fairly superficial, disposable and unengaging."

"Perhaps they try too hard to be games and not hard enough to be Hollywood movies, which is of course what they are," he says. "And Hollywood movies stand or fall on making you care about fictional characters. There's often no convincing sense of threat or drama … and they lack the immersive, exploratory nature of good games."

Adds Morrison: "The abilities and reactions of the heroes are often too unrealistic to be relatable, and that's something we hope to change. Along with all the outrageous action, bizarre visuals and stark, mind-numbing horror… my intention is to add a larger dose of humanity and reality than we may have seen before in this type of film."
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