The Only Way a Mass Effect Movie Could Work

Word on the street is a Mass Effect movie is happening. Avi Arad is set to produce and there's been talk of getting a hotshot screen writer.  So far, so good. But then Bioware dropped a bombshell that caused me to lose almost all hope; they started hinting at casting choices for Commander Sheppard. While the obvious choice may be to do a direct adaptation of the excellent story in the first game, it's also the worst choice.
 
While the overall story arc may be the same for everyone (become a Specter and stop Saren from bringing the Reapers back to the galaxy), it's the devilish and branching details that make it a special experience. Everyone who played the game has their own Shepard(s). Trying to put a cannon version on the big screen would upset the core audience but also be too dense for a casual cineplex audience.  
 
There is, however, a great solution if the producers would just have the balls to go for it. Allow me to geek out and explain it in detail.
 
Bioware has become adept in recent years at spreading their stories across multiple media. Besides the main Mass Effect games, there's the iPhone game, comics, and a trilogy of... decent novels penned by the games' head writer. Those novels hold the key, especially the first one.
 

 The novels serve to flesh out the cast and flesh out the universe.

 
That first book, Revelation, follows a young Lieutenant Anderson, who would grow up to be the Keith David-voiced Captain Anderson in the game series. This is only a few years after humans have discovered the Prothean technology that lets them travel beyond the solar system. In fact, humans have yet to encounter any other intelligent life in the galaxy. 
 
That all changes when a human ship accidentally enters Turain space. And start a first contact war. Strangely enough, the book skips ahead at this point, only glossing over the events of the war and moving on to tell a different tale. Why would they do this? Because it's the perfect plot for a movie. 
 
Think about it. This would be an interesting story for fans of the game series but more importantly would be a much more accessible story for a core audience. The protagonists would be meeting all these weird aliens and learning about Citadel politics right along with the audience. There would be some great first act excuses for big space battles with lots of explosions. Follow an original character stationed on a battleship. 
 
At some point (as mentioned in the novel) the Council steps in to mediate peace talks.  Have that main character get assigned to a security detail protecting an ambassador on the Citadel. Throw in some crazy plot twist about an assassination attempt on the council or something and have the human save the day, showing the Council humans are worthy of place at the galactic table. 
 
It's a self contained story that could stand on its own for a casual viewer yet fill in a huge chunk of the mythos for the hardcore fans. Doing a straight adaptation of the games is the worst of all worlds. It will alienate fans of the game while likely being far too confusing for the masses with its dense back story.  But the Turian/Human war could be the first great video game movie.
 
Bioware has already showed they know how to do complimentary cross-media content. Those novels and comics aren't rehashes of the game's plot. Why shouldn't a major motion picture, the crown jewel in any media franchise, get the same attention and respect? What do you guys think?
17 Comments
17 Comments
Posted by Oncomouse

Word on the street is a Mass Effect movie is happening. Avi Arad is set to produce and there's been talk of getting a hotshot screen writer.  So far, so good. But then Bioware dropped a bombshell that caused me to lose almost all hope; they started hinting at casting choices for Commander Sheppard. While the obvious choice may be to do a direct adaptation of the excellent story in the first game, it's also the worst choice.
 
While the overall story arc may be the same for everyone (become a Specter and stop Saren from bringing the Reapers back to the galaxy), it's the devilish and branching details that make it a special experience. Everyone who played the game has their own Shepard(s). Trying to put a cannon version on the big screen would upset the core audience but also be too dense for a casual cineplex audience.  
 
There is, however, a great solution if the producers would just have the balls to go for it. Allow me to geek out and explain it in detail.
 
Bioware has become adept in recent years at spreading their stories across multiple media. Besides the main Mass Effect games, there's the iPhone game, comics, and a trilogy of... decent novels penned by the games' head writer. Those novels hold the key, especially the first one.
 

 The novels serve to flesh out the cast and flesh out the universe.

 
That first book, Revelation, follows a young Lieutenant Anderson, who would grow up to be the Keith David-voiced Captain Anderson in the game series. This is only a few years after humans have discovered the Prothean technology that lets them travel beyond the solar system. In fact, humans have yet to encounter any other intelligent life in the galaxy. 
 
That all changes when a human ship accidentally enters Turain space. And start a first contact war. Strangely enough, the book skips ahead at this point, only glossing over the events of the war and moving on to tell a different tale. Why would they do this? Because it's the perfect plot for a movie. 
 
Think about it. This would be an interesting story for fans of the game series but more importantly would be a much more accessible story for a core audience. The protagonists would be meeting all these weird aliens and learning about Citadel politics right along with the audience. There would be some great first act excuses for big space battles with lots of explosions. Follow an original character stationed on a battleship. 
 
At some point (as mentioned in the novel) the Council steps in to mediate peace talks.  Have that main character get assigned to a security detail protecting an ambassador on the Citadel. Throw in some crazy plot twist about an assassination attempt on the council or something and have the human save the day, showing the Council humans are worthy of place at the galactic table. 
 
It's a self contained story that could stand on its own for a casual viewer yet fill in a huge chunk of the mythos for the hardcore fans. Doing a straight adaptation of the games is the worst of all worlds. It will alienate fans of the game while likely being far too confusing for the masses with its dense back story.  But the Turian/Human war could be the first great video game movie.
 
Bioware has already showed they know how to do complimentary cross-media content. Those novels and comics aren't rehashes of the game's plot. Why shouldn't a major motion picture, the crown jewel in any media franchise, get the same attention and respect? What do you guys think?
Posted by SuperSecretAgenda

Have the main character be Spacer Shepard's mother. Or Ashley's grandfather.
 
*Nod*

Posted by FunExplosions

Nolan North better voice the space hamster. 'sall I'm sayin'.

Posted by SpiralStairs

I can't believe they're actually making a Mass Effect movie.

Posted by h83r

That's the logical way to make a Mass Effect movie, but what I WANT them to do is make 10 different versions of the movie with different decisions and different Shepards(race and gender and all). 
Also, when the 10 versions get released, the theater can't tell you what version you're buying tickets for. So you have to watch it at least 10 times to get the whole Mass Effect experience. 

Posted by Saltank

Yes they have to start from the beginning - it will not only allow them to make the franchise HUGE by having multiple sequels, it has the potential to have an even bigger cult following. 
 
Batman: Begins, comes to mind. It went to the basics without the hardcore feast of graphics and explosions, it was more down to earth. And that's what I would certainly hope the ME film does. 

Posted by c1337us

I dont have any sort of hope for a ME movie, I think it will blow.

Posted by Ninja
@FunExplosions said:
" Nolan North better voice the space hamster. 'sall I'm sayin'. "
Nolan North plays Keith David as Captain Anderson.
Posted by OmegaChosen

I was with you until you mentioned having security detail save the council from an assassination attempt. That just seems kinda unnecessary to me and a bit out of nowhere. Having it show the First Contact War would be interesting enough in my opinion. I doubt it's going to happen though. They'd want to focus on Shepard. Hell, I'd want them to. That's another thing that kind of confuses me about your post, the "alienating fans" part. We all know there's a default Shepard, a male and female one, and I like to think we all kind of accept them as the "canon" or at least "public" versions of Shepard. Sure, we all have our own special Shepard but I don't think we'd all throw a tantrum and refuse to see the movie if they get someone who looks like default Shepard. I'd like to think so anyway. >_>

Posted by Hyuzen

I sort of figured Bioware had their own idea of what the Mass Effect Universe story should be, and it probably involves John Shepard, the paragon. Realistically Shepard would look like the default one and generally do paragon related things. Would someone really be pissed off if Shepard never did renegade things? maybe you're not exactly the audience for the movie. I bet theres enough Mass Effect fans that would be fine with John Shepard, Paragon for the movie to do well... assuming its good

Posted by Oncomouse
@OmegaChosen: The security detail thing was out of left field. They have to get on the Citadel somehow though to show that world to the audience.
 
@Hyuzen: There are default character models for male and female Shepard but I don't really think there's a canon version of the story. Even if you start ME 2 without importing a character it asks you to set some basic variables. I'm not overly attached to my Shepard as a character but I am to the story (s)he was a part of. My favorite aspect of video games is the unique narrative opportunities they provide. That's why I love Mass Effect so much. Strip that away and it's still decent but no longer special. I wouldn't be so much pissy about not seeing my Shepard on the screen as disappointing they made a version of a narrative with all the most interesting parts stripped away.  Tell an original, canon story and you avoid that problem is all.
Posted by No0b0rAmA

I really hope some of the voice actors reprise their role on screen, like Yvonne Strahovski or Adam Baldwin.

Posted by I_love_Eva_Braun

The only way a ME movie could work is if Mark Vanderloo plays the role of Shepard

Posted by TBird13

Only way it won't suck is if it is a buddy cop movie starring a volus and elcor.   Actually I would totally see that movie.  
 
Seriously though, I wouldn't worry so much - I severely doubt it'll ever happen.  Maybe 20 years from now, after a dozen games, if it has a bigger following.  

Posted by Jasta
@TBird13 said:
"  I severely doubt it'll ever happen.  Maybe 20 years from now, after a dozen games, if it has a bigger following.   "

Its not a rumour. Chris Preistley (Biowares Community Coordinator) announced it on the Bioware forums a couple of months ago. Legendary Pictures is a reputable production company with alot of successful films under its belt so I have faith for now. 

Edited by HistoryInRust
@I_love_Eva_Braun: !!! 
 
EDIT: Bahaha. Upon further research, I am way less enthused at your post. See, I'd been put under the impression that there existed a dude who looked so very similar to Commander Shepard himself. Other way around, clearly. Vanderloo's likeness was the basis for Shepard.  
 
Takes the piss right out of me. 
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Posted by ReyGitano

The first thought that comes to mind is Chuck Norris as Commander Shepard. Now I can't get cowboy at wearing Commander Shepard out of my mind.