At San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, Mass Effect fans thought they would be treated with information regarding the upcoming movie set in the game universe. In actuality, there was no real news, so much as there were promises that it would not suffer the same fate as several other video game films of late. For a moment, I was on board with what they were saying, but then they mentioned that the film would be an adaptation of the first game, and my hopes were dashed.
The Mass Effect universe is one that spans countless civilizations, characters, planets, and organizations. You could, in theory, tell the story of Commander Shepard, while also telling a secondary tale of the unlikely team up of a Quarian and a “true” Geth. But the first game’s story, as good as it was, does not need to be told again in movie form. The reason is the giant, pink elephant in the room: how do you translate a 20+ hour game with moral choices and an expanded universe into a 90 minute film? Shepard acquiring his team, fighting a battle on Eden Prime, and completing the main missions on Therum and Noveria could take a significant amount of time to cover by themselves. Add in the requisite backstory for Shepard himself and the universe at whole, and something will have to get cut, no matter how hard Casey Hudson tries. Properly retelling the Mass Effect tale in a time the same length as a feature film is an impossible task.
Rather than rehash the game’s plot, the film should be the perfect chance to offer some backstory on the Mass Effect universe. The First Contact War, in which humanity discovered the aliens and went to war with them, could be a compelling film all on its own. On the surface, it could be just another war movie, but it could also be an anthology film like Halo Legends. From that concept, tales of the exiled Quarians, or the perspectives of Turian and Human soldiers during the First Contact War could do a great job on shedding light on the Mass Effect universe without stepping on the toes of the games and books. There are myriad possibilities.
Something positive may come out of this, as video games with actual stories are being made into films. As opposed to games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Mario, which had films with stories far grander than those in the actual games, we’re seeing an attempt to make a movie based on a game with a much more epic tale. But at the moment, this looks to be a small victory, since it is simply an adaptation. With regards to video games, we should view a video game universe as a palate to paint an entirely new picture on, not some word-for-word retelling like Harry Potter.