Last week my arguments against the Bioshock movie revolved largely around the fact that I do not believe that the game’s experience can be faithfully reproduced in a non-interactive medium. My two arguments in favour of the film aren’t so much counter-arguments to my last observations as they are sort of lateral benefits.
The niche subculture of steampunk has been getting a lot of Internet attention lately, which translates into roughly one or two casual mentions in paper publications (check out the New York Times article or the even better one they didn’t publish.) The whimsical charms of the genre have been well explored by books (The Difference Engine), comics (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), video games (Final Fantasy VI), anime (Fullmetal Alchemist) and Japanese cinema (Howl’s Moving Castle.) However, the genre has been woefully underexplored in Hollywood.
I’m no film buff, but even I can rattle off a few steampunk films made in recent years (Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Golden Compass.) They all have two things in common: the fact that they were adaptations from other media and the fact that they were ultimately forgettable (which is the polite way of saying they sucked.) Indeed, these films almost make me wish that Hollywood would go back to ignoring steampunk.
The truth is that I would be very pleased if the Bioshock adaptation were to be the exception to the rule and finally turn it around for Western steampunk cinema. The genre’s impossible machines and incredible scale make it uniquely suited for the sort of “Hollywood magic” that is usually wasted on brainless action films nowadays. Furthermore, Bioshock proved that combining steampunk visuals with steampunk audio was a recipe for success. Watching someone being stalked by insane splicers while a broken phonograph in the corner wails “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” would alone be worth the price of admission.
A Story Worth Telling
As Daniel and Duncan commented on my last post, there is in fact a story within Bioshock that may be a better fit for film; a story told only through audio diaries, posters and dialog and ultimately filled in by the player’s imagination. I’m speaking of course of the rise and fall of Rapture, and the conflict between Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine. Using the film to fill out the city’s backstory would be an interesting idea, and would definitely mitigate some of the criticisms from my last post.
However, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this idea. In the video game, the story of Rapture is essentially told backwards. For instance, we see a Little Sister long before we discover what she is. We enter the abandoned buildings and see the party remains without knowing what caused the people to flee. Excising the mystery by doing things the other way around would definitely make the characters and setting much less compelling.
Alternately, I would propose that the best thing the Bioshock movie could do would be to rework the video game’s weak denouement. Anyone who has played the game knows that the story takes a sharp downturn after the events at Hephaestus. While the scenery remains interesting (especially the “school” for Little Sisters), the game’s last third introduces plotholes, a completely unnecessary last boss fight and two ultimately unsatisfying endings. From interviews with Ken Levine, my general impression is that this sloppiness was due to time constraints and upper management pressure. The film could be Irrational’s chance to correct these errors and finally give Bioshock the coherent ending it deserved.
For more Bioshock goodness, be sure to check out Michael Abbott’s podcast interview with Steve Gaynor of 2K Marin over at The Brainy Gamer.