Valve and J.J. Abrams: Maybe It Won’t Be So Bad

The smorgasbord built from Star Trek and Star Wars isn’t enough to sate the ravenous beast known as J.J. Abrams. He will not rest until he has devoured all of the nerd properties. During the DICE Summit on Wednesday, the geek-eating Galactus teamed up with Gabe Newell to announce a partnership between Bad Robot and Valve set to produce new games and movies–which might include film adaptations of the sacred Half-Life and Portal series.

My initial opinion on this supposed super team-up was a rather Darth Vader-esque “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” The only thing worse than sitting through bastardized film adaptations of games I revere as much as Portal and Half-Life would be having my legs cut off, nearly burning to death, then being reconstructed as a cyborg that will never be able to sneak up on anyone ever again because the Empire couldn’t be bothered to splurge on a decent breathing unit. This unholy alliance surely marked the end of nerd-dom as we know it, a dumbed down commercialization of the best of the best of my favorite medium.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to realize that it’s probably going to be ok. There are ways to make a Half-Life or a Portal movie without angering the fans. Slight spoilers ahead.

First off, you could hand the idea off to an auteur free of the demands of “experienced” marketing executives armed with the results of endless focus groups. Half-Life and Portal, when you come right down to it, are tales of desperation, of one individual surviving against seemingly insurmountable odds. Put an actress with the gravitas and screen presence of a Lena Headey or a Hillary Swank in Chell’s jumpsuit and focus on the danger and loneliness of her situation, using the messages of those who came before to accentuate the horror of Aperture’s test facility. Gordon’s trickier to cast, but his adventures in Black Mesa aren’t all that different thematically. It could be done, if the director truly respects the source material and finds a way to draw out the intense feelings that made those games such hits in the first place.

Of course, given that we’re talking about J.J. Abrams, we can’t really bet on art films–lens flares don’t go well with that sort of thing, after all. He’s going to take these properties and run them straight through the Hollywood ringer, adding love interests and quirky sidekicks and all the silly tropes that supposedly make movies palatable to the masses.  But you know what? That might be alright, as long as he’s telling new stories in those game universes rather than merely converting the games themselves into movies. The tale of Cave Johnson’s last days at Aperture and the transfer of Caroline McLain’s mind into GLADoS could make for one hell of an interesting piece of cinema about the dangers of science run amok. Likewise, if you’re looking for a traditional shoot-y explode-y blockbuster, a bit about the Seven Days War or the resistance in City 17 might wet your whistle. There are plenty of story in the shared universe of Half-Life and Portal that could make for excellent films that do nothing to slander the good name of the original games.

Despite all the possible pitfalls and logical reasons for or against these projects, there’s one big reason why I think they could turn out pretty good: I trust Gabe Newell implicitly. There aren’t many people on the planet I would say that about, but Valve’s head honcho seems to just flat out get it. Mr. Newell wouldn’t sully the good name of his top properties just to make a few extra bucks. When it comes to movie versions of Portal and Half-Life, there’s one mantra that keeps repeating itself in my mind: in Gaben I trust.

Check out Episode 128 of the D Pad D Bags podcast, featuring Dead Space 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and the history of Hyrule.

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