Published on February 4th, 2011 | by Kole Ross, Editor
Do We Need a Heavy Rain Movie?
There are several misguided game-to-movie adaptations in the works at the moment. From the preposterous, like Asteroids, to the potentially great, like Shadow of the Colossus, studios are champing at the bit to bring games to the big screen.
I’m not here to discuss the merits of bringing games to the big screen. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to do it well. Nor am I here to decry the film industry’s apparent lack of original ideas (even re-treads of familiar territory can be astoundingly good, as with True Grit). These are easy– and popular– stances to take.
Instead, I’m here to question the wisdom of adapting Heavy Rain to the big screen.
Several easy jokes popped into my head during the drafting process for this article. Chief among them went something like “That will be an easy production process, just remove the HUD elements and call it a day.”
Heavy Rain, be it a cinematic game or merely a game comprised mostly of cinematics, prompted some overdue discussions about the proper place for narrative in games. Taken simply as a game, its fundamental mechanical failures tried my patience, and I soldiered on in spite of them. Taken simply as a filmic narrative, it borrowed too much from David Fincher to be considered anything but derivative.
Instead, Heavy Rain floats in some purgatorial void between those two ideals, reaching frantically in both directions at the same time. David Milch, the creator of HBO’s phenomenal Deadwood, has decided to reach out from the cinematic side and pull Heavy Rain into theaters.
It’s my belief that Milch will fail to make Heavy Rain special, because the act of adapting it to a new medium will strip away the things that made it unique.
Yes, two paragraphs ago I was bagging on Heavy Rain, but don’t think that I hated it. Once it got going, I couldn’t stop playing. That weekend was lost to finding the Origami Killer. What kept me hooked was the fact that the game placed me into two roles: I was the actor (making decisions as Ethan, Madison, Nah-man, and Shelby), but also the director.
There was a tension to be found in how the game doled out information about the case. Sometimes I knew more than the character I was controlling, and other times I was just as clueless as them as to how the current disaster would pan out. My choices were sticky, and although the story was on rails, there were enough cosmetic consequences to make me consider the gravity of my choices.
Railroading these scenes into a linear film will destroy that tension. What we’d be left with is a movie that’s an adaptation of a game that’s trying to be a popcorn suspense movie. What’s left to differentiate it from its inspirations?
As I established before, I’m dubious on the story’s ability to hold up on its own. To paraphrase Yahtzee on the matter, “Why is this movie ten hours long, and what’s this triangular thing I’m holding in my hands?”
Put simply, I don’t know how agonizing it will be to watch Ethan cut off his own finger if I’m not the one picking the tool that he’ll do it with. Perhaps we can work out a solution where the audience can vote on the outcome. “Text 1 to 55-309 to use the clippers.”
I could definitely be wrong about this. In a way, I hope I am. Deadwood is the best television I’ve seen outside of Breaking Bad, so the project is in good hands. If it’s done right, the Heavy Rain film will be every bit as good as the movies that served as its inspiration.
What’s at stake here? I have a soft spot in my heart for Heavy Rain because it’s probably the only “adult” game I’ve played. It preys on grown-up fears, as opposed to childhood fears of monsters and aliens.
If this movie fails, it will reflect poorly on its source, and discourage others from trying to explore this otherwise uncharted, but fertile territory.