Last week, Rainfall Films, a small production company that deals mostly in commercials and music videos, released "Metroid: The Sky Calls," a live-action short based on the Metroid series of video games. The short took obvious inspiration from films like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, choosing to emphasize atmosphere over action, and was lovingly created with high production values, Jessica Chobot, and moody music. This isn't the first short film created by Rainfall to be based on a video game (also in its catalogue is a trailer for a fictional The Legend of Zelda movie that became an infamous April Fool's prank over at IGN), nor is it the first time the company has tackled something notoriously difficult to translate to the silver screen (check out the Rainfall treatment for Wonder Woman, for example). However, unlike its other proof-of-concept shorts, this one actually feels like it could work as a full-length feature given a high enough budget and a decent script.
Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not here to prove that video game movies can ever be a successful Hollywood venture, since every attempt has thus far been a moderate to severe failure. Nobody knows this better than Nintendo, who are still regretting their decision to lend out the Mario Brothers license for a film back in the nineties. Nintendo's reluctance to repeat that disaster is the biggest reason a Metroid film has never been made, despite over a decade of effort to make it happen from John Woo. Realistically, I still think video game movies have to mature a bit more before Nintendo will ever consider handing over one of their intellectual properties to an American film studio again, and maybe that's a good thing.
I'm putting a lot of faith in the visual effects crew if I include these guys
This, therefore, is a thought exercise, not a prediction for the future. If I were called up to Hollywood today and told to write a treatment for a Metroid film, using Rainfall's short as inspiration, there are many things I would have to consider (not the least of which would be my price). How could I make it work? How would I write a character like Samus Aran, who is a typical Nintendo character that is more blank slate than fully realized persona? Would I try to put it in the continuity of the games, and if I did, how would I appeal to audiences not familiar with the source material? Would I try to tell the basic story of Metroid, or would I try to write a new story? Should I incorporate the Space Pirates, Ridley, Kraid, Mother Brain, and the titular Metroids?
So let's start with what "The Sky Calls" gets right: the atmosphere. Seeing as how Metroid has always been an atmospheric experience first (and isn't shy in ripping off the Alien films), that is arguably the most important thing to translate. "The Sky Calls" chooses an ethereal, methodical, and occasionally trippy approach, an old-school take on science-fiction. Any other approach would probably be less successful. Audiences don't need things to be explained in mind-numbing detail, nor does it need to make immediate sense, as long as its logic is internally consistent.
The same goes for Samus herself, as a character. It would be incredibly tempting to pen a backstory and complex motivation for her, but that would be a big mistake (as evidenced by the god-awful flashbacks in Metroid: Other M or the pointless exposition in Metroid Fusion). At her best, Samus is a stream-lined character: a quiet, determined bounty hunter with mysterious ties to an alien race and a blood feud with the pirate that killed her parents. She doesn't need a love interest, a tortured history with the Galactic Federation (*sigh*), or an evolving moral compass. The most interesting thing the games ever did with her character involved her becoming the surrogate mother to a baby Metroid, and that was done without a single word of dialogue.
I want exactly none of this
It would be nearly impossible to make an entire movie in which the protagonist says nothing. I might be interested in such a film, but it's not the kind of experience that mass audiences would pay for, nor is it the kind of film on which Hollywood would be willing to risk millions of dollars. Samus would have to speak, and there's nothing wrong with Rainfall's approach of using logs to provide her exposition. The problem, however, is that Samus typically has no one to talk to. Maybe she could speak to a Chozo hologram or throw a few insults at Ridley, but that's about it. In the Metroid universe, whenever any human character is introduced alongside Samus, it pulls you out of the experience. Thus, if I were writing a Metroid movie, I would decide at the outset to include just one human character--Samus herself--and no one else.
This brings me to the second major problem: what kind of story would I be trying to tell? I wouldn't want to be tied to game continuity, and I think the best adaptations are ones that are not slaves to the source material. As such, I might be willing to make a few dramatic changes, starting with the fact that I would not only be making Samus the only human character in the movie, I would make her the only human being left in the universe. Instead of seeking vengeance for the death of her parents, Samus is trying to avenge the entire human race, which has been eradicated by the Space Pirates (much as they eradicated the Chozo). Thus, the Space Pirates (and their primary weapon, the Metroids) are an enormous threat and an antagonist that has, in essence, already won.
Can I rename them, though? I absolutely loathe the moniker "Space Pirates"; it's so goddamn cheesy.
Let's make this the title, like how Prince changed his name to a symbol
There would still be "good" characters and a Galactic Federation, though these would obviously be aliens, and maybe they'd only be mentioned and not seen. I like the idea that Samus is looking for the Chozo--maybe she's scouring the galaxy looking for any surviving Chozo or human colonies when she encounters the distress call that leads her to Zebes--and I like how "The Sky Calls" sets that up. I might have to steal some variation of it. When Samus gets to Zebes, she discovers that the Space Pirates have set up a base of operations there, complete with the villainous Ridley, Mother Brain, and a whole mess of Metroids.
This is looking to be a story about the balance between justice and revenge, only on an enormous moral scale. Thus, Samus would have to face a choice by the end, and it would have to reflect the stakes. I think the Metroids are the key, because they are not merely biological weapons or mindless killing machines, but intelligent beings who have been enslaved and brainwashed for war. Samus would have to choose whether to kill them all or whether to save them, and since they are partly responsible for the genocide of multiple species--including humanity--it would not be an easy decision. That is a story I can tell.
Now that I think about it, maybe killing off the entire human race is a mistake. Let's say a human ship has crashed on Zebes (a nice throwback to Super Metroid, though that wasn't a human ship). When Samus gets there, it looks like the Space Pirates have killed the entire crew, but a few humans--mostly women and children--managed to escape and went into hiding with the help of ancient Chozo technology and a Chozo hologram or two. It is the Chozo that sent Samus the distress call, not the crashed human ship. The Space Pirates are there specifically to study Chozo technology, something no one but Samus has ever been able to master, which is how all four major players--humanity, the Space Pirates, the Chozo, and Samus--come together at Zebes.
The humans would be ragtag and helpless, and Samus would be trying to save them. Her mission to give them an escape route takes her deep into the Space Pirate operation, but she's the one who decides to make it a mission of revenge when she discovers Ridley (who communicates with subtitled alien speak instead of speaking English), which puts the surviving humans in further danger. In the end, Samus defeats Ridley and Mother Brain and gives the humans the means to escape the planet as it is set to explode. However, instead of saving herself, she risks her life to save a baby Metroid, to prevent another genocide.
Dammit. I'm loving this. Too bad it'll never happen. Maybe I'll write it anyway, just for fun.