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Adapting Bioshock into a feature film is not a new idea. A movie had been planned for release in 2011 with Pirates of the Caribbean direct Gore Verbinski ready to take the helm but budget and locations caused studios to back out. Worse, with the extremely violent nature of the game a concern, the project was cancelled. Of course, the title keeps popping up and there may still be hope for an adaptation, especially if films like the upcoming Assassin’s Creed and the Lara Croft reboot perform well.
For this Movie Pitch, let’s keep the story as close to the original as possible. The game, written by video game developer Ken Levine, is a fascinatingly complex story inspired by Rockefeller Center where its start saw a large construction project lose investors as the Depression rolled in, eventually backed by one man with a singular vision. Levine then tied in elements of Ayn Rand‘s Objectivist masterwork, Atlas Shrugged to the themes, a philosophy that suggests humans have no greater moral goal in life than to achieve happiness, that reality is objectively separate from consciousness, and that following certain moral codes are imperative, such a self-sustainability, not harming others, and taking only what you deserve. Add in lots of art-deco motifs and you’ve got Bioshock. Oh, and raging, DNA-altered psychopaths with machine guns and pyrokinesis.
One of the core story elements centers around a rather gruesome but also heart-wrenching twist. The aforementioned ADAM is found only in sea slugs from the ocean floor. A scientist named Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum figured out a way to mass produce ADAM and its by-product ‘plasmids’ (specially engineered DNA alterations which provide extraordinary powers) by implanting the slugs in the bellies of orphaned little girls, creating a factory system of “Little Sisters” that supplies all of Rapture, the undersea city. Rapture, the dream of Andrew Ryan, wanting to keeping his vision away from the meddling minds of the government, becomes a place divided by class even though this was farthest from his vision. A former gangster turned businessman named Frank Fontaine has power over the ‘lower class’ and plans a revolt, looking to attack the Little Sisters factory and take control away from Ryan. Ryan, in anticipation of the uprising, creates “Big Daddies”, mechanized soldiers with men fused into the armored, given immense plasmid power and physiologically enhanced to protect the Little Sister at all cost. Furthermore, Ryan creates an army of psychotic, DNA altered “Splicers” to roam and defend the city. In all of this, Fontaine is reportedly killed and a new mysterious figure takes his place, a man named Atlas.
The hero of the story, and the charactered controlled by the player is Jack, the lone survivor of a plane crash over the Atlantic. Via a lighthouse out in the middle of the ocean where the burning wreckage of the plane begins to sink, Jack discovers an entrance to Rapture leading him to the sea floor city. Once there, by a radio, Jack is contacted by Altas who asks Jack to help in finally defeating the reclusive Ryan and free Rapture. Jack almost immediately stumbles upon a Little Sister whose Big Daddy lays dead beside her. Over the radio, Atlas urges Jack (the player) to kill the girl and harvest the valuable ADAM within. Before the player can do so, Dr. Tenenbaum interrupts and pleads with Jack to spare the child instead, telling him how to remove the slug without harming her (this is a morality choice that offers the player more ADAM for the kill than but rewards later for mercy). Jack becomes a pawn in the game between Atlas and Ryan, all the while, the phrase ‘would you kindly’ curiously prefacing much of what Jack is told to do.
The first issue in adapting the game to a film is Jack. As this is a first-person shooter, all we ever see of Jack is his hands. What’s more, Jack is a silent protagonist. Aside from one line at the very opening of the game, Jack never speaks. There is a temptation to produce this film in the same vein as Hardcore Henry, an action thriller that actually has a first-person hero as its star. With this story though, that wouldn’t work, as we need to get behind that actions of Jack, and as there is a lot of morality involved, seeing his face is crucial. There is also a temptation to make this a horror film, as the dark, often claustrophobic environments crawling with deranged, mutated creatures lend itself perfectly to the genre, but the more interesting aspects are the story and its rich philosophical entanglements. This movie will be an action/thriller with some heavy (perhaps morally ambiguous) themes to challenge the audience.
Morality is the thing. What does Jack do with the Little Sisters? One possible thread could see Jack unknowingly murder the first little girl, unaware of the consequences of his actions, an act that could torment and motivate him as the story progresses. It could drive him to spend the rest of the film trying to save the others in redemption.
Naturally, this will be a big special effects film, one of the main reasons it hasn’t been made already. Plasmids allow characters to instantly alter their DNA, giving them dozens of wild abilities from generating mini-tornadoes to firing a mad swarm of angry bees at enemies. The film could reduce this to a few key powers, but the fun in the story is the creativity in which they are used. To be sure, this will not be a comedy, and the discovery and use of these skills could really be an interesting plot device, leading to a number of fun and scary moments.
With that all said, let’s talk casting. There are few major characters who actually speak, so we’ll keep this list to the essentials.
Mark Strong, perhaps best known for Sherlock Holmes and Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a character actor who might not be a household name but has made a career out of secondary roles that have great influence over the protagonist. As Atlas, who doesn’t have a lot of screen presence in the game, he is heard and impressive throughout. Strong has great voice and for the film, could be given a larger part, though the mystery of his motivations and identity are part of the discovery. Shadowed and cryptic, Strong would make for a great Atlas.
Andrew Ryan has a brief but highly crucial role in the story’s finale and it would require an eccentric, weighted presence that would make the journey worth the investment. Bill Nighy’s highly charismatic personality would lend itself well to the part, his unique voice and physical characteristics the perfect fit for the story’s main architect.
While there is more than one Big Daddy in the game, the character itself is one of the most fondly remembered elements of the experience. For the film, the process of what it takes to become a Big Daddy and the suffering one endures as they are grafted to the armor can make for a spectacular subplot. Chiwetel Ejiofor would be that man, a loyal soldier in Ryan’s army, sworn to protect his ‘Little Sister’, but thrust into the action when he faces off (and then joins) with Jack, learning a new possibility for the truth.
Perhaps most difficult to cast, the Little Sister is vital. As there are many Little Sister’s in the story, one would need to be given some focus, and it would be Chiwetel Ejiofor’s job as the Big Daddy to protect her. She would need to be innocent and yet dark as Little Sisters are genetically altered and trained to roam about Rapture and collect ADAM from the dead. Mary Elizabeth Jones, who is fast becoming a star, would be a perfect fit for the role, her big eyes and warm smile easily winning hearts and motivating the men in the story to protect her.
Jack is a driven character, swept up in a wild, unbelievable story of crazed maniacs in a dystopian nightmare. McGregor is not a typical action hero, and nor would he need to be, which would really help in creating an everyman character trapped in a frightening undersea maze of madness. McGregor has a both a comedic charm and a powerfully effective dramatic side that would give this Jack the depth needed to carry the story. The fear and wonder of using plasmids are just part of the appeal, all leading up to the showdown with the two competing masters on the end of the journey.
While there is still hope a Bioshock film will be made, let’s hope the casting is done right. What do you think? Who would you like to see in the roles?