It’s been awhile since we’ve heard anything about the Mass Effect movie, which has been in development for a few years now from Legendary Pictures. Last September, producer Avi Arad (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) said that the Mass Effect adaptation was still a long way off, explaining that “some movies take five, six years before they’re ready.” But Universal and Legendary have slated an “Untitled Event Project” for release in 2016, and some are reading between the lines and speculating that it could in fact be the Mass Effect movie.
The news comes from THR, which has revealed that the untitled project has staked out the weekend of November 4, 2016. So far the anonymous project doesn’t have any serious competition for that date, but Universal and Legendary are playing it close to the vest when it comes to exactly what this project might be. The secret film is described as “new and not a sequel or remake, though it may be based on underlying intellectual property.” A Mass Effect movie certainly fits that description, but it’s hardly the only candidate.
One possibility that’s been bandied about a lot in the ensuing days is a Namor movie, based on the Marvel equivalent of poor, often-mocked Aquaman. That’s certainly a possibility, as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently confirmed that Universal does still hold the Namor movie rights. IGN suggests other possibilities for the secret 2016 project could include the Hot Wheels movie or Guillermo del Toro’s long-in-the-works adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.
It does make sense that Universal and Legendary might want to get Mass Effect into theaters sometime in the next few years. While video game movie adaptations have so far been mostly forgettable, and often outright awful, there are a pair of projects on the horizon with the potential to hurdle that reputation. Twentieth Century Fox’s Assassin’s Creed movie, starring Michael Fassbender and based on the bestselling Ubisoft game series, is scheduled to hit theaters on August 7, 2015, and definitely has the right talent and concept to make for a great movie, assuming they do it right. And Legendary itself also has another high-profile video game movie in the works: Warcraft, which is scheduled for March 11, 2016 and is being directed by Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code fame. If either or both of those films prove to be successful, it could help remove the game-to-movie stigma and set Mass Effect up for success in the fall of 2016.
Legendary CEO Thomas Tull was definitely enthusiastic when discussing the Mass Effect movie with IGN this past March:
That’s another story that we love, and it’s incredibly sprawling and complex. We’re not going to screw up Commander Shepard. That’s another one of those things where we’re being a little bit precious about it, but unless we feel like we can absolutely crack it and know what the movie is, we’re just not in the position where we have to make stuff just because we have to. That’s the way we treat every one of these. I’m a huge Mass Effect fan. I play. I’m personally a fan of all these different things, and we don’t to screw them up, so that’s the way we go into these. The bar is very high, and that’s just our approach.
But that complexity, the detailed and rich universe crafted by Bioware over the course of the three (so far) games, also makes bringing the story to the screen that much more challenging, certainly more so than with a film based on, say, a single book. One person who appreciates that challenge all too well is screenwriter Mark Protosevich (Thor, Oldboy), who worked on the Mass Effect adaptation beginning in 2008. He was replaced by a relatively unknown Black List writer named Morgan Davis Foehl in October 2012, and we haven’t heard much about the project since then. After the story about his replacement broke, Protosevich told Badass Digest:
It was the first game adaptation I did and it will probably be the only one. They’re hard. I will freely admit it was hard. Because — especially with Mass Effect — there’s just so much material. Narratively, with the game, you’re talking about nine, ten hours of narrative you’re jamming into two hours.
I hope they pull it off. I’d love to see a Mass Effect movie. I think I did some good work, but even I’ll admit I didn’t pull it off.
And his 10-hour estimation is way low in my experience. Granted, I’m a completist and the Mass Effect series are my favorite games of all time, but my playthroughs of the first game always averaged closer to 20 hours than to 10. Either way, there’s no question that Mass Effect is a tricky beast to tame for the big screen.
Whether Universal and Legendary’s secret 2016 project proves to be the Mass Effect movie or not, I just hope they take the time to get it right. I’d much rather see it good than soon. It’s also worth mentioning that a fourth Mass Effect game is in the works from Bioware and a 2016 release would not surprise me. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a kickass Mass Effect movie in theaters are the same time the new game is hitting shelves.