Why A Mass Effect Movie Won’t Work

I played the first Mass Effect game when it was released in late 2007, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I lost weeks of my life to Mass Effect 2, the best of the trilogy in my opinion, and I was one of the less gracious players disappointed with how they ended things with Mass Effect 3.

We’ve known for a while now that Electronic Arts has a movie planned, though rumor has it the movie wouldn’t see daylight for another 5 or 6 years. That’s to be expected for a science fiction epic that is asking for three movies and a massive effects budget.

But I can’t say I’m optimistic about seeing this universe being translated to film, and I promise my reasons are solid, even if you don’t agree with them. Note that I’m not trying to be pessimistic—I just understand how cultural perception and mismanagement of established properties can make even a promising movie taste sour.

The main issue here is that video games have always had a difficult time crossing into non-gaming audiences. We fall in love with the characters we’re playing because the medium is interactive. When studios try to place these characters we’ve invested in into a linear narrative we have no control over, you have a property that no one will relate to.

Non-gamers won’t understand why they should like the character onscreen, and those of us who do know the protagonist feel disconnected from the new persona that has been adapted to the big screen.

This isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed, and I certainly believe Mass Effect could be the exception to the curse of video game movies. It would just take some clever decision-making.

But why, specifically, wouldn’t a Mass Effect movie work the way it’s being planned? It’s hard to say for sure how they’re treating this still-in-pre-production film, but it’s been made clear that the movie franchise will relate to the story of the games.

That means the star will be Commander Shepard, the enemy will be the Reapers and there will have to be some kind of ending that will be different from how you or I played it.

The problem is that the nature of the Mass Effect games was choice. Every play through was unique, set with countless decisions and narrative changes you actively made as Shepard. Did you kill Wrex? Did you sacrifice Ashley or Kaidan? Did you sacrifice the Council?

If they adapt the games, all of these choices will be made for you.

That’s a bad thing because it takes away the biggest draw for these games and removes what made them such a success with gamers. You’re banking it all on the non-gamers who’ve never even heard of Mass Effect, and we all know how that tends to turn out for video game movies.

The tragedy is that the Mass Effect universe really is strong enough to stand on its own as a movie franchise. The lore is complex, the setting is amazing and the series has its own rhythm and personality that sets it apart from what inspired it.

I like to think of Mass Effect as the perfect combination of Star Wars and Star Trek, two of science fiction’s most influential and well-established universes. Mass Effect has the wonder and epic action of Star Wars mixed with the rich storytelling and memorable species of Star Trek (not that either universe is lacking of anything).

But the problem remains: Shepard doesn’t belong onscreen. Not unless you were making an interactive television series where the choices are determined by viewers (maybe through Twitter? Nevermind, bad idea).

Of course, I wouldn’t just complain without some semblance of a solution. I strongly believe that the video game universe of Mass Effect belongs in theaters, just not as they’re planning it. Take away Shepard’s story and replace it with something new.

A prequel.

Let’s make a Mass Effect movie that unearths the territory we barely saw firsthand within the games, which take place years after humanity learns that they are the aliens within a much larger universe. Introduce the world to the Turians through the First Contact War. Make the movie about explorers who fight to find a place for humanity within a universe that sees them as primitive and weak.

Going in this direction wouldn’t be without its own unique challenges, but the fact is that it appeals to both fans of the games and people who don’t know what an Asari is. The bottom line is this: Why make a movie out of something we’d rather play the game of anyway?

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11 thoughts on “Why A Mass Effect Movie Won’t Work

  1. I’ve never played Mass Effect, but I’ve been curious about it. I may have to check it out…. Anyway, this is the same problem facing any World of Warcraft movie. I’ve been hearing for years they plan to make one. I don’t play WoW, but I know that there is way too much there, too many….what is it….classes? Races? Whatever…..you can’t represent all of them in a movie. If you attempt it you get Mortal Kombat 2, which tried to shove every character in your face. And the people who play WoW are really into it. I have this friend who actually got into a heated argument with someone because they told her that her race or class or whatever in WoW was weaker than theirs. If you leave things out, the fans will get upset. So I think a WoW movie would fail before it has a chance to breath.

    But you weren’t talking about WoW. I totally just got off topic. Kind of. Basically, I understand what you’re saying.

  2. I’ve always wondered why a Mass Effect film (or trilogy) just never sat well with me. But you hit on the point perfectly. It’s too hyper-personalized of a game, though I see now if they did make a movie centered around Shepard and crew, a small percentage of would essentially have their own games played out on the big screen, which would be great for them, not so much for the rest of us.

    But, a prequel? Count me all in. There’s a framework in place, but it’s still very much an open sandbox to create something original.

  3. Having played through the entire series, I’ve definitely fallen in love with the games, characters, lore, etc.. I didn’t even know they were making a Mass Effect movie (It might be because I was too busy playing Mass Effect), but you’ve made some great points about it.

    I would love to see a prequel to the series, that would be great. If they did it well, it could be an amazing hit with all sorts of people, and it would add even more to the expansive lore of the actual series. Although, you did raise a point at the very end, “The bottom line is this: Why make a movie out of something we’d rather play the game of anyway?” which is definitely true. Even if they don’t end up making a movie of this specific part of time, it’d be amazing if they made another game of this part.

    I also enjoyed the “mass effect” joke in the second paragraph with the “massive effects budget”

  4. Man, this is a great suggestion as I am one of those who has never played this game. I cant sorta understand where your coming from & believe others like me, who have never played the game, would appreciate a prequel too. As long as its as interesting as you say it is, what the heck- Ill sure watch it.

  5. The story is too massive to be squeezed effectively into a movie or three, unless they really take a different tack, like a side story with a different perspective on the war. It would be pointless to do Shepard’s story.
    As for prequels, I think Dark Horse Comics have been doing those for a while now.

  6. It could easily be a prequel. Like between games, Shepard finds some tech that lets him see the past, and he sees the Leviathans’ civilization and the rise of the Reapers, then at the end he says he knows what to do to stop the Reapers. I dunno, that was just an idea. Or it could be a sequel, set far enough in the future that it wouldn’t matter what choices you made.

  7. While I agree most video games (such as we’ve seen with Halo) are a major dissapointment to say the least when they reach theatres, I think you make a great point in saying the Mass Effect universe has the potential to be a great film franchise. For those of us who have played all the games and fell in love with Mass Effect, we already know about the whole Mass Effect universe.

    I know myself and others are eager to see this universe come to life in the big screen, the moment I heard there was a movie coming out, I was super excited. This game is one of the best out there, I think (if they do it right) a movie would be a major hit. I want to see Shepard on the big screen, while a prequal is a cool idea, I want to see the game I’ve spent so much time on come to life.

    I just really hope they don’t butcher this whole thing and we live through another Halo tragedy….

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