Sony is having a tough week.
Three days after news broke that Sony’s partnership with Disney over the Spider-Man character is now over, the film studio suffered another major setback: The long-awaited film adaptation of PlayStation action-adventure game Uncharted lost its director, Dan Trachtenberg. That alone wouldn’t be disastrous news—film projects lose directors all the time—except for the fact that Trachtenberg is the fifth filmmaker to leave the project in the past nine years.
Uncharted, an extremely popular video game series about a treasure hunter going on adventures across the globe, seems like it would be ideal fodder for Hollywood. Sony thought so too, and started working on a film adaptation less than a year after the first game was released in 2008. This week, Deadline reported that Uncharted will be the first movie produced by PlayStation Productions, a new studio Sony created to develop film and TV projects based on PlayStation’s huge catalog of exclusive titles. But issues with the Uncharted production date back to long before PlayStation got involved.
- 2008: Sony says it’s working on an Uncharted movie adaptation with Hollywood producer and former Marvel Studios CEO, Avi Arad.
- 2010: The Fighter director David O. Russell signs on to write and direct the movie. (Director #1)
- 2011: Russell drops out. Limitless director Neil Burger replaces him and says he’s re-writing the script from scratch (Director #2)
- 2012: Burger drops out. More writers are brought in to rewrite the script.
- 2013: Comedy duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are asked to rewrite the script, but decline.
- 2014: Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon is hired to direct the film from a new script by David Guggenheim. Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal is brought in to rework Guggenheim’s script. (Director #3)
- 2015: Gordon leaves the movie over creative differences with Sony. A draft of Guggenheim’s script is leaked in the Sony Pictures hack.
- 2016: Filmmaker Joe Carnahan is hired to rewrite the script. Stranger Things director-producer Shawn Levy is announced as director. (Director #4)
- 2017: Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, is said to be starring in the film.
- 2018: Levy leaves the project. TV writer Rafe Judkins is hired to rewrite the script again.
- 2019: Dan Trachtenberg joins the project as director. Trachtenberg leaves the project. (Director #5)
In addition to losing five different directors, the adaptation has also been rewritten seven times—and that’s just what has been made public.
Trachtenberg, who directed the critically acclaimed 2016 sci-fi thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, most recently shot the pilot for the Amazon series The Boys. He would have been an excellent choice to finally make this thing happen, but, alas it was not meant to be.
Maybe the film just isn’t either. Sony is clearly desperate to make something of the game series, given its refusal to abandon ship despite an almost comical number of complications. In another era, Sony probably would have just let the Uncharted dream die, but as Disney dominates the box-office market share with its many well-known franchises, other studios are trying to create franchises of their own, based on whatever intellectual property they happen to have on hand (Quartz member exclusive). For Sony, Uncharted, which has sold over 40 million copies across four major titles, is one of its best bets at turning into a successful Hollywood franchise.
In theory, that is. Video games are notoriously difficult to adapt for the big screen—even undeniably cinematic ones like Uncharted. The game might look like a movie when you’re playing it, but that’s precisely the thing: You play it. Filmmakers have found that when you remove the interactivity from the experience, sometimes all you’re left with is a clichéd narrative with hollow characters. Uncharted without the playability is basically just another Hollywood rehash of Indiana Jones.
Recent video game adaptations like Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed learned that the hard way. Sony is discovering that you can’t take on Disney by forcing adaptations of things that don’t want to be adapted. At this point, if Uncharted ever does get released, its chances of success are slim to none.