This past Monday, a 15-minute fan film for the popular video game franchise "Uncharted" (directed by Allan Ungar and starring Nathan Fillion) dropped on Youtube. The fan film has received high praise from fans of the video game, Hollywood figures and even the Vice President of Naughty Dog, the video game studio that created the franchise. According to Ungar, the idea for this short film came to him in January, which was when he approached Nathan Fillion to star. The actor, known primarily for his lead role as a space-faring scoundrel in the short-lived show "Firefly," has been a long-time favorite among fans of the series to play Nathan Drake in a film adaptation. Nathan Fillion's character in "Firefly," Malcolm Reynolds, is certainly very similar to Nathan Drake, and Fillion clearly demonstrates in the short film that he has a great understanding of how to play the video game's central character.
The quipping during serious moments, the roguish intensity about searching for treasure, the scrappy fighting moves taken directly from the video game's combat--it's all perfect. And Ungar's directing is great, as well. During the second half of the film, I actually felt like I was watching an extremely high-definition cutscene from an "Uncharted" game. It is very clear that Ungar and Fillion have a passion for the source material and, despite the severe limitations they faced in making this film, were able to use their passion and understanding of the games to make something that is exactly what fans are looking for. In 15 minutes, the "Uncharted" fan film manages to showcase better understanding of its source material than many video game movies manage to show in a feature-length runtime (about 2 hours).
Since the film has been released to Youtube as a passion project, it appears that Sony may be willing to allow the short film to stay on Youtube, which puts the company in an odd place. Sony currently has their own feature-length "Uncharted" film in development. However, this fan film has cast new scrutiny onto that version of the film and how in-touch it is with what people actually want from an "Uncharted" film.
Ungar mentioned in an interview about the short film that he was inspired to make it by the short film "Power/Rangers" from 2015. Like with Ungar's own film, that short film was well-received by fans of the source material, despite being a grittier reimagining of the original "Power Rangers." The reimagining was successful enough online that it apparently had some degree of influence on the 2017 "Power Rangers" movie released by Lionsgate, which also sought to be a grittier, more grounded version of the original "Power Rangers" story.
It's interesting to me that Ungar cites "Power/Rangers" as an inspiration, because I think that the success of Ungar's film could have some influence on the Sony adaptation, the same way "Power/Rangers" influenced the Lionsgate film. This is admittedly a slightly different situation; while the "Power Rangers" movie was already moving forward when the fan film was released, the "Uncharted" film is still in its earliest stage of development and has been for about nine years. Back then, Nathan Fillion had already demonstrated an interest in playing Nathan Drake and had even started a Twitter campaign to promote the idea. The most recent news about the Sony version of the film is that Tom Holland, aka the current Spiderman, will be starring and that the movie will be a prequel to the "Uncharted" games, featuring a younger version of Nathan Drake. The studio has stated that this idea is in an effort to create an original "Uncharted" storyline and to do something different from the games, giving the movie greater relevance. While I understand this desire, I can't help but look at the positive reception this "Uncharted" short film has had and think that this is another case of a studio not knowing what to do with a video game movie.
I will never be one to say that Hollywood should always take directions for its films from online fan communities. The creatives that work in Hollywood have worked hard and have had to think of some pretty unique ideas in order to get to where they are. Sometimes, an artist adapting a franchise has a better idea of what will make that adaptation successful than an entire fan community; I imagine that "The Dark Knight" would have gotten pretty messy had Christopher Nolan started taking pointers from Batman fans on the internet. The advantage that Hollywood creatives have is that, on rare occasions, they are able to rise above what a fanbase wants and, instead, give them what they need.
Adapting "Uncharted" to film with a prequel starring a younger actor is probably not what fans want from the movie. Director Allan Ungar and Nathan Fillion have taken what fans DO want to see from an Uncharted movie and visualized it, making Uncharted fans hungrier from more of that. Since studios have such a history of messing up video game movies, and this fan film seems to have captured what the fans really hope to see, maybe this is one of those times that Hollywood should take a hint from outside of the boardroom?
Even if that doesn't happen, I suppose this fan film still shows that, if you really want something done right, you should do it yourself. Sony has been fumbling with this movie for almost a decade, so Allan Ungar and Nathan Fillion took matters into their own hands and brought their love of "Uncharted" to life. In a world where the little guy with a creative vision is often beat out by the mass entertainment industry, it's always nice to hear that, every now and then, the little guy can still win.
If you're a fan of "Uncharted," check out the fan film here.