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SYFY WIRE Uncharted

'Uncharted' is the modern-day 'Indiana Jones,' but can it survive the jump from game to movie?

If anyone can break the video game movie curse, it's Nathan Drake.

By Trent Moore
Uncharted 1

To say that the Uncharted movie has been a long time coming would be an understatement.

The Uncharted franchise has been one of the biggest gaming hits of the modern Playstation era, with the franchise as a whole selling close to 30 million copies since the first game debuted back in 2007 on the PS3. If you’re unfamiliar, the games are basically the sweet spot between the Indiana Jones aesthetic and Tomb Raider gameplay — and now the high-flying adventures of Nathan Drake are coming to the big screen.

So what makes the Uncharted franchise tick, and is it something that can make the transition from video game to film?

One key reason the Uncharted games work so well — aside from the fact that they’re well made and incredibly fun, of course — is that it takes a formula we know and already love, and puts just enough of a fresh coat of paint on it to make it feel new again. Nathan Drake is basically (you guessed it) a modern-day Indiana Jones, with a mischievous smile and a habit of getting himself into trouble chasing after all kinds of long lost treasures across the globe.

The games have done a great job of populating the Uncharted world with fleshed out, likable characters and compelling stories — which is obviously necessary when you’re asking folks to spend dozens and dozens of hours in that world, as opposed to the commitment a two-hour movie requires. It only works because we care, and with friends like Sully, Elena and Chloe all there with Nate, they’ve created adventures that millions of fans have been happy to join in and go along for the ride.

It’s a formula that, once again, turned Indiana Jones into a cultural staple for decades. It wasn’t just Harrison Ford’s free-wheeling hero we were watching across all those movies — it was seeing him team up with his father Henry, and Short Round, and Marion that made us truly care about something other than whether or not Indy would beat the Nazis, or find the Holy Grail.

Across five mainline games and a few smaller spinoffs, millions of fans have already followed Nathan Drake on some of the wildest swashbuckling adventures this side of Lara Croft (or, ahem, a certain Mr. Jones). It brought the adventure and feel of Indiana Jones to life in video game form, letting us all channel our inner treasure-hunter — even though we all know the upper-body strength required for that much ledge climbing is simply inhuman.

Uncharted took the Indiana Jones playbook and turned it into a video game, and became one of the biggest franchises in the medium along the way. But it now begs the question: Does the river run two ways? We know Uncharted works as a video game — we have almost half-a-dozen fantastic games to prove that point.

But can Uncharted work as a movie? It’s built from the same DNA as Indiana Jones, but the act of taking that formula into an interactive space made it fresh. But taking it the other way? Back to where that concept was built in the first place? Put simply: The biggest challenge here is making a movie that isn’t just a pale imitation of something Indiana Jones already did really, really well decades earlier.

Thankfully, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) seems to be on the right track with this long-awaited adaptation. Sony has been trying to turn the games into a movie ever since the first Uncharted became a breakout hit back in the late 2000s, with everyone from Chris Pratt to Nathan Fillion rumored to take on the starring role (Fillion actually did play Nathan Drake in an Uncharted fan film a few years back, which was fantastic). 

A shot-for-shot remake of the games would’ve been a tough approach, since millions of fans already know that story (and its twists, turns and character beats) pretty well. So instead they opted for a prequel — telling a story about a younger Nate on an early adventure, with the new film almost serving as an untold chapter in the saga fans already love. The film looks to be a complement to the story, not some new thing trying to reboot it.

That’s a fairly unique approach when it comes to a video game adaptation, where most try to remix the games (we’re looking at you, Resident Evil) or tell a new version (which was admittedly a good move for Sonic the Hedgehog). But with a world that’s already been built so well and populated with great stories that so many people have already played through themselves, why not try a new chapter instead of retelling one we already know?

Even better, they seem to have nailed the casting.

Having wrapped up the first chapter of his epic Marvel Studios/Sony deal, Tom Holland is on top of the world after Spider-Man: No Way Home. Mark Wahlberg is a bankable star in the supporting role as a younger Sully, and Sophia Ali (Grey’s Anatomy) looks to be perfect for a young Chloe Frazer.

If Uncharted can manage to make the jump and be a box office hit in the process, it could finally take the baton from Indiana Jones and give us a new treasure-hunter on the big screen for a whole new generation of adventures. And yes, we realize there actually is another Indiana Jones film on the way (James Mangold is directing a fifth Indy film set for 2023). But lets be honest, Harrison Ford is pushing 80 and the physical challenges of action blockbusters could be bumping up against Father Time at this point.

Now we just need to get Nate a hat and whip. Oh well, at least he has Francis Drake’s trademark ring to get him started. Sic Parvis Magna, indeed.