Tomorrowland: Brad Bird's Bioshock

When the second trailer for Disney’s Tomorrowland was released, various websites on the Internet began to spot an interesting similarity between the new live-action picture and one of the most popular video game series in the past decade. Director Brad Bird‘s optimistic opus about the potential of the future bore an eerie resemblance to Bioshock, a game series about dystopia and the different ways ideology can be taken too far. Some found the similarities so uncanny as to create a mash-up trailer combining elements from both properties:

Marketing does not always reflect the reality of the movie. That said, having seen Tomorrowland and played through all three Bioshock games, all I can say is: yep.

Warning: mild spoilers to follow.

The most obvious similarity exists in the concept. A futuristic society is created with the desire of being “better” than the rest of the world. Something goes wrong and it is up to an outsider to fix it. Right there I have just described the basic premise to both Tomorrowland and every Bioshock game. Yet the comparison does not stop there.

The movie opens with a young Frank Walker (the boy who will grow to be George Clooney), an inventor who arrives at the 1964 World’s Fair to show off his invention: the jetpack. Frank meets a mysterious girl, Athena (played very well by Raffey Cassidy) and is able to ascertain passage to Tomorrowland. What does the passage look like? Frank gets on a boat on the “It’s a Small World” ride. Halfway through, the waterway drops out and brings Frank to a seemingly endless body of water with a single walkway leading to a bathysphere. Sound familiar?

Depending on who you ask, "It's a Small World" is more or less ominous than a solitary lighthouse in the middle of the ocean.
Depending on who you ask, “It’s a Small World” is more or less ominous than a solitary lighthouse in the middle of the ocean.

Frank is next transported to Tomorrowland, a society founded and driven by one man: Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix is a leader who appears to have forsaken the rest of the world in favor of building his own vision of a better tomorrow. While his philosophy is slightly different, Nix is very comparable to the likes of Andrew Ryan and Zachary Comstock.

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won't take the hint! In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. " - Governor Nix
“You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. “
– Governor Nix

Yes a disconnected world with lofty ideals and an extremist leader – what could go wrong? The nature of the exact problem with Tomorrowland is partly what separates it from other dystopias like Rapture and Columbia. The stubbornness and unfeeling nature of Nix aside, Tomorrowland has created a technology that is interfering with the rest of the world. I won’t spoil what it is exactly, other than to say it ties in strongly with the overall theme of the movie (similar to how the problems with Rapture and Columbia tied in to the themes of those games).

The last comparison really worth mentioning is Athena, the single agent acting against the wishes of her master and bringing in outside help to Tomorrowland. She accompanies the heroes throughout the entire plot, chipping in where she can and providing evidence that not everything in Tomorrowland has gone wrong. She also plays an essential role in how the story is resolved. Sound familiar:

Athena does not throw coins to either George Clooney or , proving that she is not as financially useful as Elizabeth.
Athena does not throw coins to either George Clooney or Britt Robertson, proving that she is not as financially useful as Elizabeth.

Almost forgot: there are also nonhuman guardians protecting Tomorrowland, and its secrets, from intruders of the outside world. Do they look as cool as this:

bioshock_big_daddy_and_little_sisterNope, they look more like this:

a-scene-from-tomorrowland

It is difficult to say whether or not the wealth of similarities between Tomorrowland and the Bioshock series is anything more than coincidence. I have searched for information on whether or not Brad Bird is a gamer, and I have found none. Given his age (57), and where he is in life – I do not believe he has ever played Bioshock. Yet Damon Lindelof, who co-wrote Tomorrowland, may very well have – again I cannot be sure. The idea of the Bioshock series is not so revolutionary that it is impossible to believe other creative minds did not come up with it on their own. Humanity has been discussing utopia and dystopia for centuries.

And alike as they are, Tomorrowland and Bioshock do enjoy their differences. The main story arch is different between them, and Tomorrowland enjoys an optimism (that some reviewers have labeled preachy while this reviewer found refreshing) that Bioshock does not possess.

It could be argued that Disney should have embraced the Bioshock comparison more openly, as their movie is currently struggling for financial success.

Five Ideas for Potentially Fantastic New HBO Series

And when I say five ideas, I of course mean five intellectual properties that already exist… so five ideas that are not mine.

HBO has a long history of stellar television programming. Since the mid-1970s, HBO has created shows such as Oz, The Sopranos, Fraggle Rock (not kidding), The Wire, and Flight of the Concords. Their current broadcasting line-up includes Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and True Detective. In short: they make a lot of kick-ass shows. What does the future currently hold? Well, there is a post-rapture series known as The Leftovers in the works… that sounds interesting. Sadly, a miniseries based on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has just officially fallen through so that will not be happening.

Not that HBO needs help but American Gods would have made for a very interesting series (to say the least). There are other known series out there floating around, some are currently trying to land television networks. Here are five ideas for existing series that would be perfect for HBO to adapt into television:

Honorable Mention: Dune

Essentially Game of Thrones on a desert planet with giant worms. Look it up.

5. The Sandman

Forget American Gods, if there is any Neil Gaiman series that would make a killer show: it is The Sandman. This series of graphic novels is arguably the best piece of created work in that medium ever (sorry Watchmen). The plot revolves around a protagonist called Dream, who is one of the Endless (others include Destiny, Desire, Death, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction). Their names reflect their role in the world of humanity, which is obviously separate from their own. It sounds complicated because it is, and there really is no better way to understand the Sandman than to read it.

I could make sense of this image but I stand by my "just read it" philosophy.
I could make sense of this image but I stand by my “just read it” philosophy.

Unfortunately, this one is very unlikely. Two reasons: the first being that HBO already tried to get the show off the ground in 2010. It is unclear why the pitch fell through but, needless to say, it didn’t happen. Second, Hollywood (with the help of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have acquired the rights for a movie, due out at the end of 2016. Can the Sandman even work as a movie? I am very skeptical (this is a 75 issue series with a lot going on), nevertheless, this appears to be the direction that the adaptation is heading in.

4. Fables

The comic series by Bill Wilmington may be overstaying its welcome at this point (ending next year) but it is still perfect for a gritty HBO series. The story primarily follows Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf) who is the sheriff of a community of fables living in our world. They are outcasts, driven from their homelands. Bigby, along with the rest of his community, must try to keep themselves hidden as they plot to reconquer their homeland and defeat the unknown empire that has set up there.

Bigby is a very likeable protagonist, and his relationship with Snow White is one of the biggest "awwwws" in the series.
Bigby is a very likeable protagonist, and his relationship with Snow White is one of the biggest “awwwws” in the series.

While dealing with fantastical characters, this series handles everything in a very realistic manner, so it would not be one of those ideas torpedoed by budget costs. Apparently, a television series was already pursued on NBC without achieving any results. There is also a movie in very early stages. Fables would be at its best as a series. There are multiple protagonists and multiple villains.

 

Okay, that’s it for the safe choices. Now let’s get to the great untapped world of video game adaptations.

3. Metroid

The idea of an HBO series coming from a video game (made by family-friendly Nintendo) is untested. It has never been done. In Metroid, I believe the potential exists to create a very cool sci-fi drama revolving around bounty hunter Samus Aran. For those unfamiliar, in the Metroid series, Samus goes from planet to planet, looking for her targets. It is a very cold and solitary existence, which might present problems in terms of the supporting cast.

Still one of the biggest moments in gaming when Samus first removed her helmet and players realized that the badass they had been controlling was a woman.
Still one of the biggest moments in gaming when Samus first removed her helmet, and players realized that the badass they had been controlling was a woman.

In the past, Nintendo has tried to solve the problem in multiple ways. First, the hunters: they are simply other bounty hunters that Samus competes with. Secondly, in Metroid: Other M, her squad and trainer were introduced. However, I would stay away from this group as it was used to rob Samus of her agency in Other M. The feared bounty hunter suddenly became a little girl who had to ask permission from her superior male officer to use her weapons… it sounds like I’m exaggerating but that game was kinda sexist (it was bad).

Metroid is a risk but, the science fiction genre is huge right now and people love a strong female protagonist. Metroid could be a fantastic and unique series if done right.

2. BioShock

Arguably the most intellgient AAA game made in recent years, BioShock would be perfect for a dark horror/sci-fi series. The setting of Rapture, the city at the bottom of the sea, would be challenging but not impossible to pull off with modern day visual effects. Andrew Ryan’s (no relation to Ayn Rand) world of capitalism gone wild and elaborate gene splicing would create a welcome newcomer to television.

This series was already tried as a movie but failed. The primary reason was the dark nature of the subject material. Simply put: there is no way to make a true BioShock movie without it earning the R rating, something that companies shy away from as it tends to drive profits down. Solution: HBO series. Sex, grotesque murder, insane characters, children in danger… why that’s all the best parts of HBO right there.

Best part is the spinoff is already taken care of with BioShock Infinite.

1. Mass Effect

Stop me if this sounds familiar: a world consumed by politics while greater dangers come in from areas outside the political focus. Sounds so far-fetched right? Mass Effect follows the story of Commander Shepard, the man (or woman) trying to save the galaxy from itself…. and also a massive indestructible army of space squid called the Reapers. Shepard must travel from planet to planet, forging allies and eliminating enemies before time runs out. His crew: aliens from essentially every major race out there. His boss: occasionally the government (known as the Citadel), occasionally pro-human terrorists (Cerberus), and occasionally the military (he is a commander after all).

Mass Effect really would be perfect. The only thing holding it back is the budget requirements. This would be an expensive show. That said, it is still well within the realm of possibility. With the movie adaptation floundering under script difficulties (this is a massive story to condense into three two-hour segments), it seems like a well-made TV show is the way to go. If this is done right, it would be the next Star Trek… only, you know, popular when it initially airs.

So there they are, five ideas for HBO to pursue. Of course, if one is looking for actual quality television to watch, I recommend starting here.

10 Video Game Universes that Telltale Should be Exploring that Would be More Interesting than Borderlands

Telltale Games might be the equivalent of HBO in the video game series. That analogy could be a little poor, I do not think Telltale has the money or the fame of HBO, but they do have the best stories. Their game, the Walking Dead Season One is the best adventure game in recent times and could be a contender for the best ever. And Telltale has not stopped there. Since their explosion back into fame (after the abysmal Jurassic Park: the Video Game, which will be seen very soon), Telltale has expanded. They are currently producing two story games with two more on the way. The Wolf Among Us( from the Fables universe) is currently unfolding like an excellent crime novel with the player joyfully inhabiting a sheriff who happens to also be the Big Bad Wolf, and the Walking Dead Season Two continues all the gut-wrenching, no-winning scenarios that made the first game have such an impact. Later this year, Telltale will expand with a Game of Thrones adventure that will no doubt be filled with the sex, betrayal, and political intrigue that makes the show worth watching and the books worth reading… Telltale is also making a Borderlands adventure game…

Now I’ve never played either of the Borderlands games but I have seen enough of them to gleam that that is not a series known for its story. It is known for quirky characters and quirky guns and shooting said quirky characters with said quirky guns. Fun, to be sure, I look forward to playing them one day (I love the song that begins Borderlands 2), but I feel that Telltale is wasting their potential in terms of source material. The following are ten video game universes that would make for better fodder for choice-driven adventure games:

10. Earthbound

I’m not going to say much more about this one since I already touched upon it in an earlier article. Needless to say, Earthbound is one of the most charming role-playing game experiences to be found in earlier gaming, and it is a sad fate that it has vanished from the modern video gaming world. Since Nintendo seems to rather suicide to revival, I wish they would give the license to Telltale. At least we could finally hear Ness and Lucas brought to life, outside of punching noises.

Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.
Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.

9. Jade Empire

That’s right, forget Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Bioware’s worst original series would still make for better story fodder than Borderlands. If I were to describe the Jade Empire universe, I would liken it to a poor man’s Avatar: the Last Airbender. Nevertheless, there is sufficient mystery and mythology to make a worthwhile game. Heck, maybe Telltale could finally make the “philosophy” system into actual philosophy, as opposed to light side versus dark side.

Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.
Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.

8. Star Wars

Speaking of light side and dark side: come on. I know this is technically cheating (Star Wars is a film universe first) but there is such a rich history of Star Wars games that I feel it counts. From Knights of the Old Republic to the adventures of Kyle Katarn, Telltale could pick any time period they wished without impairing the story options. They could even set it during the prequels and give audiences the first good prequel plot (that’s right, I went there – go cry, George Lucas).

It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.
It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.

7. Warcraft

I’m going to blow your minds real quick: Blizzard already made a Warcraft adventure game. No, I’m not talking about World of Warcraft, I’m talking Warcraft Adventures. Never heard of it? That’s cause it was never released. Now, Blizzard games are great in every area except one: story. What’s the one thing Telltale excel at: story. Sounds like a happy marriage to me.

Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.
Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.

6. Prince of Persia

Assassin’s Creed has replaced Prince of Persia in terms of gameplay, no question. However, if one were to play the first modern Prince of Persia game again, one thing would become apparent: there’s a story there. Not just that but it’s great, it has compelling characters and a time travel mechanic that would be very interesting to incorporate into a choice-driven adventure game. Prince of Persia has no future against Assassin’s Creed, but maybe if the series were to change its identity, it could re-attract its fan base.

5. Wolfenstein

What better backdrop for an adventure game than World War II? What better World War II series than Wolfenstein? What better name for a main character than B.J. Blazkowicz? I’m not kidding, that’s his name. It’s supposed to be a serious game. Awesome.

Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.
Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.

4. Dungeon Keeper

EA has done wrong by Dungeon Keeper. This newly released mobile game: they can go fornicate themselves with an iron stick. Dungeon Keeper, the first game in particular, was one of the most in-depth sandbox games ever made. Despite the fact that none of your minions talked, they all had a personality. Imagine if they did talk and you played a wonderful adventure game as the bad guy?

So many possibilities.
So many possibilities.

3. Saint’s Row

I know, you’re saying what? Let me explain: this would be the parody game, the game to mock all other adventure games. Saint’s Row has already established itself as the parody series, have you seen the intro to Saint’s Row IV (it’s amazing). Telltale is at the height of the adventure game market, meaning they have earned the right to poke fun at themselves and the industry. No better way to do that then getting personal with the Third Street Saints.

I feel that this could be the title for the game.
I feel that this could be the title for the game.

2. Oregon Trail

Think about it, think about what made the first Oregon Trail game so amazing. Anything could happen: someone in your party could get sick, bit by a snake, or drowned in a river crossing. You could lose the trail for a few days or get helped by Native Americans. You could shoot so many animals (SO MANY). Now imagine an Oregon Trail game where you got more direct control of your party and they were all flushed out characters. Oh, and your choices dictate if you survive or not: bitchin’.

Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).
Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).

1. Bioshock

Why should Ken Levine get to have all the fun? Irrational Games is gone but Bioshock can live on. It was the story that made those game so memorable in the first place. Who better to continue the legacy than Telltale Games?

 

Maybe Telltale will prove me wrong and Tales From the Borderlands will be riveting. I hope it is. They will be able to take all the credit (or all the blame) for whatever story they come up with though. Maybe that was the point of it all along.