The Blog

Minecraft The Movie: How Will The Adaptation Respond To The Challenge Of Creativity?

Mark O'Thomas

We are still at least two years away from the world premiere of Minecraft: The Movie - the first cinematic attempt to adapt the spectacularly popular virtual world-building game that has the capacity to be both multi-player and multi-platform.

What the film will look like is anybody's guess right now but one thing that is very clear is the huge task in capturing a game which on the one hand enables users to create their own 3D worlds and on the other builds in real and tangible threats of violence that can end in the certain (game-play) death of individual players.

The constant tension between creativity and survival - characterised as two distinctly separate play modes within the Minecraft architecture - highlights the narratological problem that the scriptwriters for the movie must now grapple with: how can it be possible to adapt Minecraft into one single, definable story? While the game does acknowledge various levels of attainment and some sense of an overarching aim (to kill the Ender Dragon, for example), such narratives are formulated as potential subplots set alongside the overriding impetus to create a new world in the player's own image - something that situates the direction of gameplay firmly within the hands of the gamer.

It is remarkable how young children barely old enough to grip a pencil are able to manipulate game controllers to mine for raw materials, construct buildings and engage in virtual activities such as farming in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. These new digitally native super-millennials expect screens to be touch and the virtual to be proximal. While the building blocks of Minecraft may appear to an adult to be just a clunky, simplistic version of screen Lego, the limitations of the constraints engendered by its 3D cubes make for a stable platform from which creativity may begin to engage, develop and reformulate.

Attempts to adapt games for film have met with varying degrees of box office and critical success (two success indicators that do not necessarily go hand in hand). The first attempt to adapt a video game for cinema dates back more than 20 years with the movie adaptation of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros (1993), a film that bombed at the box office losing Disney more than $27 million in the process. Undeterred, studios have consistently sourced movie ideas from games with notable box office successes including Mortal Kombat (1995) Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010).

However, where all of these adaptations have failed to succeed is in their ability to garner the kind of critical success achieved by other films in the genre aimed at the same demographic such as those emanating from the Lego franchise. Similarly, the recent Adam Sandler vehicle Pixels (2015) - which revisited the arcade games of the 1980s through the flimsy but whimsical premise of an alien attack whose theatre of war gets played out through the medium of Pacman, Galaga and Donkey Kong - was far more successful at the box office than with the critics where it was panned almost universally, demonstrating once again that revisiting digital games for cinema makes clear economic sense. It would seem, then, that while digital game adaptations are able to profit from healthy numbers of players who are more than ready to exchange gaming for a cinematic experience, the content of the movies ultimately does not deliver on the loftier ambitions of critics.

It is clear, then, that Minecraft: The Movie makes absolute financial sense and despite the challenges of adapting multiplayer, multiplatform, multi-narrative play to a 2D singular narrative mode and the consequent possibility of privileging a singular, preferred route through the game, these obstacles will be overcome. With over 27 million users worldwide, Warner Bros and its Lego Movie-producing partner Vertigo Entertainment, cannot really go wrong.