Why J.J. Abrams Should Not Make a Portal/Half Life Movie

On Wednesday February 6th, 2013 at the Dice Summit in Las Vegas during a presentation by J.J. Abrams and Valve’s Gabe Newell titled “Storytelling across platforms: Who benefits most, the audience or the player?” a major partnership was announced between the two men about working together on future movie and game projects. Of those projects, there was a mention of potentially looking into a Half-Life or Portal movie.

I am sure I reacted the same as anyone else would have, excited for the potential not just to see either of the games put on the big screen, but more-so excited just to see something new from both of these worlds. Whether it be new merchandising, game add-ons, rumored sequels, or movies, most of us are excited at any moment there is a mention of something “new” for either Portal or Half-Life. But, I have to express my concern on this one, do we really want these great games to go through the risky game-to-film adaptation? I would think that most of us are familiar of the success vs. failure ratio of video game movies and understand this is a high risk situation.


But, wait, they got ole’ J.J. don’t they? So there is no need for concern, right?

Although I’m not arguing if Abrams is a qualified candidate to take on this project, I must say of late Abrams seems to be the “safe” choice when it comes to sci-fi films. This worries me simply because there is a risk of the movie being done safely instead of being done correctly. Sure, the film may come out, be good, and create an even larger Portal or Half-Life following, but will the films really be given the correct cast, script, or directors? Will the films do justice for those of us that have followed these franchises for years with unwavering commitment? My guess would be no; most major films are made carefully in order to gain the largest audience possible, and therefore, make money.

Consider also how difficult both of these films will be to make into a movie. While venting about this to my roommate, he made a great suggestion that maybe a Portal film can focus more on Aperture than on trying to turn the gameplay into a film. I thought this was an acceptable idea, but I also do not think it would be the film we all want. Half-Life would be even more difficult due to the obvious lacking of dialogue from the protagonist. But, the right director could make this work, maybe.

My biggest hope is that these films will not be made solely with default choices. Abrams, again I like the guy and most of his films, still feels to me like the default choice. In regards to Half-Life and Portal, I don’t think I would have anyone I would suggest as a better choice of director/producer, but I also don’t really want to see these films made. I would hope I am not the only one that doesnt want to see these amazing, and somewhat life changing, franchises be destroyed by a) a horribly made movie, or b) a movie done well that captures a large audience of people that will dedicate themselves to the movies while never experiencing the game.

There are many of us that have spent years upon years recruiting others to experience Half-Life and Portal and have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on merchandise related to these games. I personally have a bathroom ensconced in Aperture merchandise! I would say we deserve to keep these game where they are, stuck somewhat in limbo between subculture popularity and worldwide success. I like that maybe 1 out of every 10 people I talk to have even heard of Portal or Half-Life and I dread the day my parents and grandparents can reference either of these titles as a movie without having any understanding of their origins.

SO, what do you all think? Is J.J. Abrams the right man for the job? Should these great titles be released as movies?

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  1. Rarenax

    A portal movie portraying GLaDOS will be impossible, and GLaDOS is the heart of Portal. For me, one of the highlights of the Portal franchise is its humor, humor spewed by the robot herself. But how to do a movie where GLaDOS can make use of that humor AND STILL be a serious “constantly-in-the-back-of-your-mind” psychotic, murderous threat? If there’s a movie, they will either have to focus on one or the other aspect, as I foresee that trying to meld both will be a disaster.
    I mean, there have been endearing villains in film history, but they were villains with a tragic past or a change of heart at some point. GLaDOS on the other hand is evil from beginning to end (in the first Portal, which is the most viable for a movie, as Portal 2 goes off on a tangent a bit, for me). Even then, beeing pure evil, the player grows attached to her. How to pull this off in a movie? Movies cannot replicate the immersive experience of playing the game, which is what eases the attachment and makes Portal and GLaDOS so awesome.
    Either way, the vibe GLaDOS gives throughout the games can’t be repeated in a movie IMO, and therefore the essence of Portal as a whole wont be properly displayed in the big screen. The villain is just too complex to get right. And in this case, the villain IS what makes the game, so no cigar.

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