So in what kind of took the world by surprise, Netflix suddenly announced last week that they’re working on a live-action Legend of Zelda series, an adaptation of one of gaming’s biggest legends. Aside from the fact that Nintendo has had their troubles adapting to modern social media, Internet services, and the like in recent years, the idea of a live-action television series based on something as coveted by gamers and nerds as this raises more than a few flags, things that feel a bit iffy and ways that it could go wrong.
…Of course, there are also a number of ways this could turn out to be a good thing as well, but positivity hasn’t been paying the bills around here recently, so we’re going to go Lou Bloom on this mofo instead. So why be cautious about all of this? Well…
6. Simply Being a Netflix Original Program Is Not a Guaranteed Success
Well, we may as well start with the folks making this all possible. Since the announcement, some people have been raving that this Zelda series will be a guaranteed success simply due to it being a part of Netflix’s original programming. After all, they’ve provided a variety of shows vastly superior to anything you might find on cable! Shows like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and…um…other shows? I suppose?
Look, I don’t want to piss on Netflix’s original programming here; they’ve been doing good work. But to call them the absolute saviors of television who hand out golden tickets to any show that joins them might be a bit of a stretch, especially for original programming that’s still in its relative youth. Remember when we thought AMC were at the forefront of television’s golden age because of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, and today they’re basically just known for Breaking Bad and Walking Dead spin-offs and marathons, with a lot of failed attempts to replicate that success in between? I can’t help but feel like Netflix Original Programming is headed down a similar path, especially since these are also the folks who want to debut twenty original shows a year. You seriously cannot expect that much productivity without some dip in quality. Case in point: Richie Rich, another adaptation debuting this month.
Again, not trying to dis Netflix here, just saying that the people behind such gems as Hemlock Grove and Bad Samaritans aren’t exactly going to pump out gold every time. But to put this in perspective, we are letting the people who willingly thought “You know what this world needs? Four new Adam Sandler movies!!” handle The Legend of Zelda. Think about that.
5. The Connections to Other Popular Fantasy Series Might Get Overplayed
So in our previous article concerning the initial announcement of the series, we already went over the annoyance of comparing the series to a family-friendly Game of Thrones, because apparently the marketing team decided that one of the most legendary video game franchises ever wasn’t big enough to sell itself.
This might apply more to the marketing of the series, but the last thing we need is for some dullards who still don’t understand video games to try and sell an adaptation of one of the most iconic video games ever by playing up any comparisons to Game of Thrones and The Lord of The Rings, a.k.a. the only fantasy franchises Hollywood believes the average American has any knowledge of. The Zelda universe is still vastly different from any of them, has a lot of variety and uniqueness to it, and can easily stand on its own, thank you very much. And I certainly don’t want elements from those franchises being forced in by the execs because they feel average folks won’t go for a series related to a video game as is (because these newfangled “video games” are a scary thing for Joe Six-Pack to handle, amirite?).
Obviously, I’m not saying a few elements from those franchises shouldn’t make it in – as some have suggested, having some political elements like in GoT could help flesh out the Zelda universe – but if I’m watching a Legend of Zelda series, it’s because I want to see a different yet familiar take on The Legend of Zelda, not Game of Thrones Jr.
4. Their Take on the Zelda Universe Could Be a Disaster
Now, one positive thing about working with the world of Hyrule is that you have several different eras, lands, and angles to work with. Flooded lands filled with sea-faring adventures, journeys between vastly different parallel worlds, oncoming disasters involving creepy-ass moons, et cetera. So there’s a near-infinite number of interpretations to work with here that could make for a great story…unfortunately, the door swings both ways, and there just as many scenarios that could lead to a bad story as well. There’s overly gritty and trying too hard to be mature, overly campy and too light-hearted, but even worse, we could wind up with a case where there’s no unique scenario at all.
See, all of the unique hooks in the Zelda games are there for gameplay purposes as well as well as story purposes: Sailing, the ability to turn two-dimensional, woodwind-based time manipulation, and such. Trying to think of a unique, eye-catching angle like that for a TV show based on the series and having to sell it to both die-hard fans and non-gamers is a trickier sell. And trust me, it needs one: we do not want a Zelda series where there’s no hook.
You know what I’m talking about: A mandated origin story. Yes, in a sense, all Zelda games are an origin story with the different incarnations of Link and all, but I’m talking about a back-to-basics adaptation of the original game, nothing but the core bits of the original Zelda games, presented like clockwork in a way that fans can see coming from a mile away. That would be the laziest route possible to take when creating a new version of a decades-old character, so odds are that’s the route they’ll sadly take. And I think it’s safe to say that while we have a lot of big Zelda fans here, we’re fine when it comes to the basics. We don’t need another Amazing Spider-Man scenario, thank you very much.
3. Link Could End up an Extremely Bland Character
Now, moments after the news broke out, jokes emerged either concerning a show where Link and/or the rest of the cast is mute. That’s cute and all, but it’s a safe bet they’re going to have Link speak and give him a more fleshed-out personality, and we need to be prepared for what happens. Yes, we can all laugh at the horrible ’80s animated depiction of Link as seen earlier, but again, the bigger crime here isn’t just being a bad Link, it’s being a boring Link.
Again, much like Hyrule itself, the number of different versions of Link to work with is near-infinite. But I can’t help but shake the feeling that we’re just going to get another Jack Shephard here: The whitest, most boring guy possible who never does anything exciting and yet we’re told is the main character we’re supposed to root for anyway. And since Link is a younger character, there’s a danger of casting whatever random white-bread pretty-boy that Hollywood keeps insisting is the next big movie hero or whatnot to play Link as well. You know, your Kellan Lutzes, Joel Kinnamans, Jai Courtneys and whatnot. Oh god, and I just realized there’s a good chance they’ll botch any romantic scenes between Link and Zelda, which you know they’ll play up…
Mind you, theoretically they don’t even need to have Link in the beginning, and could just make this a show more about Hyrule and the stories going on in it that lead up the types of big events that happen to the games, when we’d be ready for Link (and even then, they could still make the show more about an ensemble). But I have my doubts.
2. Nintendo Could Get Too Protective
Now, I’ve mentioned the possibility of blandness a lot, and there’s a reason for that…namely that this is still Nintendo’s baby, and not wanting their brand hurt, they might want to play things more safe. Now, I and others have been quite vocal about how one of Nintendo’s big weaknesses these days is how they care little for story and character development. Yes, gameplay is always priority one, obviously. But in an age where story matters in video games more than ever, Nintendo has almost been going in the opposite direction, pulling such moves as dialing back Paper Mario: Sticker Star‘s story to the bare basics; or for something more relevant, when they whittled down an entire Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess side-story until it became Link’s Crossbow Training. So handing off one of their properties so that someone else can help flesh things out might seem like a good idea.
Alas, Nintendo still hasn’t been the kind of company who takes big risks in terms of developing their characters and universes. In 1996, they blew minds when they had Mario say “It’s a-me, Mario!” in a major Mario game, and nearly twenty years later, that still basically represents all of the character development they’ve allowed him to have. So depending on how much control Nintendo exactly has over this project, they could be crafting the guidelines or have final say on everything, and if they feel any radical changes or plot elements might hurt the franchise’s image, regardless of how interesting they are, expect them to most likely be shot down.
The again, given what happened in previous occasions where Nintendo let others take a crack at the story from one of their popular franchises…
…Their concerns may be justified. Honestly, Metroid: Other M itself simply serves as an example of what can go wrong when handling one of Nintendo’s properties, so Netflix, see that? Don’t do that as well.
1. This Still Feels Like a Victim of the Animation Age Ghetto
In the end, though, there was still one question in the back of my mind that annoyed me the most when it came to all of this…why live-action? You would think that animation would be a much better fit for a way to tell Zelda stories, especially given the more cartoonish-feeling games such as Wind Waker that allowed for more expressions and personality from the characters, and the general fact that there just seems like there would be more scenes, monsters, and visuals from the world of Hyrule that would work better when animated. Why go realistic, which would have more constraints and feel less natural for something such as Zelda?
Then I remembered when Netflix premiered BoJack Horseman, and for the next month or so I was seeing ads and articles all saying the same headline or others like it: “This Cartoon Is Definitely NOT For Kids.” Yes, despite the existence of numerous animated shows on the airwaves either for kids that appeal to all ages, or more directly for adults that are mature in different ways, the average entertainment honcho’s reaction to any of these shows is apparently still “An adult watching a cartoon?? W-W-W-WHAT KIND OF SORCERY IS THIS???”
Combine this with a direct message saying that this is meant to be a family friendly series, and what we clearly have here is an attempt to pander to as wide of an audience as possible while making it seem as though animation is a lesser form of art and that live-action makes everything feel more mature. Yep, looks like we’re still stuck in the animation age ghetto here with Zelda.
Could you imagine a Tartakovsky-styled Samurai Jack-ish adventure where Link actually does speak little dialogue and actions speak louder than words? Or a cartoon along the lines of/tie-in to the Zelda manga which ran in Nintendo Power and that Viz is reprinting? If Nintendo or Netflix had announced that, then boom. Mic dropped. You’d win, Nintendo. I would renew my Netflix subscription for that alone – you have me there. But you didn’t go that route, and now you have something that I’m more cautious over. Sorry, guys.
That all being said, I realize a lot of this is still speculation, and yes, a live-action Legend of Zelda series could turn out just fine. And hell, I obviously don’t want it to be bad. So to end this all on a note of positivity, what say we have a little contest?
So here’s the deal: Pitch me a premise for a great live-action Legend of Zelda series. Yes, I’ve shown Nintendo and Netflix a bit of what not to do, now it’s up to you to show me how it can be done. So give me your best ideas in the comments here (alongside anything else you’d like to say, naturally), and the winner gets any 3DS or Wii U eShop game of their choice that’s $10 or less. Sorry, but we don’t have the budget for the bigger stuff here. The contest ends in a week on February 17th, though, so get cracking, and here’s hoping this all still turns out better than expected.
Previously by Kyle LeClair:
TR’s 10 Best Video Games of 2014 (With Honorable Mentions)
The 17 World Premiere Trailers From The Game Awards 2014
6 Reasons Grim Fandango Still Holds Up As One of the Greatest Games Ever
5 Things That Make South Park: The Stick of Truth Awesome (and 2 That Make It Lame)