How to make a Death Stranding film

Written by Alex Martin

06 Dec 2019

When I first got into gaming in my college years, I always looked at games and wondered “what would this be like as a film?”, most likely because of the cinematic scope of modern gaming. As such, I've spent some time conceptualising film adaptations of Heavy Rain, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Bioshock Infinite and others in my head. However, in real life, there does exist a “video game film curse”, wherein attempts to adapt games into films have resulted in mediocre or just plain awful films. Video game films I've personally seen such as Hitman (the 2007 one), Assassin's Creed and Tomb Raider (the 2018 one) have just failed to hit the mark in many ways (and Silent Hill: Revelation was barely even a film, my lord). Despite this, I remain steadfast in my opinion that a great video game film is still possible if the right amount of care and attention is applied.

[Norman was incredibly lost on his way to the nursery (]

Cut to early November 2019 where Jacksepticeye uploads the first part of his playthrough of the latest game creation from Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding, a game that intrigued people in its promotional material with bizarre unexplained visuals, impressive cast and vagueness. As I started to watch, those old gears started turning. In a film industry where purely original ideas are scarce, a Death Stranding film would give us a nice slice of surreal originality. However this time around, due to my knowledge of actors, films and filmmakers being increased, I had greater, stronger and more detailed ideas about casting, the director and producer, film location, etc. that would work in my opinion. Even as I write this article I get more similar ideas. This was further fuelled by certain tidbits of information that only delivered more intrigue.

Now allow me to just say this; I'm not doing this article with the attitude of “I know better than you” or “this is how it should be done”. I'm not a filmmaker, actor or anything like that, I didn't even study film in college/university. I just developed an enthusiasm for all types of films in my teenage years, gaining more knowledge, about directors, films and soundtracks and ideas as to what makes a good film. Should a fancy Hollywood exec see this (which I doubt) and they love my ideas, great, and if they don't, also great. All this is is me giving some ideas and explanations for them. In a sense, this is a slight departure from my usual articles; this was originally going to be a Facebook post for my friends to see but I just simply thought “fuck it, I'm gonna do an article instead” (which turned out to be a great idea; I've been able to expand upon several ideas).

The following are the listed points/opinions I have about how to make the perfect Death Stranding film:

Director – The game has an original, high-concept feel so we need a director who will deliver a similar grandeur. As such, I think that Alex Garland is a perfect choice, not only for spearheading such a project but for drawing out its true potential. Even though he's a director with only two films under his belt, they remain unique and deep, bringing up philosophical points for the audience to meditate on. That aspect of his films shares a lot of similarities with the game's mythos; not everything is explained and you have to look for the answers. What Garland could also do is give a Death Stranding film a little something extra - he could make it scary. Maybe it's because when the game, a Hideo Kojima game with Norman Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro attached to it, was announced, it instantly and continuously reminded me of the cancelled Silent Hills, the first attempt at a collaboration between the three, but I remember watching the playthrough just thinking “this could be scarier”. I mean, there is a lot of horror potential; ghosts that attack you with tar, several faceless dark figures that try to pull you into said tar, creatures made of the tar and an all-around disturbing/”weird” premise. Garland has proved himself capable of horror; his first film, Ex Machina (one of my favourite sci-fi films) was unsettling from the moment it began and stayed that way throughout, and his second film, Annihilation, was him focusing on a proper psychological horror experience. The guy even has executive producer credits for 28 Weeks Later and writing credits for 28 Days Later and Sunshine.

Producer – Now I may not fully understand what it is that a producer or an executive producer does but I think that J.J. Abrams, who's had tons of experience with character-centric unique sci-fi, would be a perfect choice for a producer. I know how it may look, putting a filmmaker with a lesser filmography in the director's seat and leaving the more accomplished filmmaker in the producing role but I do believe that Garland has what's necessary for the task. Besides, Abrams is the perfect person to join the team, making Mission Impossible 3 and both Star Trek and Star Wars films and being linked to such TV shows like Lost, Almost Human and Westworld. Hell, the guy is even co-writing a Spider-Man comic right now.

[Before working on Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima, Guillermo Del Toro and Norman Reedus previously worked together on the much-hyped Silent Hills before it was unfortunately cancelled. (]

Film location – A lot of gameplay time is spent traversing the game's desolate, haunted but strangely picturesque world so we'd need a film location that can easily provide that environment. I have heard that the game's world was based on Iceland, and I’ve got to say that after going on a holiday there in 2018, I completely agree with that thinking; as a country, Iceland is beautiful. A country shouldn't look this good but Iceland is an exception. Iceland has been used as a filming location for Vikings, the Black Mirror episode “Crocodile” and Game Of Thrones, so there are people who understand that this country is great to film in. Other places I'd recommend for film locations are New Zealand (also known as Middle Earth in real life), Ireland and Wales. I will, however, hold up both my hands and say that I have no idea where you could go to film the “snowy mountain” parts of the game.

Cast – Having a lot of experience playing a quiet, brooding loner, Norman Reedus could definitely reprise his role as Sam Porter Bridges. I've always thought it would be cool to see an actor who played a character in a game play the same character again in a live-action format; something we haven't seen before. A few other actors could also reprise their roles. I haven't seen Margaret Qualley in anything really but her playing the dual roles of Mama/Målingen and Lockne could be a nice opportunity for her to show off her skills, Mads Mikkelsen, an accomplished villain actor, could absolutely reprise his role as Clifford Unger and Lindsay Wagner could also reprise her short role as Bridget Strand. Amelie Strand, Bridget's daughter who's also played by Wagner in the game, would have to be played by a different actress, as I feel like introducing a de-aged character feels unnecessary. Now we're getting more into the realm of fan-casting, with me fantasising and proposing who else I'd want in the film, so despite how silly and juvenile it may seem, of course, you're perfectly entitled to put in your own ideas to fill in the blanks, this is just what I think. Now honestly when I first saw Amelie, I thought she looked like Jessalyn Gilsig (Heroes, Vikings), so I'd look into putting her in the film. Lea Seydoux as Fragile didn't really impress me personally that much so if we were to recast her, I'd like Marion Cotillard as we haven't seen her in anything for a while. Slightly similar case with Die-Hardman (yes, that is a real name for one of the characters in the game). I'm sure Tommie Earl Jenkins could probably do a good job as the character; he does have the game's best acting moment with a four-and-a-half-minute-long emotional, and slightly melodramatic, monologue towards the end, but I can't see anything from his filmography that would stand out enough to make him appealing enough for the role. Should Jenkins not be chosen I think Jeffery Wright would be a good choice; a fine actor who's also a great vocal performer, which would come in handy as the character would remain masked for the majority. The characters Deadman and Heartman, who use the likeness of directors Guillermo Del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn respectively, will most likely have to be recast, probably with two actors who are roundabout in their 50's or older. For Deadman, we need a Mexican actor or at least an actor who can do that kind of accent, because of that I'd recommend Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, The Maze Runner films, The Boys) who's charismatic enough to play the role. For Heartman, we'd need an actor with a “London English” accent (not northern, not scouse, etc.) and my mind seems to have settled on Andrew Lincoln. His time as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead has shown that the guy has some serious acting chops that could come in handy. It would also be nice to see him reunite with his old screen partner Norman Reedus. Finally, the character of Higgs Monaghan is somewhat difficult. If he was to remain masked throughout I'd love Troy Baker to again voice the character, as he's my favourite voice actor, but I'm not sure how I feel about leaving one of the game's/film's main villains in the hands of an actor who's live-action career I'm not confident about. If we were to have him take his mask off though, which admittedly means we would get more out of the character, I'd suggest none other than Tom Hardy. I really shouldn't have to point out how good an idea of casting Tom Hardy is. The rest of the cast could just consist of cameos of other stars from the game, and maybe even Hideo Kojima himself, as people accepting deliveries.

[Some art/a poster promoting the game, featuring most of the main characters. The only characters not present are Bridget and Lockne. (]

Story – Sadly, to adapt the game into a film, the game's story would have to be rewritten, albeit only slightly. Most of its gameplay consists of deliveries and two or more hours of deliveries won't sell as a movie. Instead, I would reduce deliveries to the background, resulting in more of a “road-trip” film, focusing instead on the plot points of the rescue of Amelie, the mission to take down Higgs and the mystery surrounding Clifford, with a few flashbacks being used to set up events previously shown. The “episode” aspect to the game would also benefit because of this. After a slight change from “episode” to “chapter”, each “chapter” could be spent interacting with all the film's characters individually, with their interactions progressing the plot, leading up to the film's climax. Now I don't know what this reshaped story would be like, I'm not a Hollywood screenwriter, all I can say that this different approach to the game's story, focusing on fewer characters, would bring out more of an isolated feel, adding more flavour to the story and world and save more money on castings.

Humour – The game, though mainly serious, does have room for some humour. As such, said humour is goofy and takes you by surprise. Some examples of the game's goofiness are some animations from Sam's odradeck, an IRL “thumbs up/heart/liking system” that you would normally find on social media platforms and a scene where a baby gives someone the middle finger. There is also some room for self-aware humour, usually found in the character of Higgs. I'm not necessarily expecting for humour to be continuously hammered in, I mean, we're not making a Marvel film, but a little bit of unique humour would help to make an already interesting film more fun.

Music – Now as much as I would like Jordan Fish, the keyboardist and creative mind behind Bring Me The Horizon, to co-work on the film's soundtrack, I'm probably just being biased by my love for the band, although in my defence “Ludens” is truly an incredible song, addictive and taking heavy lyrical inspiration from the game. In actuality, the game's music was done by Swedish composer Ludvig Forssell with some inserted songs by Icelandic band Low Roar. Both Forssell and Low Roar make good contributions but with the proposed direction I spoke of earlier, I'm not entirely sure that the whole score should be reused. Some songs could be reused, remixed and remastered, of course, but some new music would have to be introduced. My knowledge of score composers is small but for both of Alex Garland's films, he's used two composers, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Burrow. Their music helped Garland's films, helping to make the disturbing and tense scenes more disturbing and tense. No matter who's chosen it has to be someone who can help bring out the tone and feel of the films.

Give me a cameo ;) – I can easily take the place of that woman who shushes and touches the chest of Heartman during his first trip to the Beach.

(My knowledge of cinematographers and writers is even lesser than my knowledge of composers. The only cinematographer I looked into was Janusz Kamiński, who did incredible work on Saving Private Ryan. All I can say for the writing is that whoever they should get is someone who'll keep the script as faithful to the game's original dialogue as possible and only add in extra material where necessary, to go with the direction I proposed earlier. Also maybe try to make the game's original high-concept-ness a bit more understandable, only a bit though. As for the cinematographer, just simply get someone who would make the film look good, both in close-up and wide-angle shots. They wouldn't have to necessarily stay completely faithful to the game's “camerawork” too, just enough to induce a feeling of familiarity.)

[Death Stranding art director Yoji Shinkawa's designs for the game's characters. (]

I want to end this by imparting some advice. You're welcome to read this and dismiss it if you wish, I just think it's necessary given what this article is about. I personally believe that video games, as much as film and music, are an art-form, and art affects us all in different ways. For me apparently, video games make me think of film adaptations. Odd, yeah, but hey, it's allowing me to be creative and post an article about it. My point is this; if you're watching a film/TV show you love, listening to a song you feel a strong connection with or are playing a video game you've been eagerly waiting for and it's giving you inspiration for (whatever), make a note of what exactly you're thinking of. It could be the first stepping stone to you doing something you truly love doing. Life is that rollercoaster where such possibilities are possible with the right kind of inspiration and hard work.


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