Maybe it’s just because I reviewed the Blu-ray for The Expendables 2 recently, but I feel a distinct lack of classic action movies these days and am particularly keen to rectify that. There’s a brilliant historical reflection on that Blu-ray which tracks the political and social sentiment in America and compares it to the evolving action movies and their heroes over the years. One thing left out of that cultural exploration? Video games. As you can see from the above image, the two well-muscled action heroes toting big shiny guns bear more than a striking resemblance to Sylvester Stallone and some sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger/Dolph Lundgren hybrid. Hit the jump for the story behind the glory. Hollywood! Adapt this: Contra.
The Konami franchise for Contra started with the first game’s release in 1987 as a coin-operated arcade game. A home version was released the following year on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Contra was known by a couple different names (as Gryzor and Probotector overseas) and even had variations within the game’s plot depending on where it was distributed. The game centered on two military commandos, Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean, who are dropped into a combat mission to neutralize the villainous Red Falcon Organization. In Japan, the game took place on the fictional Galuga archipelago near New Zealand in the year 2633 and Red Falcon was a terrorist group. In America, the location was an unnamed island in South America and the commandos battled an alien menace in contemporary times.
Contra was a one or two-player side-scroller with one-shot player deaths and limited respawns/continues for your character. It featured crazy looking enemies and even crazier guns: a rifle with unlimited ammo, a machine gun with full-auto, a laser gun, a “spread” gun and a flamethrower, plus rapid-fire and shield upgrades. Though not much more than a button-masher, Contra was pure simple fun.
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted:
Hey, remember when movies used to be big and silly and fun? Like in the 80s and 90s? It’s only really been the last decade or so where everything seems to take on a “gritty and realistic” approach. Texture and realism are great and I love the tone of the films, but there is room for fun and flash as well. Contra is all fun and flash, 100%. The bad guys are faceless, the boss monsters are massive and crazy and the settings were exotic with a splash of the familiar (there always seemed to be a cityscape or snow-covered mountain peaks in the background, even if the foreground was littered with alien brood spawn.)
The closest modern-day comparison I can make to Contra is another video game franchise, Army of Two. The third-person shooter sets you up with two commandos who take on a variety of terrorist cells or rescue missions, and who use teamwork as a weapon. A blending of Army of Two’s realism with the craziness and fun of Contra could make for a great thrill ride.
But video games have an inherent roadblock for a successful adaptation, one we brought up for the Zelda adaptation argument and which was further discussed in a recent podcast. Video games, by their nature, are an interactive experience while movies are simply a viewing experience. Making that transition from one to the other has only been successful a handful of times, arguably best achieved (box office-wise, anyway) by Resident Evil. Here is where the strength of a Contra adaptation might surprise you.
Contra has next to zero story. Two commandos fight the operatives and creatures of Red Falcon. Done. There are little to no plotlines or character backstories or, for the most part, iconic imagery that filmmakers would be beholden to. There is free rein to take the core of Contra and expand it into something worthwhile. Establishing two likable protagonists would be essential, just like in any buddy cop action comedy or spy thriller. At the end of the day, nostalgia might draw fans to a Contra adaptation, but chemistry between the leads would be the foundation of a franchise.
The Final Word:
Would I like to see a Contra adaptation? I’d be interested, let’s just say that. I love Aliens, Predator, Commando, the First Blood series; give me a new franchise to throw my money at! It would be cool to see Mad Dog and Scorpion using teamwork to battle aliens with a vast arsenal of crazy weapons that drop on eagle wings/parachutes from the sky. There are already plans for a Halo, Splinter Cell and a Gears of War adaptation in the works. So why not make the case for the granddaddy of all military commando shoot em up games?
The only issue is whether or not the current gloomy state of the economy (which only gets gloomier every time someone utters those words) would allow audiences to experience the fun of something like Contra. The Dredd 3D remake was a helluva lot of fun, yet it stayed true to a lot of the aspects from the comics. It had a charismatic lead in Karl Urban and a highly competent kick-ass heroine in Olivia Thirlby. The villain was vanilla but Lena Headey played it well. Yet, the film struggled. The Expendables 2 did quite well, and there are more sequels and spin-offs planned, but these are homages to the old action movie greats that actually star the old action movie greats themselves! Those guys can’t keep patching themselves up forever! The Expendables 3 has been reported to be a transitional film in which the old train up the new. I welcome it. I welcome new action heroes that I can live vicariously through. I’d be more than happy to count the Contra team among them.
You can play a mod of the original 8-bit game here, and check out a game review of a modern homage to the franchise for Contra ReBirth below:
And as a little bit of salt in the wound for Contra fans, E3 2011 teased that a new Contra game would be coming in 2012, but E3 2012 came and went with nary a spread gun to be found. Check out the teaser below:
Like it or hate it, check out all of our previous installments of Hollywood! Adapt This here. Feel free to leave your thoughts, hates and suggestions in the comment section below. Next week, I’ll attempt to restore some of my integrity by suggesting what I strongly believe to be a worthwhile adaptation, a biopic of an English-language poet, playwright and author who is arguably one of the greatest contributors of the 20th century. His works have been adapted many times over, but his life story deserves to be explored as well. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.