The Minecraft Movie: A Fork in the Road

When Microsoft purchased Mojang earlier this year for the ungodly sum of approximately 2.5 billion dollars, everyone familiar with the latter and the wildly successful game they’ve created, Minecraft, knew that the acquisition was about more than just a game. With it’s foundational role in pop culture, and its ubiquity across the many disparate landscapes of the internet, Minecraft is a cash factory, and it’s not even working at full capacity. Go to a toy store, and you’ll find Minecraft themed lego sets, action figures, and costumes. Go to a book store, and in the kids section you’re bound to find an entire shelf of guides, bestiaries, sticker books, and any number of other publications sporting the Minecraft logo. The game is as merchandisable and marketable as any intellectual property out there, with its popularity at an all time high.

So, even back then, we knew, it was only a matter of time before attention turned in a very specific direction: movie theaters.

In the last week or so, word leaked that Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy, who had been brought on to oversee the Warner Bros. production, has left the project along with some writers. “We came up with an approach that felt good to us,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I discussed it with Mojang … and they were like, ‘That doesn’t sound like what we want … If we’re going to see a movie get made, we don’t know what we want but that doesn’t feel right.’” Now, rumor has it that even Warner Bros. themselves has left the project.

Given what we know about the story proposed by Levy, it’s hard to feel bad about this particular iteration breaking down. Minecraft, as a property, has a strong personality, one of open creativity and independence, fascilitated by its low-tech art style and strong, grass-roots community. Levy, meanwhile, wanted the film to be a live-action adventure romp with “a bit of a Goonies flair.” One understands that Minecraft is a game without a narrative, but to simply invent one about, to put it bluntly, people literally mining and crafting in search of treasure or some other macguffin, seems like such a collosal misstep one can hardly blame WB for not grabbing Levy by his collar and tossing him out on the street.

All of this feels like it spits in the very thing that have made the game a success, like calculated business decisions driving an in-name-only “adaptation” just because there’s money to be made.

And yet, a Minecraft movie is inevitable. This particular project might fall through, and I certainly hope it does, but to think that a franchise this popular with kids wouldn’t eventually find its way to the big screen is just foolish. So, what does a decent adaptation look like? Is one even possible?

I say yes, but only if it truly embraces the source material; not just the game itself, but the community around it. That has to be in the movie. It has to be what it’s about.

Look at The Lego Movie. There’s no reason a movie developed around a more-than-half-century-old system of interconnecting blocks should be any good, much less great, but that’s exactly what it ended up being, because it embraced not just Legos themselves, but their place in our culture. The film was about the conflict between the spontaneous creativity of youth and the more regimented modes of adulthood. It was about how important expression and creativity can be, enabled by the toys themselves. It was even about the corporate interests behind the toys, and how a generation of children-turned-adults catalyzed a more “boxed-in” culture of interaction with the toys, based on rules or instructions, at odds with its expressive roots. Minecraft is just as relevant, just as ubiquitous, and there’s just as much to say about it without pandering or just putting a coat of Minecraft colored paint on any old adventure story.

If and when there’s a movie, YouTubers should be in it. A part of the story. The different ways the game is seen by players, between kids and adults, between modders and players, viewers and new media celebrities, they should be a part of the story. The whole world of Minecraft, not the one in the computer but in reality, needs to be a part of the story.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who directed The Lego Movie, also managed to create way-better-than-they-had-any-right-to-be movies from preexisting properties like 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. If they’re not on the short list to get this thing going, someone needs to be fired, and right quick. There’s a really cool, timely, culturally important story to tell in whatever winds up being the Minecraft universe. If it’s handled the right way, it can be another step forward for the entire community, instead of a simple, cynical cash-grab that just sets the whole thing back.

Fingers crossed, I guess.

Originally published at Dec 17, 2014.

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