Hollywood! Adapt This: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA

     October 21, 2012


With director Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opening later this year, audiences are getting amped up for a return to Middle Earth where pint-sized adventurers fight alongside pointy eared elves in swords-and-sorcery adventures. Sadly, there’s another fantasy adventure property that has yet to see a feature treatment.  It’s got swords and sorcery, heroes and villains, thieves and princesses, even Octoroks and Zora! So hit the jump to come along with me as I make my case for the movie adaptation for everyone’s favorite long-eared hero of Hyrule. Hollywood! Adapt this: The Legend of Zelda!

legend-of-zelda-its-dangerous-to-go-aloneLet’s get a few things straight before we engage in some Nintendo nostalgia: firstly, I have zero connections, so it’s not as if any of these films will be made due to my saying so.  If you disagree with a suggestion, that’s all well and good, just let us know in the comments below.  These articles are meant to be fun and spark up a conversation.  Who knows, you might even stumble across a property you’ve never heard of before!  Secondly, your enthusiasm has been great so far! I’ve jotted down all of your suggestions and I’d be thrilled if we make it to every single one of them.  Keep ’em comin’!  Lastly, Zelda is the name of the Princess in the series; our hero’s name is Link! Now that we have that out of the way…

What It’s About: 

Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, Nintendo introduced the world to The Legend of Zelda on February 21st, 1986.  Set in the fantastic world of Hyrule, the game’s plot centered on a young boy, Link, tasked with recovering the eight fragments of an artifact known as the Triforce of Wisdom.  Link must do this by exploring the countryside, along with its numerous dungeons, and defeating the monsters and bosses within.  Only then can he take on the evil Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda.  That’s the nutshell of the first game in the series that has sparked a long-lasting franchise and was responsible for interest in video game RPGs (role-playing games) going forward.

The mythology has expanded almost exponentially since the first game. All told, there have been over 20 titles released (including re-releases), a comic series and even an animated series that ran for a short-lived 13 episodes. I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’ve played the classic games, but couldn’t get into (or haven’t tried) any of the games after Majora’s Mask. So today’s discussion will be confined to events that occurred in the earlier games, though I’ll make a case for a wholly new and original feature that includes core elements and fan-favorites from the games.

link-legend-of-zeldaAfter the fairly straight-forward “rescue the princess” motif of the first game (which more or less continued throughout the series), a boatload of backstory and historical depth was added into the series, including a creation mythos.  According to legend, three golden goddesses descend to Hyrule to create order and life: Din, the Goddess of Power; Nayru, the Goddess of Wisdom; and Farore, the Goddess of Courage.  They left a symbol of their power behind, the Triforce, an artifact hidden away in a sacred realm that would grant wishes to whoever discovered it.  The problem with that is that the artifact granted said wishes whether you were a well-meaning village hero or an evil Gerudo thief turned demon lord.  Pieces of the Triforce were often manifested in our main characters (Power to Ganondorf, Wisdom to Zelda and Courage to Link), but one must unite all the pieces in order to unlock the power of the Triforce.  And here is where we get the struggle between Ganon and Link over the Princess Zelda, who is increasingly more of a force herself rather than simply a stock damsel in distress.

How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

The “how could” part of that question is much easier to answer today than it used to be.  Following The Hobbit’s production blogs and looking into the special effects work done for this new trilogy, it’s amazing the lengths to which the production will go to make audiences believe in Hobbits, Dwarves, Orcs, Elves and the like.  Would a race of pointy-eared humanoids (and some fish-people) really be all that far-fetched? Even creatures like the odd, rock-spitting, Octoroks; the fire-winged Keese; the gelatinous, shield-stealing Like-Likes; the self-propelled Peahats or the skeletal Stalfos should be easy pickins for effects folk these days.

The tough part is going to be cracking the story.  One reason that video games have been so difficult to adapt into successful live-action features is that the experiential mediums are so different.  In movies, we’re casual observers; no matter how involved you get in a movie-watching experience, you can’t effect what comes next.  In video games, your input and reactions are 99% of the experience; nothing happens without you.  There’s something lost in translation when you try to port a video game interaction directly into a viewing-only experience.  With that in mind, I believe an original screenplay can be crafted around the mythology of The Legend of Zelda that allows a story to come to life in the world of the game.

link-vs-ganon-legend-of-zeldaI’m of the opinion that a direct translation of the original game would make for a dull plot: watching Link run to various dungeons, hack and slash his way through enemies until he finally gets to the big bad and saves the princess.  Boring.  On the other side of the coin, adapting something like The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time would be bananas simply because of the sheer complexity of the storyline, the vast number of locations and sub-plots, not to mention the fact that the game forces the player to jump back and forth through time! In other words, you’ve basically got two protagonists and two movies in one game!  Therein lies a potential solution.

There’s no way to cram everything Zelda fans want to see into one movie; a franchise, or at the very least a sequel, would have to be built around it.  Do I want to see Link smashing merchants’ pots and scooping up the bouncing Rupees within? Of course.  Will I laugh hysterically if live-action Link hits one too many chickens and they attack him? Absolutely! Is there room for Wallmasters and Warp Whistles? Sure!  But it’s too much to stuff into one feature, no matter how well-intentioned.  So here’s my take:

Admittedly, The Legend of Zelda is a bit thin when it comes to character development, but we have the three attributes of the Triforce already set up for us, so let’s focus on that.  Our prologue will fill the audience in on the legend of the three goddesses as mentioned above, setting up the world itself with a glorious creation sequence and establishing Power, Wisdom and Courage as our three emotional anchors.  Enter the eponymous Zelda, a beautiful young princess safely tucked away in her castle as her kingdom is beset upon by uprisings, ruthless bands of thieves and horrendous creatures that are venturing out of their dark recesses.  Rather than a weeping maid locked away in her high tower, we find in Zelda a woman of action, someone who senses that there is something larger being set in motion, some evil that is responsible for all their trouble.  And she aims to find the source and put a stop to it.

princess-zelda-legend-of-zeldaWhilst our intrepid princess scours Hyrule for answers to her kingdom’s troubles, we center on Link, a young villager who doesn’t say much but has more heart(s) than your average adventurer.  When his village is threatened and his friends start disappearing, Link goes into the nearby woods to investigate.  (His Uncle sees him leaving and shouts, “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!” and tosses him a sword, of course.)  Link discovers the source of the trouble is a monstrous creature, which he expertly slays, only to find a glimmering shard left behind.

Now, stick with me because this is where it gets interesting.  In a lot of these adventure stories, the antagonist always seems to be waiting or, at best, plotting the demise of our hero; they rarely do anything!  As The Legend of Zelda wouldn’t be complete without Ganondorf or the third piece of the Triforce, the movie will also follow the Gerudo thief as he tracks down shards of the mystical artifact, conquering the land in his quest for Power. As Ganondorf continues his conquest, Zelda uncovers more secrets and Link frees more of the oppressed, each of them comes closer to completing their piece of the Triforce.  Zelda, being the wise woman that she is, figures it out first and reaches out to the Hero of Hyrule (much like Leia to Obi-Wan), whose legendary acts have reached her ears.  Unfortunately, Ganondorf and his army have reached the castle first, making Princess Zelda a prisoner in her own home.  And there’s where we end our first feature!

I think it works. You don’t have to follow one protagonist around through endless dungeons (with the bonus of getting to drop in and actually see your favorite settings without having to slog through them), you get a confident and take-charge female role model for a change and you get to see a villain actively building his evil reputation in a race against time.  Sign me up! (Oh, and for part two, I guess you can have Link searching for the Master Sword and rescuing the princess.  I mean, somebody has to!)

The Final Word:

Do we really need a Legend of Zelda movie? The folks over at IGN thought we did, although it turned out to be an April Fools’ joke (you can watch the live-action Zelda trailer below):

Personally, I’d love to see a film adaptation of this property.  And, though I think Peter Jackson will be burnt out from Middle Earth for a while, he’d be the best man for the job.  The world of The Legend of Zelda is incredibly rich, even if the story isn’t the most original.  There are beloved characters and a solid, compelling narrative that’s easy to sell as an action-adventure and, if done right, can be told in a way that’s as enjoyable as playing the games themselves.  Hey, if not a feature film, maybe we can at least get a LEGO version of the game, as posited by artist, Wes Talbott (via G4TV):


Be sure to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.  Also, if you missed any of our previous installments of “Hollywood! Adapt This,” be sure to click that link and check em out!  Tune in next time when we’ll take a trip to Dunwyn Castle, where we can whip up some good ol’ fashioned Gummiberry Juice!

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