Listening in on When an Acclaimed Director and Video-Game Maker Meet

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Guillermo Del Toro and BioShock creator Ken Levine chatted for a soon-to-be-released podcast. To anyone interested in the intersection of film and games, the conversation is fascinating.

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AP Images / Irrational Games

For videogame nerds, it's long been the subject of frustration: In the last three decades, there's never been a great videogame movie adaptation. There have hardly been any middling ones. Happily, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider looks a bit better with age. Prince of Persia was watchable but ultimately inane because it pandered. Silent Hill, based on the survival horror series from Konami, was disturbingly creepy for much of its 125 minutes. But it went off the rails at the end. And that's it. The rest of the canon pretty much stinks like zombie death.

Outspoken filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hell Boy) would likely disagree that Silent Hill's much-maligned penultimate scene was way too over the top. In a two-part podcast, the first of which will be published on Halloween at the Irrational Games website, Del Toro says he adores much of Silent Hill. The podcast, in which Del Toro chats with one of the most intriguing videogame makers working today, represents a landmark event in itself—because filmmakers and game makers aren't supposed to understand each other.

"I call Hollywood The Land of the Slow No," Del Toro says. "It literally takes them two fucking years to say 'no.'"

They certainly haven't in the past, at least. One medium tells a linear tale. The other branches and takes gamers on interactive journeys. That's why this podcast is such an unusual meeting of the minds. Del Toro sat down with Ken Levine, the creative lead on BioShock, the scariest horror videogame ever made. It's a game that seems to have been created after reading every one of Stephen King's best novels—and the non-fiction Danse Macabre (which beautifully parsed the differences between horror and terror) as well.

Listening to the two converse is like watching a version of My Dinner With Andre tailored for pop culture nerds. The talk is wide-ranging and soulful. It's also a bit like a conversation I once saw on-stage at the YMCA in New York City between David Mamet and Horton Foote about adapting Broadway plays to film. Mamet was full of bile. Foote was wary, but more understanding and accepting of Hollywood's bull. Yet that kind of talk about Hollywood ruining the best of Broadway drama is not uncommon, and hasn't been for a long time. This kind of unbridled, ranting-yet-intelligent discussion between game maker and movie maker has never, to my knowledge, before been made public for everyone to listen to or download. It is historic in that sense.

"A lot of people in Hollywood look at games as junior varsity films," says Levine, who was contracted to write a romantic comedy feature before he turned to games. "They just don't understand games…You have to go into each game with a certain amount of humility. Each time I go into a game I'm terrified at how to make it work."

In response, Del Toro declaims, "The opposite of humility is arrogance, and that is the coin of trade in the movie business. Movies are one of the peaks of human narrative. But I'm sorry to break it to the movie industry: So are videogames. The videogames we will be playing in 2020—they will be fucking masterpieces then."

Del Toro, who is ensconced in the process of making a videogame called inSANE to be released in 2013 for publisher THQ, likens the work to a game of chess "where you're thinking 20 moves ahead before your opponent even shows up for the game. I find it fascinating; revitalizing as a narrator."

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Harold Goldberg is the author of All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture. He can be found crowdsourcing a movie about games at www.playingwithfirefilm.com.

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