(This is another edition of “,” a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more).
Last week, Mark Wahlberg confirmed that he was taking on the role of Nathan Drake in a movie based on PS3 blockbuster Uncharted. As always, this inspired a litany of comments from fans and bloggers alike, arguing whether or not Wahlberg would make a good Nathan Drake. We had a similar issue a few years ago as we debated the pros and cons of Christian Bale stepping into a sneaking suit and grunting his way through a Metal Gear Solid film. Now, I’m going to argue that Mark Wahlberg will not make a good Nathan Drake, but it won’t be due to what I think of his acting ability.
He’ll make a poor Nathan Drake simply because we already have a perfect Nathan Drake. In fact, we have the definitive Nathan Drake, and ignorance of this fact is nothing but a show of disrespect towards games as a valid entertainment medium.
Here’s the thing — a massive part of what has made Nathan Drake such a well known character is the performance of his voice actor, Nolan North. Say what you will about North and is over-exposure of late, his voice is intrinsically linked to the character that first saw him rise to prominence. If I hear North in another game, I think of Nathan Drake, and when I think of Nathan Drake, I can’t help but hear Nolan North’s voice. Uncharted’s protagonist is a decently written character and his dialog is quite charming, but without North’s performance, I don’t believe he’d ever have taken off quite so much as he has. There’s a reason many tip him as the male equivalent of Lara Croft, and it’s not because he has a massive dong (that we know of). It’s all in that voice.
This is why any discussion of Mark Wahlberg making a good Nathan Drake smacks of discredit toward videogames. By implying that such an iconic performance (and it is iconic) can be easily replaced by a “real” actor states that videogame voice actors, by the very virtue of their job, are doomed to inhabit a lower caste in the great acting hierarchy. Whether or not Wahlberg is a good actor is irrelevant. Whether he could do a decent “videogame action hero character” doesn’t really matter. The fact is, he’s not Nolan North. Ergo, he will not make a good Nathan Drake.
I realize that by arguing this, some of you will write me off as a purist fanboy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I’m not even a fan of the Uncharted series. I am, however, a fan of good voice actors, and a man who believes that videogames should be treated as a valid form of narrative art. The very existence of a game movie is an implication that films simply “do it better” than games (which couldn’t be less true these days), and shipping in Hollywood actors to replace voice actors hammers that statement home.
This is the same argument for Metal Gear Solid. How many of you can divorce David Hayter’s voice from Solid Snake? Not many, I’d wager. Hayter’s performance made Solid Snake, at least in the West. Without that gruff, deadpan performance, Solid Snake is only a fraction of his full character. It’s more than just having a gravelly voice, however. We all know Christian Bale can growl, but to simply say “Aw yeah, Christian Bale can make his voice go all husky, that’s good enough for Snake,” serves to completely discredit all the work David Hayter put into not just acting like Snake, but thoroughly owning the role.
This is something fans of movies should already understand. There are some characters that will forever be linked to their actors. In my opinion, replacing North with Wahlberg or Hayter with Bale is akin to having Kevin Bacon play Han Solo instead of Harrison Ford. Or telling Anthony Hopkins not to bother getting out of bed because Patrick Stewart’s going to have a crack at being Lecter. To replace an iconic performance with your own should rightly be seen as an act of arrogance. When videogames are concerned, however, not even fans of the games themselves seem to care about the importance of a character’s voice actor.
I don’t expect Hollywood to give a damn. Looking at some of the shite remakes that have been churned out seems to indicate that Hollywood doesn’t even respect itself anymore, let alone any other medium. I think we as game lovers, however, should give more credit to voice actors. There are some amazing ones out there — Nolan North, David Hayter, Yuri Lowenthal, Liam O’ Brien to name but a few. They never get the recognition they deserve. It’s all about the “real” actors with “real” celebrity status. Just look at the Spike Video Game Awards … are any of the “best performance” nominations for real voice actors? Hardly. If you’re not Hollywood, you don’t matter. And these are nominations coming from games journalists.
You can argue that some voice actors just aren’t photogenic enough to play a live-action version of the character, but then, who is asking for this live-action version in the first place? We already have the perfect Nathan Drake, do we really need a real human pretending to be him? That’s the thing — we believe live-action film will make something more authentic, but when it comes to game adaptations, it just makes things more fake, and less authentic than ever before. Wahlberg won’t automatically make a better Drake just because he’s a living, breathing actor. He won’t even make an adequate Drake. We have a Nathan Drake already who looks and sounds exactly like Nathan Drake, because he is Nathan Drake. He is a composite of Naughty Dog’s visual design and Nolan North’s performance. That is Nathan Drake.
This is why Mark Wahlberg will make a bad Nathan Drake. Because he’s not Nathan Drake.