Hey guys! So, now that all of my semester exams are done and summer's here, I've got more free time to spend playing video games and designing new content. But first, it's time for me to address the elephant in the room. In case you haven't heard, Warner Bros. are making a PvZ movie. No lie, no joke, an actual movie.
Now, I love PvZ with a passion. It's one of my Top 10 favorite video game series of all time, maybe even Top 5. But when I think of a video game that would make a great movie canidate, I think of something with a rich lore and detailed plot.... not something that's just incredibly popular. But is there any way for this project to work at all? Well, that's what I'm here to talk about.
Tecku Talks About: The Upcoming Plants vs. Zombies Movie
Now, before we begin, I think it's worth mentioning that people have compared this project to the Angry Birds movie being developed. And while I agree that the Angry Birds movie is just an obvious cash-in, I think it has waaay more potential as a movie. In fact, I'll be bringing it up a few times.
For starters, let's discuss what the overall theme and style of the movie should be. For me, I think the only way it could work is fully animated with a heavy emphasis on humor. Plants vs. Zombies is, at its core, a humorous romp, and I just don't see live action doing it any justice, for multiple reasons.
For starters, if they chose live action, the plants would HAVE to be animated. Unless you want to take the "Plants vs." out of "Plants vs. Zombies", these things are going to have to be shooting, growing, moving, and more; puppetry goes right out the window. That means that the plants would have to be animation in a live environment, which means one of two things: they would either have to be altered to look more like real plants, or they would keep a cartoony look and be integrated ala "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". The former wrecks almost any chance of humor from the plants, whereas the latter would take a TON of work and skill to pull off.
With that being said, I think the main focus and humor of the movie should be derived from fast-paced action and lots of slapstick. The great thing about zombies is that you can do whatever you want to them: beat them up, decapitate them, burn them, and it won't be cruel or torturous. Zombies in PvZ are also comically stupid. I think a lot of classic Looney-Tunes esque mayhem can be done with them, with Dr. Zomboss flipping his lid at how incompetent his troops are. All in all, I think the focus and style aren't that hard to get down, and there are a lot of great opportunities here.
Now we start to get into the main problems with the concept of a Plants vs. Zombies movie. Namely, Plants vs. Zombies doesn't have a main protagonist. Oh, don't misunderstand, it has main characters- Dave and Penny are certainly protagonists, but they're not the main protagonists. Dave and Penny aren't the ones fighting the zombie hordes, you are. And you're not in the actual game. You don't have a model, a face, or a personality that you can create. Now, in Angry Birds, there's at least a character you are controlling- the birds. Heck, even Animal Crossing's movie had a generic character models selection to choose from for their protagonist.
Furthermore, establishing the plants as characters is going to be painful. Every plant has a pun for a name, which is fine- for a game. The puns are cute, unique, and help you memorize what each one does. In a movie, however, you're either going to have to use their names multiple times, or leave them nameless. The former, while semi-pratical, would be corny after awhile. Instead of using the knowledge to match you tactics, it just comes down to a quick joke. The latter, on the other hand, would leave heads scratching left and right. "Why did that potato explode? How does a ...gourd-thing... flatten a zombie? I don't get it!"
So, what can the writers do? Well, there's a few options:
1. Make Dave and Penny the main protagonists
While this is probably the most straightforward answer, it's also leaves the least room for character development. Dave is the comic relief, and he's nuts. I don't really see him as a person who can grow and progress in the movie. While he has a personality, he has no backstory. His insanity leaves no room for motivation or growth. Same thing goes for Penny, she's a robot. Dave and Penny work well off each other, but there's no room for progression.
2. Make the plants the protagonists
This idea..... could really work. The plants have a backstory- being created and raised by Dave, and have a motivation- protecting the home from the zombies. In fact, this movie could really work well if it was a prequel to the first game- having the plants learn to fight for the first time. This would provide motivation and backstory, and you could get away with using a small cast, since the other plants haven't been made yet. However, this would mean one of two things. Either the plants would have to talk (and say each other's names A LOT), or they would have to be silent/speak gibberish. However, I really think this could work.
3. Introduce a new character
The final option in the book is to introduce a new character, and make the movie about them learning the ropes of lawn defense. However, I really don't see this idea working out in the long term. Odds are the new character won't be in any future games..... unless the new character is a plant. If you make the movie about a new plant joining the team, there could be a lot of potential.
All in all, characterization is going to be the biggest obstacle for the writers, but it's not impossible. They just have to get creative.
Now we get to the meat of the story: the plot. Plotwise, PvZ is a pretty straightforward. The zombies hordes are coming, and it's up to our main hereos to stop them. Thing is, PvZ doesn't really have a setup or a conclusion. At the start of the first game, the zombies are already on you front lawn, and the plants are just given to you- no explanation other than a few lines of text. The whole theme of PvZ resembles the mood of a daily grind- zombies are just there, and you just roll with it.
However, this setup doesn't lend itself well to a movie setup. Movies need to have their arc begin with a setup, have a catalyst drive it, build up to a climax, and end with a conclusion. Now, Angry Birds at least has a set beginning and conclusion. The plot begins when the pigs steal the eggs, the games story is about getting the eggs back, and the story is concluded when the pigs are beaten and the eggs are retrieved. Beginning, middle, end. This one doesn't.
Now, the second game has a more set plot with the introduced the idea of time travel, and having to duke it out with Dr. Zomboss across different ages and locations. This idea would probably make for a much better movie than the first game- if it wasn't for the lack of establishment. To give the story any sense of weight, we have to establish who Zomboss is, how plants are used to stop him, how time travel is possible, AND what the Doctor's goal is. Otherwise, you just end up with a ton of exposition dumps and confused newcomers.
So what can the writers do? Well, there are a few options:
1. Make the movie an origin story of the current game. Show Dave creating the plants, the rise of Dr. Zomboss, and the beginning of the great war for the backyard. Basic, but plenty of room for story.
2. Make the movie an "episodic" adventure- the movie is just one of the wacky adventures Dave and the plants have had. Zomboss hatches a scheme, the good guys have to stop it. A fun little romp, this one is probably the best candidate for introducing a new character.
3. Make the movie take place in "our world", and have it be a parody movie about zombies, like "Zombieland" or "Shaun of the Dead". Not the strongest plot, but plenty of room for comedy.
All in all, the PvZ movie isn't dead in the water, but I think it's still a bit too early for a movie. At the very least, if they had set up a webisode series like Angry Birds, we could at least get into the lore before they tried their luck at the big screen. But as is, the movie is pretty risky- let's hope they pull it off!