“Uncharted”: Where the Adaption Went Wrong

On Nov. 19, 2007, video game company Naughty Dog released the first game in one of their most popular series: “Uncharted.” “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” was the start of a new era for Naughty Dog, as it fully brought to life and began the development of beloved character Nathan Drake — an abandoned son, a loyal brother and, most importantly, a skilled treasure hunter (with the help of whoever is holding the controller). Though there was a card, puzzle and previous video game that followed a version of Drake, “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” is the start of the series that is adored by many and that has sold 44 million copies. The second game of the series is “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” — released on Oct. 13, 2009 — which follows Drake, journalist Elena Fisher and fellow treasure hunter Chloe Frazer on their adventures searching for the Cintamani Stone and the mythical city of Shambhala. Then, just two years later, “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” launched, which primarily follows Drake and his old friend Victor “Sully” Sullivan as they set on their quest for the lost city of Iram of the Pillars. 

This brings us to the final installment of Drake’s story, “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.” Uncharted 4 was released on May 10, 2016 and quickly became the most known and successful game of the series with 16.25 million copies sold. The story is captivating, the graphics are spectacular and I believe it was a wonderful end to an incredibly well-done series. In addition to the satisfying closure the last game brought, it was the movie adaptation that confirmed my wishes of Drake’s story having been finished with the fourth game.

On Feb. 18, 2022,  “Uncharted” was released in theaters. The movie adaptation of the game had apparently been discussed since 2008, and it wasn’t until 2020 that the main characters were cast and filming began. While Mark Wahlberg had been set to play the famous Nathan Drake, as he was director David O. Russell’s first choice, it was Tom Holland who officially booked the part in 2017 (see Holland’s Tweet about his character’s first look here). In 2020, Wahlberg joined the team again, only this time, as Drake’s partner Sully. This casting sparked outrage among the fans for numerous reasons.

The casting of the adored characters who are crucial to the narrative of the Uncharted games drove many to dislike the film even before it was released. Following the announcement of the casting, many fans spoke out about the age difference between Holland, who is supposed to be a bit younger than 31 (which Drake was at the start of Uncharted 1) and Wahlberg who played Sully, a roughly 56-year-old. Many were upset with the casting as they felt Wahlberg should have stayed as Drake and a new Sully should have been cast. Sully’s personality is largely influenced by his age, making Wahlberg’s dark hair, clean face and young-ish energy hard to envision as a character known for his sarcastic humor (as opposed to Wahlberg’s jokes that frequently missed), old-timey charisma, staple-gray hair and thick mustache. In the games, Sully becomes a prominent father figure to Drake due to them meeting when he was only 15 (shown in Uncharted 3). However, the movie shows them meeting much later. This sparked discourse on the flawed timeline and execution of the character’s backstories. 

Many articles online state that the “Uncharted” movie is a prequel of sorts to the games. However, I fail to see this as true, seeing as it follows a different timeline to the games. Nathan’s and his brother Sam’s interest in treasure was sparked by their archaeologist and historian mother, who was never mentioned in the movie. In the games, she passed, and their father sent the boys to an orphanage. After getting into some trouble and realizing their new passion, they adopted the last name Drake to honor their mother’s work and theories about English explorer Sir Francis Drake. However, the movie disregards this emotional and crucial narrative entirely. 

Instead of seeing the value of the creators making “Uncharted” its own “thing,” I saw it as falling flat and forgettable with its average plot and writing. Though, unlike the movie, “UNCHARTED — Live Action Fan Film” amazed me. Although both the movie and this film follow the quest of finding Ferdinand Magellan’s lost treasure, it is the latter that takes a special approach in respect to the games. This fan film was uploaded to YouTube in 2018, and many believed that Nathan Fillion was the perfect Nathan Drake for his looks, his age and his natural charm. However, even with the 11 million views it sits at today, it is presumed that Sony Pictures was likely looking for household names, leading them to cast Wahlberg and Holland. However, I consider this short film flawless for the numerous reasons why the movie failed. In addition to casting an incredible Nathan Drake — one that encompasses his snarky wit, adventurous attitude and passion — those who played Sully and Elena were great as well. Each character’s dialogue fits their original source ideally. The acting was great, the stunts were amazing (one even showcased Drake jumping through a window) and a game-lover could tell that the creators tried to stay on track with the previous stories. Almost 11 minutes into the film, an action sequence starts and the camera angle is aligned identically to how a fight is in the game: Nathan’s back faces the camera as we prepare for the challenge that faces us. This roughly 15-minute fan film was incredible for its attention to detail and the devotion put into respecting the original material, and I only wish the feature-length film was as well. 

When adapting a video game to screen, I see it as successful if you do one of two things: follow the original source as precisely as you can (as demonstrated by “The Last of Us”) or very slightly differ. I believe I would have liked the movie adaptation of the games if it was set in between Uncharted 3 and 4 and followed Drake on yet another treasure hunting quest. With this timeline, Sony could have still had all the beloved deuteragonist characters like Sully, Elena and Chloe; we would have been thrown into action as Drake is already a renowned treasure hunter; they could have touched on Sam and Nathan’s original backstory as seen at the beginning of Uncharted 4; and they could have developed the preexisting story more, rather than creating an almost parallel universe where Sully and Nathan meet late, Nathan and Sam’s prison escape in Panama isn’t the reason for them splitting up, and Elena is not present in Nathan’s life. With filling in the time between Uncharted 3 and 4, devoted gamers would have been given more content from the fan-favorite characters while still being nostalgic of the games as we see certain moments come to screen (additionally, I presume the movie would have been more impactful if they kept the same soundtrack as the games’ scores). It is for the unordered and different timeline, the subpar casting and the lack of an emotionally driven plot that I believe “Uncharted” was disappointing, and that it turned into your average action movie with well-known but unfitting actors and a shallow plot.