Did you know it has been ten years since a Deus Ex movie was announced? What once seemed a natural step, a big-screen adaptation of a triumphantly resurgent video game franchise, ended up being nothing of the sort as the series floundered through publisher mismanagement and the film itself ended up barely making it past the “early draft of a script” stage.
All that time passing means that it gets safer by the day for folks involved in the movie to talk about it, which leads us to this USA Today story interviewing Scott Kinney, development executive for Prime Universe Productions. Kinney was involved in the Deus Ex project at an early stage, where he “was initially in charge of writing the treatments to get the studio executives onboard”.
Kinney quickly settled on Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, who had just made Sinister, and who would later go on to write (with Derrickson directing) the screenplay for Marvel’s Dr. Strange. A 2014 Deus Ex script written by the pair has survived, and excerpts of it have been posted in the USA Today piece, some of which mean very little standing on their own, others coming alive on the page when you plug in our knowledge of what the series looks and sounds like.
While I could have shared some of the more interesting/promising ones, I am instead going to highlight this one instead, because if I had to groan out loud, you do as well:
And a calm we haven’t seen suffuses Jensen, the kind that comes with that ultimately liberating realization that everything you’ve believed about yourself is somehow wrong, and now you understand the truth.
(low, to self)
…Get up, Jensen.
(lining the mini-gun)
…I’m not like you, Barrett.
You’re a f****** Aug!
Yeah, I am. But–
And Jensen MOVES, running right at Barrett!
Barrett’s depressing the trigger when Jensen LEAPS, a blade extending from his right arm, and CUTTING Barrett’s arm clean off. Barrett ROARS as arm and gun fall. He swings at Jensen with the other. Jensen rolls, grabbing the arm/mini-gat, lines it–
I never asked for this.
–and Jensen FIRES!
Rounds blow into Barrett’s head. He falls with a THUD.
I’m sure anyone writing a Deus Ex script would have been contractually bound to include that line, so let’s not be too harsh. After all, these dudes have made some very good movies between them over the years. One thing that stood out to me aside from the screenplay excerpts, though, was news of the processes involved in making sure the adaptation wasn’t straying too far from the spirit of the games.
Every treatment we ever wrote to pitch to studio execs was sent to the game developers for input,” Kinney says. “The same with the screenplay, we received their notes on every version of the script. Everyone seemed happy with the final result. Everyone. And that’s the tragedy of it.”
That “tragedy” being the ultimate demise of the project, which Kinney puts down to a shift in priorities from CBS Films.
I don’t think I really understood the studio’s reasoning at the time. They communicated that Deus Ex wasn’t the kind of film they wanted to make or felt comfortable making, that their overall strategy was shifting from action films like Dwayne Johnson’s Faster, which they had previously financed, to films more like The Duff. Of course, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill left the project for Doctor Strange and it just died.
It’s easy to be unkind to video game adaptations, particularly given Hollywood’s shameful track record with them, but I genuinely feel a little disappointed this never got off the ground given the personnel involved and how cool Eidos’ world would have looked on the big screen.