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Why David O. Russell left the Uncharted movie

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Just last week the name of David O. Russell was firmly embedded into the minds of fans of the Uncharted video games. Now it will likely end up as little more than a footnote in the history of the franchise. Fans might discuss what could have been, and any future Uncharted movie projects will likely be judged against the specter of what might have been–unless the upcoming adaptation is a success, then all will be forgotten. But after the announcement that Russell was leaving the Uncharted project that he had been working on since October, citing “creative differences,” fans are left to wonder what went wrong?

Sony’s intention to produce a film based on the PlayStation 3 exclusive action game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has been known for months–the knowledge that a major company sitting on a property that it can adapt to make more money off of isn’t exactly an earth-shaking news scoop. But what has been interesting is seeing the approach that Sony seems to be taking with it.

Perhaps it is a result of the care that studios are putting into comic book movies, or perhaps it is just a sign of the times, but Sony seemed determined to bring on quality filmmakers to adapt Uncharted. On the list of potential directors you won’t find Uwe Boll anywhere, but you may find a handful of Oscar nominated names. Russell officially confirmed his involvement months before he received his first nomination for last year’s The Fighter, but his reputation for quality was enough to excite fans and get them wondering what he could do with the character of Nathan Drake.

Russell soon began discussing the project and where he wanted it to go. The director’s frequent collaborator, Mark Wahlberg, was confirmed as Drake, and both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci had been approached to appear as part of Drake’s family.

The plot Russell outlined would have been a fairly radical departure from the game, where Drake is a treasure hunter that stumbles across the treasure of El Dorado while in search of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake’s, lost treasure. The game has a definite Indiana Jones-vibe, as Drake fights off the various factions all wanting a cut of the treasure. While the game featured some incredible set pieces, it had a fairly small scope.

Russell saw the movie adaptation as global in scale, featuring the Drake family as a powerful group of art thieves and power players, with connections around the globe to world leaders. The exact details of the plot weren’t mentioned except to say that it would be an art-heist film. Russell recently completed and handed in the script to Sony which is when things fell apart.

Officially, the word is that Sony and Russell simply had creative differences, which is a vague term that could cover just about anything. According to the LA Times though, there were two major issues: The script went in a different direction than Sony originally wanted, and it was too ambitious (i.e. too expensive).

Neither Sony nor Russell are officially commenting on the split, but regardless of how each party feels, the result is that the director has left the project and Wahlberg has left with him. That may be a relief to some who were against Wahlberg’s casting, but it also leaves the project’s future in doubt. Sony has the resources to continue to push ahead with an Uncharted movie, but if they intend to hire a director with a reputation like Russell’s, they may run into the same problems again. Twentieth Century Fox tried the same thing with the upcoming The Wolverine when they hired Darren Aronofsky, but the director left the project claiming that he did not wish to be away from home for that long–although sources close to the project dispute that, and claim the director and the studio split over “creative differences.” In other words, the same thing happened.

For Russell, the director is in high demand and has several options to choose from. For Sony, it remains committed to bring Uncharted to the big screen, so the process to find a new director will begin again.

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Ryan Fleming
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Fleming is the Gaming and Cinema Editor for Digital Trends. He joined the DT staff in 2009 after spending time covering…
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