Hot vidgames snub H’wood

'Halo,' 'Grand Theft Auto' go their own route

Microsoft’s “Halo 2” and Rockstar Games’ “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” were two of the biggest media events of 2004, with $200 million-plus grosses and young males drooling all year in anticipation of their November releases. But in a sign of the vidgame industry’s independent power and uneasy relationship with traditional showbiz, producers have been left fruitlessly begging for the chance to turn them into movies.

The reason? It’s the rare situation, insiders agree, where the properties are so valuable that Hollywood doesn’t have much to offer.

In fact, these vidgame powerhouses may be going their own route. While the tech giant declined to comment, numerous sources indicate Microsoft is developing its own script for a “Halo” movie inhouse and has contacted agencies to bring an A-list screenwriter onboard to help work on it.

Plan calls for Microsoft to create its own script and then, if it and subsid Bungie, developer of “Halo,” are happy with the result, shop it as a finished product to producers or studios.

That’s a big “if,” though, and Microsoft and Bungie could decide not to go ahead with development for any number of reasons.

‘Theft’ not an easy steal

Rockstar’s plans are less clear, but the company has reportedly snubbed interest from major players including Tony Scott and Eminem, and there are hints it may be working on its own script as well. Its execs were also unavailable for comment.

“Everybody in town is trying to get both,” commented one insider active in vidgames and movies. “But the publishers have been resistant thus far.”

The reasons are a testament to the growth of the vidgame industry and Hollywood’s continuing inability to successfully transfer games to film. “Halo” and “Grand Theft Auto” are immensely profitable properties on their own, and the risks of licensing them to Hollywood may outweigh the benefits.

Even a thus-far unheard-of deal that could generate Rockstar or Microsoft as much as $20 million might prove insufficiently tempting.

Such an amount is nowhere close to the profits from one game, which could reach $50 million or more. “Halo 2” and “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” are the second and third megahits, respectively, for their franchises, and sequels are a sure thing.

Flop potential

And the risks that an unsuccessful movie like “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” or “Super Mario Bros.” could harm the property are real. Even profitable translations like the original “Tomb Raider” or “Resident Evil” have done little to increase sales of the games on which they were based.

“In terms of a creative expression, there’s nothing they can’t do in games,” noted Keith Boesky, a consultant and former ICM agent and prexy of vidgame publisher Eidos. “Financially, they make more money on games than they will on any other media they choose to exploit.”

Insiders also note that in order for either property to become a hit movie, it would have to broaden its appeal. “Halo 2” has sold more than 5 million units thus far, and “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” will almost certainly have done the same once holiday sales figures are available. But at $10 per ticket, rather than $50 per game, they’d have to reach a much bigger audience to become comparable hits on the bigscreen.

Still, the sci-fi/military story of “Halo” and gritty urban setting of “Grand Theft Auto” could translate easily at a time when big-budget actioners based on comicbooks and crime dramas are doing well in Hollywood. And with numerous vidgame projects in development ranging from “Spy Hunter” to “Doom” to “Castle Wolfenstein,” hit vidgames have never been hotter in Hollywood’s eyes.

But unless Rockstar or Microsoft sees some value in Hollywood they haven’t already, execs who deal with vidgames and movies agree that “Halo” and “Grand Theft Auto” may remain untouchable crown jewels.

“They say they don’t need Hollywood, and I don’t necessarily disagree,” another insider observed. “Their properties are just too valuable.”

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