Many, many Magic players all over the world hope that Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would one day make a movie based on Magic: the Gathering. As consumers, it is easy for us to forget that there are many, many hurdles that must be overcome to make it a reality. In today’s article, I will be discussing some of the unique problems associated with a Magic movie.
Educating the Audience
Just about every movie spends some amount of time educating their audience. This is prevalent in superhero movies. Not everyone is familiar with Spider-Man. Your little niece or nephew may not have ever seen a comic book. Your grandma was never big on those mutant things. A successful movie must be able to reach a wider audience than just a couple of dedicated fans.
Go back and watch a couple of superhero movies. They slowly weave the education into the movie. If done well, you hardly notice it. This is our hero. This is how they were created. These are their superpowers. This is the villain. This is the villain’s backstory. This is the villain's superpowers. A lot of the first Spider-Man movie was simply a two-hour long education seminar.
Here lies the biggest problem. Magic has a huge learning curve. A major portion of the movie will simply be about explaining, well, stuff about Magic. There is the option of stripping down Magic to its bare bones. It could be done. However, it takes away what makes Magic unique. Star Wars is Star Wars because of Jedi and the Force. You take all that away, and you are left with a generic science fiction story.
I’ve tried doing this in my own fanfic called The Story of Mercury. A lot of the approach of the plot is devoted to educating the audience. Dedicated fans may find it strange why I created this character Mercury who can give people sparks. It wasn’t me trying to redefine Magic. She’s a great tool to just make planeswalkers. I don’t have to spend a lot of time with backstory. It just happens. That way I can spend more time with education and I start my characters at zero. It allows me to level the audience up slowly. At the end of the story, I finally introduce one of the characters, Jax, who ignites his “true” spark. At that point in the story, I feel the audience can appreciate its significance.
Much of Magic knowledge will have to be dealt out in small doses. A movie can't just vomit the game theory or whatever in the first ten minutes. It is simply too much. The education will have to be rationed in small doses throughout the film. For Magic, this also slows down the storyline. This means the characters will have to evolve or the scenes in the movie will be dictated by adding this knowledge. Jace just can't come out with his guns blazing so to speak. People would be lost. What's going on? What just happened? You, as a Magic player, understand. The other people in the audience won't.
The next big hurdle is how to brand the planeswalkers. Like I said previously, we could strip down Magic to its essentials. However, then we just have a bunch of wizards that are just like Gandalf and Harry Potter. I really don’t believe Magic has a problem with depth. Magic has a rich history and mythos. The problem is separating it uniquely from other fantasy.
If dedicated to the pure Magic experience, we have a lot of technical logistics to overcome. The biggest is the game mechanics. Explaining them can be done, but visualizing it up on the big screen is difficult. We can’t voice over everything that is happening. That would be terrible. If we don’t explain anything, the audience is just confused and equally bored. They get bored; they stop watching.
To illustrate, let's tackle what appears simple, but the most difficult thing to overcome. The problem is lands. If you dive deeper into the archives, you will not find a clear explanation on how planeswalkers use lands or the mana from those lands. While they may not admit it, Wizards has tried over the years to explain how this works. After a certain point, they came to the conclusion that it just didn’t matter all that much and stopped putting energy into finding a reasonable explanation.
If you search the wikis for land, they are fairly vague. You may even find some statements at Wizards contradicting each other. Anyway, there are two prevalent theories. The first is that planeswalkers superimpose the lands they summon over the surrounding pre existing lands. This is horribly messy for a story. As a director, it would be horribly expensive. The CGI budget for lands would gobble up cash. In the end, it also makes little sense to a general audience. It would be confusing that someone has the power to create an entire mountain, but can’t fight off a wasp? This option is just not feasible.
A second option is to simply say these planeswalkers bond to the land with their minds. While cheap, it is also confusing. Where would this mana appear from? How do you tell if the planeswalkers has a bunch of lands to just a few? What about man lands? It has the initial appearance of being simple, but it actually has many issues.
There are many, many more issues with both scenarios that I’m not even discussing. This is why I created the rift in my fanfic: The Story of Mercury. Conveniently, the rift looks like a planeswalker symbol. The size is about that of a small airplane. The rift can be thought of as a small wormhole in a way. In this reinterpretation, the rift is actually an opening to the Blind Eternities. The Blind Eternities is the space between planes. Inside, there is aether that is the raw energy, the building blocks of the multiverse. Think of a sandwich. The bread is the two different planes. The peanut butter between is the aether. The Blind Eternities is simply the space the peanut butter fills up.
The beautiful thing about the rift is it is something I can manipulate. I can change its size as a player draws more cards. I can shrink it as a player’s hand shrinks. I can change its color. I can pull stuff out of it as a planeswalker summons a dragon. I can use it like a playmat in some cases like a big bulletin board. I will use it in this scenario for lands. As you bond with lands, they appear at the bottom of the rift. When a planeswalker draws mana from them, they turn grey.
How do I explain hand size?
The rift is unstable. Opening it too large makes it more unstable. Therefore, planeswalkers are forced to shrink their rifts or risk death.
How do I explain milling?
Milling happens by destabilizing the opposing planeswalker’s rift. You pull out spells that result in outward distortions. I imagine it like bubbles forming outside the rift. The more bubbles, the less stable the rift.
Why don’t planeswalkers just keep this rift open?
Keeping a rift open too long causes it to become unstable and it will backfire either killing or rendering the planeswalker unconscious. It would be akin to losing the game when there are no cards in your library to draw.
I virtually can use the rift to explain almost everything in Magic. That is what is important here. It is a visual tool to help explain the game. It is clay. I can manipulate it. I can change it. If done right visually, we might not even have to explain it. For the dedicated fans of Magic, this may not be your idea of the game. However, if you want a movie to successfully be made, Magic may have to have a reinterpretation. It needs something a director, screenwriter and visual effects people can manipulate.
Violence in Cinema
Magic is a violent game by nature. Sure, there is storylines of love or friendship, but the game itself revolves around conflict. This is great for a game. However, it can be a problem. My hunch is the higher ups would want this Magic movie to be PG-13. That means limiting the amount of violence. That’s a big hurdle when your entire game is virtually based on conflict. There are ways to hide violence. A great movie to watch is Pirates of the Caribbean. If you pay attention, you rarely see a sword strike someone directly. It is either off camera or implied. You see Johnny Depp swing a sword and then the camera switches to see the opponent falling. The Lord of the Rings series actually hides a lot of violence surprisingly.
The other trick is to dehumanize them. In Pirates of the Caribbean, the bad guys are skeletons. When they are skeletons, they get struck more by swords and what not. George Lucas does this in Star Wars. Why are there robots? You can destroy robots. It’s okay to mutilate them with lightsabers. It is okay to kill a stormtrooper. You don’t see their face. They aren’t perceived as real humans. Aliens are also more expendable.
Magic will have to face this issue. The rift conveniently solves some of these issues. Why? The creatures and people that come out of the rift aren’t real. When a planeswalker becomes incapacitated, the rift closes. The rift closes; everything disappears. When a dragon is killed, it can turn into dust or something. Why? They aren’t real. A lot of the violence will still have to be hidden, but it helps bring it down to that highly coveted PG-13 rating. No matter what, violence will be an issue and it will need to be hidden to some degree.
Not Your Magic Movie
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you probably won’t like the first movie. Magic is already complicated. Explaining it in the movie will take up a big part of it. That also means lowering the complexity of the rest of the movie. For example, there will be no slivers. It is hard enough trying to explain Magic. Having to explain slivers is just too much. I know certain people think Phyrexians are a perfect bad guy. They're not. In fact, they are terrible. They are hard to explain and they bring with them a whole ball of logistical problems. Phyrexians are a third movie kind of bad guy after we have educated our audience.
The first Magic movie will have lots of iconic creatures. There will be gargoyles, zombies, vampires, dragons, etc. Sorry cephalid lovers. You too, eldrazi. The first movie will be a core set movie. I’m fine with that because that is what it will take for a successful first movie. After our audience has been educated, then we can slowly introduce more complex villains, characters, and storylines.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have some nostalgia. Some may find it strange I put Black Lotus in my storyline. It is because I want the muggles to go home and Google it. It is the most iconic thing and one of the most expensive things in Magic. I literally want people poop their pants when they see the price tag. It will cause excitement. It will get people hooked. I don’t want them going home to Google Squirrel Mob.
Many people wonder why cheesy horror movies keep getting made. They are cheap to make. A $10 million dollar horror movie that brings in $20 million is a success. The John Carter movie, for example, actually brought in about $300 million. However, it was a box office bomb due to its $300 million budget plus the millions spent in marketing. The loss ended up being about $80 million. Think about that. Eighty. Million. Dollars. If a person just looked at what it brought in, they'd say it was a very successful movie. It was in part. A lot of people liked the movie. However, it lost massive, massive amounts of money compared to what it brought in on ticket sales.
As consumers, we rarely think about these things. I fondly remember a Stargate special where they answered fan questions. One question was a fan asking why they didn’t fly around everywhere. The response was called a budget. Walking in the forest is cheap. CGI is expensive. Talking is also cheap. It is the reason some episodes on some shows just have them sitting around talking. This way they can be big and flashy on other episodes by conserving their yearly budget. It is the reason many of the characters spend a lot of the time sitting around talking in my storyline. Oh, I could slap every fantastic scene I could think of in my story. However, it is not feasible to produce such an adventure.
You have to keep one thing in mind. Fantasy has historically done terrible in theaters. A Magic movie will have a small budget unless people can convince the big head honchos that it is worth it. Magic will necessitate a lot of CGI. Sure, we could make a Magic movie for four hundred million dollars. The problem is it may only bring in only three hundred million. Making a movie isn’t just about asking if we can do it. It is about making a profit. Wizards has an uphill battle. Not only do they have a slew of logistical obstacles, they also have to absolutely prove that it will be successful. Superhero movies have proven themselves. Fantasy has a terrible past. Even successful fantasy has bombed at the box office.
As you may have noticed at this point that I am writing my fanfic as if I was writing for a movie. I have no delusions of grandeur. I was merely interested on how complicated it could be. It has taught me a couple of things you may not like. Someone may ask why I created new planeswalkers. For one, current planeswalkers come with baggage. Two, some of them just won’t be possible. Ajani would be too expensive. People are cheap. I know I will get a lot of flak for this, but characters like Jace are boring. As a fan of the game, Jace rocks. For storyline purposes, there is nothing too exciting about him. He lacks depth. You, as a fan may love him, your grandmother will find him stiff.
Planeswalkers are designed for a game. They weren’t designed to be interesting characters for the big screen. It is the reason I am maybe overly attached to my reinterpretation to be fair. However, I have reasons for what I am doing. I’m not trying to reinterpret Magic simply for the sake of it. I’m doing it to put it up on the big screen.
If I was asked why I like my rift thing so much, I would respond with the following. The rift is more akin to you, the player. The current writing style for storyline is more closely to akin to the planeswalkers on the battlefield. For the game, that’s fine. A movie is a whole different beast. Besides, I would want movie watchers who pick up the game to feel like they are in the movie. They are playing a game version of that movie. I would love to see kids outside roleplaying as planeswalkers. I would love to see little kids arguing about rifts, spells, and mana.
It doesn’t matter though. If Wizards wants a storyline to revolve around Jace, well, they control the purse strings. Not only does Wizards have to be happy with the script, the movie executives and Hasbro need to be happy with the storyline. In the end, the audience also has to be happy with what they watched. That's a lot of strings pulling a lot of different directions.
Greenlighting a Magic Movie
While I am hopeful, there are a lot of barriers and constraints special to making a Magic movie. This isn’t even considering the regular complications. There is acquiring the screenwriter and director. It will also take considerable effort into educating them. I doubt there are many who are well versed in the game. Even if a script gets approved, the director will be spending a lot of time in meetings making sure everyone is happy with the product. This isn’t even considering the whole logistical complications of actually making the movie.
At the end, I am not trying to pooh-pooh a possible movie. I can’t wait for it to happen. However, maybe some things just aren’t meant for the big screen.
Thanks for reading.
Meyou aka Shadowwriter