Portal started off quite humbly as the video game equivalent to the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. It was released as part of The Orange Box—a collection of games by Valve that also included Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and Team Fortress 2. Portal was a short game that provides players with the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device and challenges them to solve puzzles through the use of portals.
It became an absurdly well-known, well-loved, and heavily-quoted success seemingly overnight to the point where Valve made a fully fleshed-out sequel, Portal 2, complete with two-player co-op and a much fuller, more-realized story. However, it is easy to see that much of that has “The cake is a lie”, Still Alive, and the Weighted Companion Cube, among other things to thank for making future endeavors in the Portal franchise possible.
Naturally, because of the level of fandom surrounding Portal, ears perked up when J.J. Abrams stated an announcement of a movie adaptation of Portal can be expected soon. There isn’t a teaser-trailer, nor have any details arisen, but even the most cursory Google search reveals that Abrams grabbed quite a bit of attention. Video game movies are truly hit or miss in terms of their quality, with some taking on a life beyond their source material (Wreck-It Ralph, for instance, was the product of blending video game culture and cinema nearly perfectly). Others, however, made for compelling arguments against blending the two mediums of entertainment. (Looking at you, Super Mario Bros.)
…there is enough backstory between the original game, its sequel, and the host of short videos released to build a fully-realized cinematic world…
Portal, as a film, could easily go either way. The biggest obstacle Abrams and those involved with this film will be facing is how to strike a balance between appealing to fans without pandering too much so thus able to draw in a larger audience. On name alone, a Portal movie will draw crowds. Fan films have managed as much by looking cool with…well, just showing off how universally appealing portals can be. However, that only goes so far. Will fans be let down by more rehashing of the same old, same old? Alternatively, there is enough backstory between the original game, its sequel, and the host of short videos released to build a fully-realized cinematic world featuring Chell, GLaDOS, Cave Johnson, and so on.
Drawing a larger audience may be where J.J. Abrams encounters some difficulty. Again: video game movies have a certain stigma about them. Moviegoers—especially those who aren’t interested in video games—aren’t going to have much incentive to see this if it only caters to people who have played the games. In the way that Five Nights at Freddy’s has a deeper appeal with its status as a newer look at horror, Portal revisits that curious place in many people that yearns for science fiction to become reality. The idea of moving objects or traversing distances without enduring difficulty by way of tearing holes in the fabric of reality seems pretty appealing.
It’s hard to really say for sure, either way, how this movie will turn out—if it even actually happens and doesn’t fall to the cutting room floor entirely as a failed venture, much like the Warcraft movie did so many times. However, like Warcraft, this could be a tremendous victory in terms of blending the worlds of video games blending and cinema. One thing we can all agree on, though: can someone make an actual announcement about this film already? Give the internet a little more substance and a little less suspense, J.J.
By Phil Gorski