In the nearly 24 years since the first video game movie hit the big screen, Super Mario Bros., Hollywood still hasn’t been able to get the formula quite right just yet. Really big budget features like Warcraft still perform poorly while franchise staple Resident Evil seems to have maintained its niche audience over 6 six films. Producer Adi Shankar hopes to flip the script on video game adaptations with Castlevania making its debut on Netflix sometime in 2017.
The 32-year-old mega producer, along with Warren Ellis (original Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse writer) and Adventure Time‘s Kevin Kolde, will have the chance to be the first with a video game original series to hit Netflix’s streaming service. With the success of Netflix originals like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and collaborations with Marvel on the Defenders properties, Netflix could be just the thing to give the video game adaptation genre a shot in the arm.
TV Goodness had the opportunity to chat with Shankar about Castlevania, and through a meandering, yet highly engaging and entertaining twenty minutes, we were also able to touch on this latest project, new ideas for other familiar franchises, and what drives him to create his “un-apologetically R-rated” shorts. Shankar had a very relatable response as to why he chose Castlevania for a re-imagining, after, of course, claiming the game had an, “amazing wardrobe. I would argue that I kind of dress like some of the characters in the game.”
TV Goodness: Of all the 80s video games that you could have done, why Castlevania?
Adi Shankar: I think sometimes, as a [whole], people talk about nostalgia like it’s a bad thing. I kind of, in a sense, made a career out of nostalgia. It’s not like a straight piece of nostalgia, it’s a means to an end. And this in no way pertains [strictly] to Castlevania, it’s kind of a broad stroke answer.
As an immigrant, as someone who is not from [the US] — I’m not really from any one place, I moved around a lot — these games were the cultural touchstones for me. Like if I’m moving from Hong Kong to Singapore and then coming to America, growing up in the 90s, everyone understood Power Rangers, X-Men, Castlevania, and Metroid. These were ways for me to relate to other people, to assimilate, and to find a community in a new place.
So, in a sense, they’re [more than just] characters to me. I have this sense of wonder and it takes me back to being a little kid and being alone or scared, but also having these people that I knew. They weren’t real people, they were characters, but other people at the school or the place I lived knew of these people. I knew them, I understood them, [these characters] were my friends, they were reliable.
Shankar goes on to compare geek subculture properties to religious texts. He uses that kind of common ground to garner support and find other people in Hollywood who are willing to work with him to get these projects off the ground. In an era where fan outrage is more frequent and louder than ever (think of how polarizing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was), it’s easy to see that fans have placed these properties on very high pedestals. But Shakar doesn’t think that these fans have manufactured reactions. “It’s an authentic reaction, a reflection of how they’re feeling,” he says of fans. “I think a lot of times the studios and PR folks roll their eyes at the community, but this is an authentic reaction to a pre-existing relationship to these characters that fans have.”
TV Goodness: Is that something that’s always in the back of your mind when you’re working on a project?
Adi Shankar: It’s literally all I do. I’m the guy who used to be sitting in the audience watching people take on his sacred texts, and watch them be disrespected or not treated appropriately. In fact, if I don’t have that feeling of creation panic and creative awakening, I won’t even engage in a project. Each project is different. Just to be clear, it’s never about showing somebody else up. But I’m someone who views these characters as real people. They’re real to me.
Here, the conversation took a turn as we began to discuss films that seemed disingenuous to their fan-base. His example was X-Men: The Last Stand, while TV Goodness proposed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation; the latter of which struck a cord with Shankar. After a few minutes spent on how much time went into the first Super NES Mortal Kombat game, he admits to having a very different treatment should he ever tackle the fighting game franchise, saying:
In a lot of ways, my dream project is Mortal Kombat. There are definitely some alterations I would make if I were to do a live action Mortal Kombat. Johnny Cage’s character always felt a little odd to me. He didn’t feel real, didn’t feel authentic. I would make Johnny Cage into more of an Eddie Murphy type, like if he was the world’s top martial artist as well. Just a fast talking dude who’s constantly talking trash and basically just a spoiled 90s movie star. Where he’s constantly talking in the 3rd person like, “I’m Johnny Cage, b—-!” I love Mortal Kombat. I’ve brainstormed a lot about what I would do with Mortal Kombat, and I would kind of do it like The Raid.
TV Goodness: Any other video game film treatments up your sleeve?
Adi Shankar: No, but what I’ve always found interesting about PokÃ©mon is that former NFL Quarterback Michael Vick went to jail for the same thing that Pokemon is built on. Throwing animals in a ring together and making them fight. So if I were to do something with Pokemon, it would be more of an allegory for the chaotic but controlled world we live in today. Ultimately, the PokÃ©mon and the trainers are all pawns to some giant PokÃ©battle ecosystem. I think that’s fascinating. The fact that there’s an actual ecosystem that takes something really barbaric but normalizes it, and society at large just goes with this barbaric activity because there are economic incentives in place in order to make society normalize it.
Another tangent here lead to a discussion on the current political climate; which, admittedly, isn’t something two strangers should jump into on their first meeting. But the parallels that were drawn between PokÃ©mon and politics seemed like too good an opportunity for Shankar to pass up.
Getting back on track with Castlevania, he was surprisingly tight lipped about detailing the series. Other reports have said that voice cast and more details would emerge in the coming weeks since the series was revealed during the Netflix call at the beginning of February. Without getting into series specifics, Castlevania promises to make vampires bad ass again. Without bashing Twilight, Shankar seems to believe there’s a the potential for a “hard R-rated retelling” of the series. “But not the 50 Shades version… More like a From Dusk Til Dawn version. It kind of started going there in that last film, as more like a psychological thriller. If you remove the diamond cased skin and all that stuff from it… It’s a terrifying story about a girl who starts hanging out with vampires but she doesn’t know what their deal is.”
Hearing the emotion in his voice as the conversation drifted on to topics he’s obviously passionate about, it’s no wonder each of his projects, especially Bootleg Universe shorts, strike such a nerve (be it good or bad) with viewers. Without giving any specifics what-so-ever, Shankar did briefly promise that fans will see two new releases from his Bootleg Universe in 2017 as well. No word on whether or not they will be animated or live action, but he does promise, “they’re both epic. Not saying anything else, but I will say they are more ambitious than anything that’s come before them.” More epic than Dirty Laundry, a piece that John Berenthal cited as his inspiration for Marvel/Netflix’s Punisher; or Power/Rangers, a piece that (will) eventually lead to a dark animated reboot on Netflix? Seems like a tall order, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Adi Shankar.
With all the content he’s produced over the years, we asked if he had any time to sit down and enjoy TV just as a spectator; he answered:
No, and it’s a problem. At some point, I’m just going to have to take a year off and just absorb. I’ve been on a warpath for almost a decade now, ultimately trying to create stuff. And it removes you from the perspective of the audience. I believe that’s dangerous.
Season 1 of an animated Castlevania hits Netflix in 2017; and fans can expect two more chapters in Shankar’s Bootleg Universe as well.
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