We recently caught up with the former president and co-founder of Tiger Hill, Brad Foxhoven, who acted as producer of the untitled Metroid movie project. Director John Woo (Mission: Impossible II) and Tiger Hill stepped in in 2004 when another studio, Zide-Perry Productions, let their option on the license lapse. At the time, Nintendo was underway with three Metroid-related projects, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for GameCube,Metroid Prime: Hunters for Nintendo DS, and the Fuse Games spin-off Metroid Prime Pinball.
Foxhoven says that Tiger Hill was in it for the long haul and embarked on a three-year development process, crafting a story that would appeal to both new and existing fans. “We knew that a lot of the Metroid mythology had many similarities to other well-known science fiction franchises, so we had to try and propose some fresh ideas that Nintendo would approve. We also knew that the characters were originally developed many years ago, when game systems were limited in their graphics and animation. These same designs needed to be updated, particularly when seen as a live-action representation.”
Originally pegged for a 2006 release, development slipped as Tiger was spending a lot of time working around Nintendo’s restrictions for the license and its characters. It had been more than 10 years since the critical and commercial failure of infamous The Super Mario Bros. adaptation, but it had left an indelible impression on Nintendo and how it would approach future licensing deals with Hollywood.
“Nintendo was definitely discouraged by it, but felt that with John [Woo] they would be in better hands,” said Foxhoven. “The challenge for us was that it felt that the biggest lesson Nintendo learned from Mario was to hold onto their rights even tighter, limiting collaboration when it came to translating Metroid to the big screen. Our entire development time was spent exploring the Metroid world, and what we could – and couldn't – do within it.”
Tiger Hill brought in several writers to give it a shot, including David Greenwalt of Buffy, Angel, and Grimm fame. “We liked David because he brought along a strong sensibility for a female protagonists. Obviously this was a must, with Samus being the key figure in all of this. We made it as far as a treatment for a live action film that John would possibly direct.”
Early scripts focused on series hero Samus Aran and her origin story. Tiger wanted to explore who Samus was before she became the lone bounty hunter featured in the games. According to Foxhoven, the movie version of Samus was to be an exceptionally talented, but also flawed character who was looking for redemption. “We wanted to see her struggle, to be humbled, and to be forced to rise up against crazy odds. And of course we wanted to see the cool weapons in all of their glory.”
But the more the writers tried to build out Aran’s back story, the more they ran into walls – both creatively and on the licensing front. “Things started to go south when we tried to dig into the character a bit more. As you know, any film needs a deeper story arc than what is told in the game, where we learn about the characters and their world,” said Foxhoven. “What are they doing when they are NOT fighting? What is their daily existence and relationships? What are Samus's aspirations, history, and fears? Nintendo appreciated the questions, but had never thought about them before, and ultimately didn't have a lot of answers. In the end, they felt uncomfortable with our team being the ones to propose those answers.”
The project ground to a complete halt in 2007 and the team disbanded as Foxhoven focused on executive-producing the Tiger Hill/Midway game John Woo Presents Stranglehold. The rights lapsed again and so far no new studio has stepped forward to give it another shot. Now busy as CMO of mobile development studio Ogmento and CEO of CG animation house Blockade, Foxhoven remains hopeful that Metroid will eventually get another try.
“I know for Nintendo, they walked away appreciating the process and how much further they needed to explore the franchise so that it has a chance for a feature film at some point. I still believe there is a chance. There are quite a few Hollywood executives in town who grew up playing Metroid, and who would be willing to take the time needed to bring Nintendo along in the process.”