The Legend of Zelda on Netflix

Currently, the internet is very slightly abuzz about rumours that Netflix and Nintendo are working together to create a live-action version of The Legend of Zelda.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of those (probably quite shifty, but that’s just my opinion) rumours, and by the time I get around to posting this, it will probably be old news – confirmed or denied, and out of the public’s mind.

However, I do have an opinion on the whole idea. Everyone seems to be rhapsodising about the possibility, and I think that that is hopelessly misguided. So many people are so excited about the possibility of a game series they love becoming a TV show they love that they forget about the practicalities.

If this show gets made, it will probably be terrible. If, by some wondrous chance, it isn’t terrible, it won’t be Zelda. Those games won’t translate well or recognizably to another medium.

For a start, it has a silent protagonist – the last attempt to give Link a voice is now a punchline for both terrible games and terrible voice acting. Television isn’t a medium in which a silent protagonist particularly works, and attempting to add a voice to the voiceless is necessarily going to change the tone and atmosphere of the work.

More importantly, The Legend of Zelda is not a plot-based series. It’s a gameplay-based one. For that reason, Nintendo has been able to put out games with essentially the same plot since 1986. Every Zelda game follows the basic pattern.

A colour-coded enemy imperils the kingdom, a mute hero takes up a sword to defend it. During his quest, he’ll go through around eight dungeons collecting objects/fragments of an object. Each dungeon will require a new item, probably found in the dungeon, and then that object will help unlock more of the map. Eventually, after defeating each dungeon boss and collecting all of the objects, the hero will engage in a titanic showdown with the enemy. He wins, roll credits.

Most of that summary is actions – the hero doing something. There isn’t much dialogue, or complex themes, or political intrigue. Just quest after quest. The plot in the games is a thin wrapper around the gameplay – you can swap out the particular obstacles and villain and perils and the gameplay will carry the whole thing. Plot doesn’t matter at all, in the end.

And that’s fine for games. Games don’t need a strong storyline if the game itself is strong enough – people will play through the most two dimensional hackneyed action plot if they get to shoot bad guys and win points while doing so.

That is not the case for television – it needs storylines and characters and interpersonal conflict, things which The Legend of Zelda only has in the loosest sense. Again, the show could either stick to the plot of the series, and be terrible, or change things and be something unrecognizable. No one will want to watch an hour a week of smashing pots to collect rupees.

Other issues are less basic, but still seem as though they would present significant issues. Live action, for example, is the current rumour. An animated series would work, but live-action gorons and octorocks are either going to be terrible CGI, or incredibly expensive CGI.

And yet everyone is so excited – forums and so on are filled with people talking about the possibility, but no one seems even vaguely concerned about the quality. It seems to be being taken as a given that it will be great, and I think that might be nonsense.

I just can’t, in the end, visualise this working well. Either it will be a poorly-acted, poorly-plotted show, or they’ll change it to something entirely different, in which case they might as well not call it The Legend of Zelda.

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