How Sony is selling a big-bet video game adaptation.
Uncharted, based on the popular video game, finally hits theaters this weekend after a journey of several years and lots of talent changes over the last few years.
As it stands, the final product stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a young adventurer out to find his fortune and live up to the legacy of his family, specifically Sir Nathan Drake, the 16th century explorer. Drake is on the trail of treasures lost by the crew of the Magellan in the early 1500s. To help him he partners with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who also previously worked with Drake’s missing brother Sam.
The movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, also stars Antonio Banderas and Sophia Ali as competing treasure hunters. Nathan Fillion, who campaigned heavily for the role back around 2009, does not appear.
Let’s take a look at how Sony has sold the film.
announcement and casting
Sony has had an adaptation of the game from Naughty Dog studios in some stage of development since around 2008. At one point David O. Russell was attached to direct and Wahlberg was slated to play the lead role. Joe Carnahan, Shawn Levy and others have also been named as directors over the years.
Holland was officially cast in mid-2017, with the movie pegged as a prequel to the story told in the games. Two years later Wahlberg, who had exited the project, jumped back in, this time in the supporting role as opposed to the lead. Banderas and the others joined in early 2020 as the movie finally moved into production.
All those changes meant the original 2017 release date has changed several times.
the marketing campaign: early phases
While promoting Onward in early 2020, Holland offered a brief update by saying production was just weeks away from beginning. Banderas and Gabrielle joined the cast in early 2020, shortly before Fleischer’s name was floated as the latest director.
The first official look at Holland in character came when he tweeted out a photo in October of 2020.
Nolan North, who provided the voice of Nathan Drake for the video games, was heavily involved in the teaser push, sharing additional photos, participating in online chats and otherwise giving the production his seal of approval, an important part of getting longtime fans on board.
Holland was one of the presenters at the 2020 Game Awards to help burnish his credibility and build awareness.
More official stills were released in January 2021 to prove the movie was still happening.
The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Its release date was then pushed from July 2021 to February 2022.
the marketing campaign: getting serious
After such a long period of anticipation, the first trailer (15.4m YouTube views) finally came out in late October 2021. It immediately establishes Drake as a hunter of lost treasures before allowing him and Sullivan to team up to look for the one of the biggest unfound hauls in history. It’s the same treasure Drake’s brother was on the trail of when he disappeared. But they’re not the only ones looking for it, meaning there are going to be shootouts, explosions and other man-made dangers in addition to whatever else awaits them.
A behind-the-scenes featurette with Holland and Wahlberg came out shortly after that trailer.
How Holland used the time at home after Covid-related pauses in production to bulk up in an effort to match the muscular look of Wahlberg was covered in this interview.
Drake and Sullivan look out into the middle distance looking very much like they’re on the cover of a video game package on the first poster, which didn’t come out until December. The remnants of old ships loom in the background to make sure the audience understands they’re searching through historical artifacts.
The second trailer (12.9m YouTube views) came out a bit later in December and shows more of how Drake and Sullivan are going to be working together, the conflicts they’ll have with others who are also on the hunt for the Magellan’s lost treasure and more. It’s filled not only with action but also lots of quips and one-liners, especially from Drake, since selling the tone of the film is even more important than selling the story.
In January the first clip was released showing a showdown on a cargo plane that has Drake hanging on for dear life. That clip was also introduced by Holland at Sony’s CES press conference, where he talked about how he learned about the game franchise and how excited he was for the film to come out.
Another poster, this one using the traditional action movie format of everyone being arranged around the star with locations from the story placed in the background.
The scope and complexity of the stunts and action sequences was the focus of a mini-featurette with Holland.
TV spots started running a month out from release that boiled the sales pitch down to the essentials, focusing on the wit and action.
Fandango MovieClips shared an exclusive trailer that offers a bit more of the character dynamics but otherwise covers a lot of the same ground as earlier spots, even if much of the footage is new to the campaign.
The plane sequence is referenced again on the next one-sheet, which uses an image of Drake hanging off the dangling cargo.
Holland and Wahlberg appeared in an announcement for Fandango when tickets went on sale at the end of January.
The IMAX-exclusive poster once more uses the plane sequence as its central element. ScreenX has posters that show Drake and Sullivan clutching important artifacts while on their journey. AMC Theaters ran a sweepstakes campaign where fans could unlock exclusive content. The Dolby poster released a bit later takes a more original approach, offering an illustrated take on Drake that looks like it’s been folded like a map.
Hyundai’s cross-promotional campaign kicked off in late January with a spot that features Holland as Drake driving the 2022 Tucson to a convenience store/service station to get repairs after suffering unusual damage.
The two stars show up again to joke with each other and offer their thoughts on the film in an extended spot released at the beginning of February. They did likewise in a spot that references this being an Olympics year and how they’re basically professional athletes in the movie.
Drake puts his bartending skills to violent work in the next clip.
The topic of how Holland used Covid-enforced time off to bulk up and more was covered in another interview with the actor. He then appeared in a featurette with Neil Druckman, who created the game, to talk about adapting it for the screen.
Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan appears in a commercial that aired during the recent NBA All Star game. Also on the sports front was a spot (roughly timed with the Super Bowl) with Holland and Wahlberg talking about fandom and commitment. Another, this one Valentine’s Day themed, had the two discussing the bromance between their characters.
How he approached the character of Nathan Drake was covered by Holland in another featurette.
Sony launched an AR lens for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram allowing people to put themselves in the “dangling from cargo out the back of a plane” sequence.
G Fuel launched a promotional campaign that positioned their nutrition supplement as the perfect fuel for high-energy adventures like those found in the movie.
The process of adapting the game into a movie was covered in another sit-down video featuring creatives from both media.
Fleischer talked about how working on Venom helped him approach this project and its action-heavy nature. How the trades departments translated the costumes and visuals of the game for the movie was covered in this profile.
A lyric video for “No Mind” by Milkblood was released earlier this week.
Many of the cast and crew appeared in person at an IMAX fan screening in New York City.
It’s an alright campaign for a big-budget movie projected to open with a $30 million weekend and which could serve as an indicator of Holland’s box-office draw when he’s not wearing the Spider-Man costume. But two major things jump out at me:
First, Sony really honed in on that plane sequence as the central element to help convince audiences to come see the movie in theaters.
Second, every time there’s a shot of Holland as a bartender I think this is a sequel or prequel to Cocktail and my interest in the film increases dramatically.