When adapting literature to other media, there can be a tendency to treat it will a degree of reverence that is quite unnecessary – case in point the 400 year old Chinese classic Journey to the West.
From the camp adventure of the 1970s Japanese series to the stylistic modernity of the Gorillaz-infused stage show and even gaming’s own Son Son – the characters and themes of have proved to be robustly adaptive, with their variety of interpretations equalled only by their success.
Hoping to join that illustrious assortment is Ninja Theory’s Enslaved – as radical a take on Journey to the West as we have seen so far, but one that rests comfortably in the hands of some of this (and other) industry’s most gifted individuals. We spoke with Ninja Theory Co-founder and Chief Creative Ninja (actual job title) Tameem Antoniades to discuss coordinating a large-scale studio project with the cream of movie and music production talent.
Having cut their big-budget teeth on the PlayStation 3, the Cambridge-based studio learned a huge amount from the martial arts epic, Heavenly Sword. Antoniades recalls the challenge: “We had no idea what we were creating – we just aimed high. We wanted to have facial performance that was believable. We wanted to have scenes where you fight over 2000 people on screen. We wanted so many things and we wanted to drive a narrative through the whole thing. There were so many things we attempted that in hindsight was amazingly ambitious – maybe even naive.” Indeed Heavenly Sword was a brave gamble, and although it may have not have fully paid off in becoming the mass-market killer-app that the PS3 so desperately needed, it’s ambitions weren’t wasted, earning it a group of dedicated fans that appreciated its scope.
Enslaved is set in New York 150 years into the future after humanity has ruined the world and itself in a self-destructive robot-powered war leaving a human population of only 50,000. Thankfully for the artists at Ninja Theory however, this post-apocalyptic vision permits far greater use of the colour palette than the expected gun-metal greys and rusting browns of many other grim futures. They’ve taken the fairly innovative step of presenting a verdant future, where mankind’s absence has led to nature taking over, covering buildings and city-scapes with layers of foliage and natural growth. It’s without doubt one of the prettiest apocalypses we’ve ever seen, and one more likely to encourage research into Terminator-esque robotic weaponry than the contrary.