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Sim-ply unfilmable? Inside The Sims movie that never was
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Sim-ply unfilmable? Inside The Sims movie that never was

When the news came out that Margot Robbie is set to produce a movie based on the iconic life-simulation video game, The Sims, many people’s first response was: “How the heck do you make a movie out of The Sims?” It may be one of the bestselling game series of all time but, crucially, it doesn’t really have any plot to work with. The entire point is that it’s a sandbox life sim, and players can do whatever they want.

This has all happened before. In 2007, it was announced that a movie based on The Sims was coming to the big screen, with what was then 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) acquiring the rights. It was written by Brian Lynch, who has become the Hollywood screenwriter of choice for some of the past decade’s biggest and most critically acclaimed family animations, including Puss in Boots (2011), Minions (2015) and Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022), and The Secret Life of Pets movies.

Lynch’s The Sims movie, he tells us, was a wish-fulfilment adventure. In its simplest terms, “a kid realises everything he does in his Sims game happens in his town the next day. He creates the life he always wanted. It gets out of control”.

The script was inspired by blockbusters such as Weird Science and Bruce Almighty, with a teen comedy vibe reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films, Lynch says. “My script was about a shy teenager who overthought every moment in his life. He recreates his entire town in the Sims game as a way of testing interactions and relationships out … it starts with tiny changes, and then he starts having fun with it.”

Brian Lynch standing in front of a Secret Life of Pets 2 posterView image in fullscreen

Things go awry, and the town starts hurtling out of control. Then “the bad kid in town gets ahold of it and becomes kind of an angry God, turning the town into a huge video game world with monsters, and our lead, who has no powers or abilities at that point, has to stop him,” he says.

This is The Sims movie we’ll never see, and it had a “weird personality”, says Lynch. “A kid playing God leads to some big, weird scenes – super-insane versions of his school and family, with really cool visuals.”

This take on the franchise was loved by execs, with The Sims developer EA and the head of Fox all on board. Eventually, it was greenlit by gaming royalty.

“The producer John Davis (Predator, Garfield) invited me to his office to pitch someone, I had no idea who he was. They never introduced us, and at that point I had pitched to a lot of people so I thought it was another exec for Fox or EA,” Lynch says.

“After the pitch, as we were hanging out, I realised it was Will Wright, the creator of The Sims. I am so glad I didn’t know it was him, I would have been really nervous.”

Video game characters at a pool party in The Sims 4 View image in fullscreen

Some fans at the time railed against the news of a big screen Sims. “I was raked over the coals when it was announced … they didn’t reveal the story, so people figured it was a cash grab, I suppose,” says Lynch. But it was intended to be full of references that fans would enjoy, with Lynch flying to EA’s headquarters in California to work with the team on the film. “When the game starts glitching, every character in tow, except for the lead, talks in Simlish,” Lynch says.

One especially fun reference would have been when our hero downloads the celebrity expansion pack. “There would have been famous people, playing themselves, walking around the town and in the school. That would have been cool. But the leads would all probably have been unknowns, which I think also added to the reasons Fox didn’t make it,” says Lynch.

Money, predictably, is another reason that the film ran aground. “It would have been live action but with a crap-load of special effects, which I think was ultimately what did it in. It was probably too expensive in the long run. Maybe we should have tried animation.”

There are plenty of reasons why a movie, even one based on such a recognisable series, can end up stuck in the dreaded development hell. In 2011, four years after its announcement, The Sims movie was still in development. “One of my friends was asked to direct it,” says Lynch, but he isn’t sure what happened next. “[It was] kind of sad because it’s a fun idea. I think I executed it well, and it was based on a game that everyone knows. I had high hopes for it.”

Kate Herron standing against Loki/Disney branding View image in fullscreen

What could all of this mean for Robbie’s Sims movie, which is to be produced by her production company, LuckyChap, and directed by Loki’s Kate Herron? It might seem that The Sims doesn’t actually have a plot – Lynch doesn’t think so, and Wright envisioned it as an interactive dollhouse – but that shouldn’t be a problem for the production company that had a huge hit last year with the Barbie movie. “I am a fan of everyone involved, so I’m really eager to see what they have cooked up,” Lynch says.

And, actually, the four enormous Sims games provide more than two decades’ worth of material, if you know where to look. The recurring characters, expansion packs, intricate family trees, missing persons and aliens make up a sprawling multiverse of timelines and subplots. The disappearance of one of the games’ most recognisable characters, Bella Goth – which occurs off-screen between The Sims and The Sims 2 – is one of gaming’s greatest mysteries and deserving of a movie adaptation in itself.

Now that a recent spate of good (and great) video game adaptations has lifted the curse of the video game movie, Lynch is interested in another of EA’s iconic game series. “I talked to the people at EA [about] SSX Tricky,” he says. “It’s a snowboarding game, but it has its own incredible personality: from the almost anime visuals to the incredible soundtrack.

“I thought it would be kind of like The Fast and the Furious, but with Scott Pilgrimesque snowboarding sequences and the greatest soundtrack of all time … Someone should call me on that one. It could be so fun.”

Source: theguardian.com