J.J. Abrams And Gabe Newell To Develop 'Portal' And 'Half-Life' Films; Is Something Bigger Than Mere Movies In Mind?

While Star Wars continues to dominate much of the conversation about big-ticket sci-fi film, the outcome of the DICE keynote talk between filmmaker J.J. Abrams and game-master Gabe Newell of Valve Software was even more stunning: the two are likely to collaborate to make games and movies. The stated movie interests are adaptations of popular Valve games Portal and Half-Life.

"We're making a Half-Life movie" is not quite what they said, but the door was certainly left open to Bad Robot and Valve collaborating on projects. And reading between the lines and taking a few other tips into account, it seems that one film is all but certain.

After the break, we'll give you the proper quotes from the creative pair, and start to figure out just what they're planning. Are the two hatching a scheme for something bigger than a simple game to film adaptation? I wonder if the very long-awaited conclusion of the Half-Life game series might take on a new sort of life thanks to this deal.

Here's what Newell and Abrams said, as captured by various outlets including Wired and Polygon:

Newell: What we are actually doing here, we are recapitulating a series of conversations going on. We reached the point that we decided to do more than talk.

Abrams: There's an idea we have for a game that we'd like to work with Valve on.

Newell: We're super excited about that and we're going to figure out if we can make a Portal movie or Half-Life movie together.

Both Abrams and Newell are nothing if not careful about what they say in public, and this conversation was explicitly described as a way to bring their private talks public. Prior to the quotes above, which came right at the end of their talk, Abrams and Newell had talked about the narrative possibilities in both games and movies, and the ways in which each media can be used to push an audience towards the end of a story.

Other hints we've been given today point to real action being taken on the development of a film involving Bad Robot and Valve. Given the simplicity of the material, I'd bet on Portal being the object of that effort.

Given the cautious ways both men have with revealing things to the public, there's clearly something happening here. The revelation is a big deal, because Valve has resisted Hollywood's efforts to capitalize on the popularity of its game lineup. In 2010, Newell proclaimed that any adaptation of a Valve property would be done by the studio itself. Those facts, taken with the conversation that highlighted many strengths of games and film, and the ways that each has influenced the other, leads me to wonder if there's something bigger brewing than just a Portal movie.

Newell and Abrams both like to go big — all you need to prove that is to check out headlines charting Abrams' actions this year, and Newell's history with Valve. Abrams isn't just making a Star Wars movie; he's making the Star Wars movie no one ever expected to see. Newell doesn't just make games; he makes games that have set benchmarks in the industry, and created a digital distribution platform (Steam) when traditional games distribution was obviously about to turn south.
Could we see this collaboration result in not merely a film adaptation of Portal, but in some previously unexpected conclusion to the Half-Life story? The game series has been dormant since 2007, when Half-Life 2: Episode 2 was released. (The "episode" naming convention is a bit misleading, but there were three pieces of episodic content planned to follow the 2004 release of Half-Life 2; only two have been released.) There is a story to finish, and a Portal film could lay the foundation for a groundbreaking film/game combo to conclude Half-Life.
Such a multi-media feat would be huge, not just in terms of content, but in terms of the relationship Valve has with its audience. There's a big Half-Life fanbase that won't be satisfied with anything other than an epic-length game conclusion. As we saw when Bioware kowtowed to an angry audience in the wake of last year's Mass Effect 3 release, that relationship, and the explicit conditions of it, is something developers take seriously.
But Portal and Half-Life take place in the same "universe," and Aperture Science, the headquarters of which is the location for Portal, plays a part in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Before this announcement I would have presumed that the two game series would eventually converge in parallel releases. Now I harbor hopes that Bad Robot and Valve are planning a Portal movie as the first step in making that convergence happen on a much larger scale.