Jerusalem writer Jez Butterworth joins battle with the Asteroids


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The Independent Culture

Writing one of the most acclaimed new plays of recent times and receiving huge praise for its follow up, Jez Butterworth has the pick of projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet, the writer of Jerusalem has surprised many with his latest project: an adaptation of Asteroids, the classic arcade game, into a big screen Hollywood blockbuster.

Butterworth is the third writer to sign up for the nostalgic project which has failed to get beyond the earliest development phase in the past three years.

Asteroids was one of the most popular arcade games of its time. Atari released the game in 1979, a year after Space Invaders, at a time that would later be known as “the golden age of video arcade games”.

The shoot-‘em-up is gaming at its most basic. Players control a spaceship, represented by a triangle, defending earth from an asteroid shower and the occasional flying saucer. It went on to become Atari’s most successful coin-operated game.

Despite the lack of storyline Asteroids prompted a four-way battle for the rights in 2009, which was eventually won by Universal. The company has experience of adapting seemingly unfilmable games, after it brought Battleship to the big screen this year, although it met with a raspberry from audiences and critics. 

Blockbuster specialist producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who also produced GI Joe, as well as the Transformers and Matrix franchises, is backing the film. In 2009 he said the creative team had “crafted a really strong, deep mythology for this thing”.

He initially called in Matthew Lopez, who wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to provide a script. He was followed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote a series of scripts for Disney and is working on the sequel to action film Wanted. It is unclear if Butterworth is starting from scratch or working off existing material.

While perhaps best known for Jerusalem, his fourth play for the Royal Court Theatre, which won Mark Rylance best actor Bafta and Tony Award, Butterworth has also written for the big screen.

His work includes the 2001 film Birthday Girl, starring Nicole Kidman, which he also directed, as well as the screenplays for The Last Legion and Fair Game with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

Butterworth is also attached to the planned biopic of soul singer James Brown, which is set to be produced by Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger.

Video game adaptations are notoriously fraught with danger, with few finding critical favour and only a handful proving lucrative. Among the biggest hits were Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Less well regarded were films including Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue, and Hitman.

Yet studios remain undaunted with adaptations including Devil May Cry and Gears of War in pre-production. Yet, some serious acting talent is attached to some of the projects.

Assassins’ Creed will see Michael Fassbender don the cowl in the live action version. Tom Hardy has just signed up to play special agent Sam Fisher in the big screen adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, according to Variety.