Here’s to Hyrule

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2023 has been a turbulent year for manifold reasons. Political meltdowns, economic downturns and, most importantly, the release of the Super Mario Bros. Movie in cinemas around the world. It may not seem like a significant event, but the release of the film, and its gargantuan success (it currently boasts a 1.36-billion-dollar box office gross), represent the culmination of a project that’s been brewing for decades: the creation of a successful video game adaptation.

Ever since the first attempt at a Mario movie in 1993, resulting in a film which is a mainstay in lists of the worst of all time, the prospect of a competent video game adaptation has seemed vaguely unattainable. However, thanks to Mario’s success – alongside HBO’s The Last of Us and the two Sonic the Hedgehog films – a mad dash has begun as studios have tried to get such adaptations into production, now that they’re hot Hollywood property. Most recently, this includes Nintendo’s announcement that The Legend of Zelda will be receiving its own live-action adaptation in the coming years.

When casting the hero of the Zelda film, Nintendo is faced with a potentially insurmountable task

Now, for those of us who spent their childhood’s forgoing the outdoors in favour of the simulated outdoors of Hyrule (the fantasy world in which Zelda takes place), the phrase ‘live-action Zelda’ conjures near-traumatic images of poorly costumed fan films, and Smosh’s infamous Legend of Zelda Rap – the idea of a big-budget adaptation of the series still seems like a pipe dream. Like many Zelda fans, I had resigned myself to the fact that the closest we’d get to a proper adaptation would be the Studio Ghibli-inspired animated short films on YouTube and, at a stretch, the notoriously terrible 80s cartoon. But the announcement isn’t quite cause for celebration just yet, as the Zelda film still has some significant obstacles to pass in production. Perhaps the most difficult of these will come in its casting: namely how to cast its protagonist, the Hero of Time himself, Link.

For many Zelda fans, a key part of Link’s appeal is his universality and, focally, his androgyny. A largely voiceless (grunts excluded), slim-built elf with long blond hair and a penchant for flowing tunics, he isn’t the traditionally rugged figure we associate with adventure games of this sort. Indeed, one mission in 2017’s Breath of the Wild sees our protagonist sneak into Gerudo Village by cross-dressing, an image which has launched a thousand pieces of not-quite-safe-for-work fanart. So, when casting the hero of the Zelda film, Nintendo is faced with a potentially insurmountable task. Is there an actor alive who can capture the inherent ambiguity in Link’s gender presentation, whilst simultaneously maintaining the air of mythic heroism the Hero of Time warrants, all without disrupting the brooding, potentially silent, demeanour the character has held on to for nearly forty years?

The difficulty with casting a character like Link is that generations of gamers have projected their own ideas onto him

Various names have been floated for the role, most of whom seem in one way or another to miss these, admittedly lofty, marks. Perhaps, with the gender-crisis appeal of his latest music video, Troye Sivan could be the one to take up the Master Sword? Probably not. The same goes for Tom Holland who, though not a stranger to miscast video game adaptations (last year’s Uncharted), seems unlikely to be swinging into Hyrule any time soon with at least three more Spider-Man outings lined up in his immediate future. One name that’s been consistently linked to the role of Princess Zelda is Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer, who has, since the film’s announcement last week, been suggested for the lead part itself. This would certainly be a left-field choice but given Schafer’s uniquely elf-like look and evident acting chops, it wouldn’t necessarily be a poor one. That said, given Nintendo’s track record for playing it as safe as possible when it comes to their IPs, it seems unlikely that they’d make a choice as bold as gender-swapping one of their most iconic characters.

The difficulty with casting a character like Link is that generations of gamers have projected their own ideas onto him. He is the archetypal silent protagonist, so players are left to fill in the gaps with their own ideas of what a hero looks and sounds like. That’s why, prior to the announcement that the Zelda film would be live-action, there was serious discussion as to whether there was need for Link to be cast at all, given that an animated Link would hardly require voicing, outside of a few grunts and the odd shout. If Nintendo are committed to live-action, then perhaps the best way to reconcile this tension is by giving the role to a complete unknown, someone with the same absence of associated preconceptions that the silent figure of Link ought to have. Or maybe they’ll just cast Chris Pratt – who’s to say which is more likely?

Image: MaDraw6 via DeviantArt

One thought on “Here’s to Hyrule

  • For fans of the Zelda franchise, the prospect of a live-action film evokes both excitement and trepidation. Previous attempts, such as the infamous 1993 Mario movie, have left a sour taste, making the idea of a high-budget Zelda adaptation seem like a distant dream. However, the road ahead is fraught with challenges, particularly in casting the iconic protagonist, Link.

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