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TREASURE HUNTER, EXPLORER, HISTORIAN… THIEF: THOUGHTS ON NATHAN FILLION’S TURN AS NATHAN DRAKE

Perfection? Not quite... but damn close.

IN THE FLESH…

This time, I’m not just late to the party; the party’s over — plates cleared, glasses emptied, rubbish thrown in the bin. I’m showing up just as everyone’s settling down and getting ready for bed (fun fact: that actually happened to some relatives of mine recently…). Thing is: I have to talk about this one — I’ve been meaning to since it showed up while I was on holiday last month. As for why I haven’t, despite the fact that I’ve been home from said holiday for a few weeks now… you know the drill: motivation, and the unfortunate fact that my particular brand of it doesn’t give a shit whether I have to do something or not…

… I know, I know: get to…

THE POINT

On the night of November 20, 1511, the Flor de la Mar Flower of the Sea — captained by Afonso de Albuquerque and carrying the fruits of de Albuquerque’s conquest of Malacca, was lost in a powerful storm off the northern tip of Sumatra.

The spoils the Portuguese took from Malacca staggered the imagination. More than sixty tons of gold booty in the form of animals, birds, gilded furniture ingots and coinage came from the sultan’s palace alone. It took up so much space that the crew had trouble stowing an additional two-hundred gem-filled chests. The diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires in them, valued at more than thirty million crowns, would be worth billions of dollars today.— Robert F. & Jenifer Marx. Treasure Lost at Sea: Diving to the World’s Great Shipwrecks. 2004.

As time’s gone on, various claims that the Flor has been found have been made, but (given that none of the claimants could provide irrefutable evidence to back them up) it is, to this day, still considered lost… leaving the door wide open for a certain fictional treasure hunter to take a crack at finding it…

… and when we join him in director Allan Ungar’s recently-released short film, that’s exactly what Mr. Drake (played by Nathan Fillion) is doing.

I must admit, despite the deluge of calls for Fillion to be given the on-screen Drake over the years — not to mention the actor’s undeniably striking resemblance to the character — I was never quite sold on the idea. I wasn’t against it or anything, but being unfamiliar with the majority of Fillion’s work, I just couldn’t picture it. Mere resemblance, after all, isn’t everything — and, frankly, I had problems imagining Nate being brought to life by anyone other than Nolan North.

Thankfully, though, ‘mere resemblance’ is far from the only thing Fillion brings to the table.

From the moment he’s revealed in that villa on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, he’s absolutely believable as Nate — thanks not only to a great performance, but also to a script that perfectly captures the character’s quippy wit.

That is a compass… perhaps we can use it to find this fella a haircut that didn’t go out in the nineties…

In fact, the only real issue I have with the film’s version of the character is that it leans a little too heavily on Nate’s goofy side for my liking. It’s definitely part of the character, that goofiness, but it never feels, in the games, quite as in-your-face — as forced, even — as it does here. (‘Kitty got wet!’ for example, utterly fails to land.) My other issues — that Fillion’s Nate doesn’t come across as being quite as… agile as you’d expect him to be, and that (considering the film’s apparent setting somewhere between Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception*) he appears a little on the old side — belong firmly under the heading ‘Nitpicking’.

‘I’LL BE GO TO HELL.’

Though the running sequence towards the end will (for me, of course) never not be jarring, much of Nate’s actions sell the character every bit as much as his dialogue; his hand-to-hand combat, lifted almost perfectly from his in-game moveset, provides a satisfying jolt of recognition, and his gunplay — aided by some fun camerawork — is a pleasure to watch.

In fact, the whole thing (even if it does fall victim to the horrifically overdone orange/teal colour grading that Jurassic World made me allergic to) is a pleasure to watch — but, really, the magic here lies in the writing, and the performances that bring it to life.

Stephen Lang’s Sully and Mircea Monroe’s Elena might not have the benefit of looking like their video-game counterparts, but once you get past that initial unfamiliarity, they’re as easy to accept as Nate — Sully more so than Elena, admittedly, given their respective screen time. Nevertheless, they ring true… and so, crucially, does the story.

The search for the Flor de la Mar has all the makings of a great Uncharted tale, and in taking the time to breathe, to set it up, rather than skipping straight to the next piece of action, Ungar’s film well and truly sells it — making the single most disappointing thing about it the fact that, when Sully declares the trio’s next stop to be the Philippines, we’re unable to go with them.

In May 2016, I finished my thoughts on Uncharted 4 with a farewell to Nate, Elena, Sully and co. ‘So long, guys.’ I said. ‘I’ll miss you.’ Until now, I didn’t realise just how much.

*
Mentioning Quivira is a lovely nod to PlayStation Vita’s oft-overlooked Golden Abyss.

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