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The Gears Of War Movie Could Be Amazing, But It Needs The Pendulum Wars Backstory From The Books

The "Gears of War" movie is coming. Like the Locust horde, it's been hiding underground for years, waiting for the right moment to emerge. There were rumors and rumblings. There were failed attempts, and the "Halo" show, whose mixed reviews cast some aspersions on the idea of adapting high-profile Xbox shooters. But then the news came late in 2022 that Netflix was finally making the "Gears of War" movie a reality, with further plans for an animated series after the film's release.

If you've only played the "Gears of War" games, you might still have some misgivings. After all, it's not exactly a franchise that leads with storytelling. Most of the main characters are armored-up grunts who look like they were carved out of concrete. Their rifles have chainsaw bayonets because Locust skin is too tough for regular knives to penetrate, but also because that's a ridiculous thing to put in a video game in 2006. While there's certainly a story — the apocalyptic struggle of humanity against a monstrous, endless subterranean horde — it takes a backseat to the action. "Gears" became the poster child for interactive violence on the Xbox 360, complete with a bloody skull logo to really tie it all together.

If you were one of the lucky few to give the "Gears of War" novels a chance, however, you'll know that there's a lot more to this world than meets the eye in the games. The Netflix movie has every opportunity to be amazing, but it needs to pull from the books — especially when it comes to the characters and the Pendulum Wars.

A whole book series for that Gears of War chainsaw game? Really?

For those who aren't familiar with the "Gears of War" novels, here's a bit of history.

Tie-in novels for video game shooters were all the rage when "Gears of War" debuted on the scene in 2006. The success of 2001's "Halo: The Fall of Reach" led to a whole series of books set in the franchise, which expanded the lore and energized the growing fandom in ways the games just couldn't. When "Gears" was released, it was positioned as the next "Halo" — another Xbox-exclusive military sci-fi shooter that would lead the charge on the 360 just as "Halo" had done on the original Xbox. And so, the same business model was put in place. The first tie-in novel, "Gears of War: Aspho Fields," was released just days before "Gears of War 2" in 2008.

It would have been easy to make the book a cheap, rushed cash-in, but that's not what happened. Instead, the assignment was handed to Karen Traviss, a veteran of military sci-fi who'd previously cut her teeth on the "Star Wars: Republic Commando" novels. Traviss was instrumental in crafting the Mandalorian mythos of the old Expanded Universe, as well as developing the internal culture of the clone army. She had proven her mettle with her own original novels, and with the most valuable sci-fi franchise in the world. And thanks to her, the world of "Gears of War" became far more than a silly Mountain Dew bro fest.

The Gears of War books expand the story in huge ways

"Gears of War: Aspho Fields" is split between two timelines. One covers the members of the games' Delta Squad — Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Damon Baird, and Augustus Cole — in the lead-up to the Xbox sequel. The other timeline leaps back to Dom and Marcus' childhood, long before the Locust's first attack on Emergence Day. We see their very different upbringings: Dom with his happy family, and Marcus in a mansion by himself, largely ignored by his genius parents. We also see how they each found their way into the army and fought in the so-called Pendulum Wars that ravaged the planet Sera for 80 years. The book's title alludes to the top-secret military operation that led to the end of the war.

Most of Traviss' "Gears" books tend to follow this basic pattern — one storyline going in the present, and another adding context through a specific historical event. If you've read them, you'll recall the Siege of Anvil Gate, the deployment of the Hammer of Dawn by Chairman Prescott, and Marcus' time jailed in the brutal Slab prison. These arcs flesh out details that are referenced in the games, but never fully explored. They show a world that was broken long before the Locust attacked, and a group of characters who are forced to fight because their lives don't offer another way.

The Pendulum Wars are crucial to understanding the characters of Gears of War

In a video game, you can brush past character backstories and motivations because the gameplay will always be the star — at least in a major action franchise like "Gears of War." But in a movie or a TV show, viewers need a little more. The dichotomy of all-out firefights and walking slowly through rubble that makes up the "Gears" games isn't really sustainable in a different format, which is probably why the books feature so many flashbacks.

In the Netflix adaptation, the Pendulum Wars need to be as important as the Locust. Seeing how the C.O.G. (Coalition of Ordered Governments) came to dominate the planet and establish a fascist regime is critical to understanding the world of Marcus and Dom. Through Traviss' additions, "Gears" becomes a generational saga — a story about how the past shapes the future, and how the shadows of our predecessors never fully fade. It's a portrait of war as a tool of fascist governments, and a look at how valorizing violence can destroy a society's soul.

Sure, Marcus Fenix is cool as just a gruff-talking tough guy, but he's way more interesting when you know that he was once the shy and lonely kid. His relationship with Dom becomes more layered when you learn about Carlos, Dom's older brother, who was Marcus' real best friend before they joined the army. And the insecurity in Colonel Hoffman's harsh method of command falls flat if you don't know that he was never supposed to be the one in charge.

Netflix has grand plans for the Gears of War universe

Once upon a time, way back in 2007, New Line Cinema was set to produce a "Gears of War" movie. That obviously never happened. Today, the realm of video game adaptations is much larger and more reputable, with recent hits like "The Last of Us" at HBO and the "Sonic the Hedgehog" movies. Always looking for opportunities to build out transmedia brands, Netflix has announced plans for an adult animated series to follow the "Gears of War" film. Both are being developed in conjunction with The Coalition, the game studio that currently manages the franchise.

If it was still New Line, and it was still just a movie, incorporating the "Gears" novels might not be necessary. You could get away with three hours of angsty dialogue, bombed-out cityscapes, and action. But Netflix surely wants to parlay the movie into as many future projects as possible, which would make it as much of a stage-setter as an individual project.

Given how much success Netflix has had with animated game adaptations like "Castlevania" and "Cyberpunk: Edgerunners," the theoretical "Gears" show sounds even more promising than the movie. A full season of television would leave plenty of time for individual character flashbacks, multiple timelines, and all the little details that Traviss brought to the series.

The Gears of War movie should open with the Battle of Aspho Fields

With "Dune" screenwriter Jon Spaihts now onboard as the official scribe of the "Gears of War" movie, things seem to be really rolling. More importantly, he seems to understand the assignment, complementing the franchise's "vivid characters" and "beautifully designed world" while speaking with Variety. "It wants to be cinema," Spaihts said, "and I'm thrilled to have the chance to help that happen." 

Of course, if you really want to make a cinematic impact, the films should open with the Battle of Aspho Fields. Just picture it: an intercut sequence of Marcus' squad battling the U.I.R. forces while Dom and his commando team steals the Hammer of Dom. We'd meet Carlos. It would get the story started with incredibly high energy. And most importantly, it would show how ugly things were even before the Locust began to take over Sera. The shadows of Aspho loom large over the "Gears of War" story, present in every city destroyed by Chairman Prescott's "asset denial" Hammer strikes. So why not put it front and center? The animated series seems a better venue to explore the other book flashbacks, but the movie should have at least a little bit of the Pendulum Wars.

There's one person who's influence can make or break the future of "Gears of War" on Netflix. And no, it's not Dave Bautista playing Marcus Fenix. Let the man rest, he's 54 years old. No, the person Netflix needs is Karen Traviss herself, and all the work she's done to make the "Gears" universe so exciting and unique. Also, Bernie Mataki. Bernie should be there too.