With the newest entry in the popular Assassin’s Creed game franchise due out later this month, this seems like as good a time as any for a status report on the series’ plan to jump from your home console to the multiplex.
The latest info involving the project [via Coming Soon] reveals that UbiSoft (the game’s distributor) will team up with New Regency to finance the project. UbiSoft will rely on New Regency’s production and distribution know-how while maintaining firm creative control over the vision of the narrative. With this addition (which ties in nicely with Michael Fassbender’s attachment as star), things are starting to come together for the project. Next up? Penning a screenplay.
Given that the series spans multiple time periods (and features several different main characters), there’s still some question as to when the first film will be set. The casting of Fassbender seemingly indicates that the feature will mirror the storyline of the first game, with Fassbender taking on the role of Altair ibn-La’Ahad. Altair is part of a secret sect of assassins at war with the Knights Templar.
While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the games, bringing Assassin’s Creed to the screen could be a very good thing. Like all game-to-movie adaptations, it won’t be easy, but here are three things UbiSoft should consider doing if they really want to make a successful film.
Keep the framing story to a minimum
One of the most puzzling narrative decisions in the Assassin’s Creed series was the idea to frame the story of the centuries-old war between the assassins and Templars with a modern day sci-fi plot device. Why is this a problem? Because the framing story is awful.
In the modern day, a powerful corporation kidnaps a doofy bartender named Desmond and hooks him up to a machine that allows him to “relive” his assassin ancestors' memories. It’s the kind of stupid twaddle that passes for compelling writing in the world of video games, but it would serve little purpose in this film. Unless Fassbender is going to play both Altair and Desmond, UbiSoft would be well served by jettisoning the framing story and Desmond completely and focusing on what makes these games compelling – the attention to period detail and following the exploits of a badass killing machine. Keep it simple, and play to your strengths, UbiSoft. Desmond and the corny modern day sci-fi angle should go.
Don’t be afraid to tweak Altair’s story
Given that the Assassin’s Creed series is about to introduce it’s third and fourth leading characters this year (including its first female), turning the games into a film franchise presents some interesting challenges. Altair has only headlined one game in the main series to date – handing over the reigns in the sequels to Renaissance-era Italian Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio is a decent lead, but if UbiSoft has an actor of Fassbender’s caliber wanting to play Altair, and he’ll do it for more than one film, then continuing Altair’s story beyond where the games went is a no-brainer. Yes, this might annoy the game’s most ardent fanboy supporters – but an Assassin’s Creed film is bigger than that.
Keeping Fassbender involved as long as possible should be priority number one. The actor brings an air of legitimacy to this project that we’ve never really seen in any previous video game adaptation. Non-gamers will be interested in this series because Fassbender’s attached. Keeping him around will undoubtedly play an important role in determining if this film is a one-off adaptation of a game or a potential franchise in the making.
Don’t handle this the way Square handled the Final Fantasy movie
Fassbender’s involvement is important – but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle that will determine whether Assassin’s Creed succeeds or fails at the box office. Navigating the Hollywood maze is a tricky task even for veterans – and UbiSoft’s film branch is hardly that.
We’ve seen other big-name game companies come to Hollywood and throw their weight around, often with disastrous results. Microsoft tried to do that with Halo – which never got off the ground – and Square did the same thing with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and their film branch was a “one-and-done” enterprise.
The lesson UbiSoft needs to learn from these other failures is this: Hollywood is not the gaming world. Games might generate billions of dollars of revenue a year and feature opening-day numbers that make even the biggest movie blockbusters look insignificant, but the movie biz is still the movie biz. Studios and movie execs aren’t going to be pushed around on their home turf. You might be a big fish in your pond, but in Hollywood, you’re the new kid on the block and you’re swimming with the sharks.
Teaming up with New Regency is a good first step – the company knows the movie business and can help UbiSoft negotiate some potentially dangerous waters, but everything hinges upon how much UbiSoft is willing to listen. The publisher wants to retain creative control over their franchise, and it’s easy to understand why. However, if they’re draconian about that control, things could get difficult and fly off the rails pretty quickly. UbiSoft will have to work hard to find the balance between sticking to its guns on important issues pertaining to the Assassin’s Creed universe, but it’ll also have to learn to adapt to the Hollywood system. No easy task, but let’s hope the company can pull it off.