There’s a new Assassin’s Creed adventure coming this month, but instead of a video game, it will be exclusive to the Hollywood big screen. Ubisoft is taking a brief hiatus from its video game franchise and allowing 20th Century Fox to have the spotlight in the Ubisoft Motion Pictures and New Regency production starring Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Irons.
Ubisoft Motion Pictures vice president of global marketing, Stephanie Simard, said at an E3 media presentation that games are changing, opening up optimal storytelling beyond the interactive medium. “We’re working with top filmmakers to ensure the quality of the product while maintaining creative control to maintain the spirit of the games and what fans love about them,” Simard said.
With over 96 million units sold worldwide, Simard said Assassin’s Creed was the perfect choice for a feature film as the number one Ubisoft brand. “It has an expansive universe and all of the building blocks needed in creating a feature film with characters, action, historical eras, the mythology of a secret society, genetic memory, the theme of free will vs. control, and learning about who you are through your ancestors,” she explained.
Ubisoft has assembled a stellar Hollywood team for the new film, partnering with New Regency, which has won the Best Picture Oscar for two of the last three years, and 20th Century Fox, which is distributing and marketing the Christmas release. “Michael Fassbender was our first and only choice to play our hero,” Simard said. “He was immediately captivated by the brand and the work our game teams have done with the franchise. He became a producer of the film and has been involved every step of the way.”
Frank Marshall, who has generated over $9 billion at the box office through franchises like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, serves as producer of the film. He brought in director Justin Kurzel (MacBeth) to helm the original Assassin’s Creed big screen adventure.
“Assassin’s Creed has always been about tribe, about belonging to something,” Kurzel told [a]listdaily from the set of the movie at London’s Pinewood Studios. “This is an origin story about a man who discovers that he’s an Assassin and that he’s not alone, and that in him he has a blood that runs very, very deep. Those themes are really fascinating—the idea that you’re made up of the people that come before you and you somehow have some kind of conscious dialogue with your genetics. It’s really really deep and interesting stuff, and it’s probably why the game’s so popular. As a context to the game, it’s smart and sophisticated, but also very contemporary.”
Simard said the filmmakers worked with Ubisoft’s brand team in Montreal to establish the rules of the universe and ensure consistency in the film around the essence of who the Assassins and the Templars (their enemies) are. “We’re not interested in telling the same stories from the games,” Sinard said. “Films bring in a new dimension. Working from the present day allowed is to introduce new characters and attract a wider audience, while exciting existing fans.”
Kurzel said the most tricky part of adapting this universe for film has been reversing the focus from the past. In this case, that’s the Spanish Inquisition time period. “In the game, you spend more time in the past, and the present settings are really transient cases to get you into the past,” he said. “In terms of setting up the film, we spend a little more time in the present setting up the lead character, Cal, and getting the audience to know him and understand him.”
Kurzel talked about how, in the games, there’s the “bleeding effect” and the idea that the shadows of the regressions start to play out in the present world with seeing the ghost of your past ancestor.
“The idea that history becomes a ghost within the present can been seen in the Animus, which is built in this Byzantine Templar church that Abstergo has built its headquarters around,” Kurzel said. “We’ve decided to combine the old and the new within the actual production design, where you feel the history of the Templars play in a space like this. We were continuously trying to find ways in which there’s a bridge between those two worlds. But at the same time, there’s something very exciting about going between two different pallets. The past feels very like a Caravaggio painting. It’s rich and very seductive and like the game, there’s a romance to the history that we really didn’t want to lose. That contrasts with this very sophisticated architectural, heavily-designed world of modern day Templars.”
That Animus has been designed with this in mind, which means it’s different from the one used in the games. Fans can get an up-close look at the Animus in the new free Assassin’s Creed VR Experience on Oculus Rift.
Kurzel said the film is also packed with Easter Eggs that fans of the games will be able to enjoy. “We believe this is a film that will stand on its own with no knowledge of the franchise necessary,” Simard said. “But we want fans to be on the inside.”