Over the years, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Assassin’s Creed series. I first became aware of the games at college, when the first game was updated and released on PC. However, my family’s computer could barely run it, so I had to settle for reading the books and playing the portable spin-offs. I wasn’t able to play the main games until I received my own laptop, but by then I was starting university and the series had reached its sixth instalment, Black Flag, leaving me little time to catch up. Then, in Summer 2014, an incident occurred which nearly drove me away from the Creed entirely. It’s been a long time since I last had the courage to put on a white hood, but to cut a long story short, I’m well on the way to doing it again thanks to two people: Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender. They are the director and the star of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film from 20th Century Fox. It’s due to come out on New Year’s Day in the UK, but if you can’t wait, allow me to tell you everything we know about it so far.
Unlike other films of its kind, Assassin’s Creed won’t be a re-telling of the first game, but a new story set in the same universe as the games. The film will follow a new character, Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender); a convict who is abducted by the modern face of the Knights Templar, Abstergo Industries. Under the watchful eye of Abstergo’s CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), and Rikkin’s daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard), Callum is forced to enter the Animus - a virtual reality machine - where he relives the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha. Callum learns that Aguilar was an Assassin, a sworn enemy of the Templars, operating in the Spanish Inquisition and acquires his skills in a bid to escape from Abstergo. However, Rikkin has his own plans for Callum - and if you’ve played the games, you know they won’t be good.
The Assassin’s Creed film has been over five years in the making and, although it’s too early to say whether it’s good or not, a great deal has been said about the cast and the direction it’s going to take. In addition to Fassbender, Irons and Cotillard, the cast includes Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films), Michael K. Williams (Omar in HBO’s TV series The Wire) and Ariane Labed (Marina in the Greek film Attenberg). The film is directed by Justin Kurzel, an Australian actor well known for his adaptation of Macbeth, and is being produced by Ubisoft and Regency Pictures. You read that right - the games’ creators are involved too. However, it isn’t the first time we’ve had a film based on a video game nor one with its creators on board. In the Summer we had Warcraft from Universal and Blizzard, and sadly, it didn’t do as well at the box office as they had hoped. The pressure is on for everyone involved to make Assassin’s Creed better than every adaptation that has come before it. Luckily, from what we’ve seen so far, they seem to be on the right track.
The first trailer debuted on the 12th of May and, despite an appalling choice of music, I was really impressed. The Assassin’s Creed series is famous for blending historical fact with believable fiction, and Justin Kurzel hasn’t ignored that. Rather, his style of directing seems to compliment it well. His last film, Macbeth, was acclaimed for its brutal battle scenes and period-accurate costumes. Even better, it was filmed on location with the bare minimum of CGI, and the actors performing their own stunts. Aguilar de Nerha’s story takes place in 15th century Spain, but surprisingly, Justin filmed on location with Michael and co. running, fighting, and leaping across rooftops for real. There were some stunts that Michael couldn’t do, but even so, Justin strived to film them with as few effects as possible - one of the best examples being the trademark Leap of Faith. For this stunt, Justin filmed stuntman Damien Walters performing the leap from an amazing forty-metre drop; one of the highest jumps filmed in the last thirty-five years. The background in the final shot will be CG, but if Justin sticks to his guns, it will be one of the few shots of its kind in the final film - in Aguilar’s story, at least.
If you’ve never played Assassin’s Creed before, you’ll probably be drawn in by the film’s cast alone. But if you’re a fan, it’s likely one name will matter to you more than the rest: Ubisoft. The series’ creators entered the film industry in 2011 just to make the film and, unlike with most adaptations, they have kept creative control of it. In other words, everything - from the film’s plot to the soundtrack - had to be approved by them. It also means the film’s elements will remain faithful to the games. That said, things had to change. Films and video games are two different mediums and when you adapt a story from one to the other, many elements need to change. Fortunately, the changes we know about have been approved not only by Ubisoft, but by the fans too. The biggest change we know of is the balance between the modern and historic storylines. In the games, we spend more time in the past than we do in the present. The film, on the other hand, will focus more on Callum’s story than Aguilar’s. Ubisoft decided to do this in a bid to improve on the series’ weaker elements, since the modern storyline has suffered since Black Flag. Whether you like it or not, it’s a good sign that Ubisoft are taking the games’ feedback on board and trying something new. It’s certainly helped for the Animus, which has had a major redesign. In the games, it was basically a bed or a chair where you experienced your ancestral memories like a VR game. The film’s model is a giant crane that lifts, swings and spins Callum around as he relives Aguilar’s life, making the same moves as he does. Justin made the change because he felt the Animus’ scenes would need to be more dynamic on film. Thankfully, Ubisoft approved - and they’re even planning to use the new model in future games. Finally, we know the historical scenes will be a touch more accurate thanks to one thing: the dialogue. While in the games, the stories of Altair, Ezio and Arno were told in English (sprinkled with curses in their native tongues), the story of Aguilar was filmed entirely in Spanish. Justin considered filming his scenes in English, but he felt that having Aguilar speak in Spanish would “add a richness and exoticness” to the film. Both Ubisoft and Regency embraced the idea, so the final cut will switch from English dialogue to Spanish when Callum enters the Animus - which, according to Ubisoft, will be for 35% of the film.
That’s all we know of the Assassin’s Creed film for now - but if you can’t wait until New Year’s Day to watch it, a novelization by Christie Golden will be released on 21st December. We’ll be writing a review of the film in the new year, so in the meantime, let us know in the comments (or on Twitter or Facebook) whether you’ll be watching it at the cinema!