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Assassin's Creed. A massive, ambitious and complex video game franchise that has finally gotten a cinematic adaption. Of course, I am saying this with joy and fear simultaneously.
With the first trailer for the Assassin's Creed movie released, we have gotten a first proper glimpse of what might be expected from a movie that really does have a lot riding on it. Along with the Warcraft movie (but even more so), it has sort of become this last beacon of hope that a properly strong movie can be made out of a video game franchise. When looking at the fans expectations, the pressure to deliver is huge on many levels.
The thing is, as I have said before, I don't consider videogames an inferior medium for telling a fictional story compared to movies and books - just one with a different focus. Unfortunately that different focus has translated into almost every video game to movie adaption being... not so good to put it mildly. But I think that the problem has always layed in getting the essence of the adapted video game wrong and not in the game being completely unadaptable as a concept in the first place. Does Assassin's Creed look set to correct that flaw. Let's have a look at it based on what we know so far.
The Biggest Mistake in Adapting Video Games to Movies
There have been many occasions where a video game with a deep and interesting premise has been completely misinterpreted, ignored or turned to mush in the movie adaption ("Hitman" for one example... actually make that for two examples). Granted, there are many video game to movie adaptions that just did not have any proper source material to make a good movie out of in the first place (Super Mario). But generally, it seems that even when a rich source material is there for the taking, the ending result is still (at the best case scenario) an emotionally empty eye candy for one and a half hours or so.
One of the biggest reasons behind it, in my opinon, is that the creators of the movie shouldn't necessarily take inspiration from the game, but rather take inspiration from where the game took it's inspiration in the first place. And there is a big difference between these two approaches.
If one just tries to capture the game as closely as possible, it inadvertently will have a too big focus on action and too small focus on plot/ideas. That is because videogames, as said before, have a different focus on telling a story, since they are (in their essence) an interactive way to go through a story. Therefore, the mistake is that instead of focusing on what is behind the game (from what did the creators of the video game took their inspiration in the first place), the focus has been on the game as a finished product.
In other words. A good video game franchise like Assassins Creed has it's ideas, concepts and inspirations that the franchise is based upon. The movie should take inspiration from these same concepts on a pure and basic level but not the finished product (in form of these great games). It is necessary because otherwise the different focus between the movies and games as a storytelling medium will blur the understanding on what is in the core of the video game franchise being adapted.
The Main Concepts and Ideas of the 'Assassin's Creed' Franchise
If we talk about the ideas and concepts behind Assassin's Creed, I think that (to make a considerable simplification) it can be broken down to three main points.
Exploring a different time
It is clear that one of the biggest motivators and inspirations in creating the Assassin's Creed franchise was to explore different (preferably previously little explored) historic periods. Basically to investigate a certain time period in a certain location as closely as possible and then create a huge, interactive and autentic as possbile open world based on it.
The way the historic settings for each game have been created, as a project, deserves a huge recognition. Exploring every piece of archive information avaliable on that setting during that current era where the game takes place, going to the location of these historic cities and areas to capture it's most prominent parts in meticulous detail... even recording it's sounds and echos for the game. And then subsequently making it all feel alive in this huge open world for the story to take place.
In short, a big part of every Assassin's Creed game is it being a fun and ambitious... history lesson. The movie must have the same approach. To recreate a historic period in as raw, lively and detailed fashion as possible. It is important to really transport the viewer to a different time. Not to make the viewer feel that the creators just wanted to make it as similar looking as possible to the video game.
Ideas and Philosophies
The creators understood that you need a context - an excuse to explore these different historic settings in order for the series to have a longetivity and a reason to exist.
The main focus, they took, was (among many other ideas) the made up eternal conflict that is fought behind the scenes throughout history between two factions with clashing phylosophies. To put it bluntly - on one side you have the Assassins who's main belief is that, in regards to human race, the biggest priority should always be free thinking, free will and liberty, even if comes at the expense of stability and order. On the other side there are the Templars, who believe that peace and order are the main priorities even when it comes at the expense of free will and liberty.
That conflict has essentially been the core of the game's storylines. The movie needs to take an inspiration from this fascinating clash of phylosophies the way the games did but not mimic them one for one. Definitely, there is a lot of inspiration to take from the games regarding these themes. But, again, the main approach should be that the creators have looked at these themes on a conceptual level and not necessarily through this brilliant seires of games.
To make it clear, I am not saying that Assassin's Creed is necessarily some kind of phylosophical magnum opus. But the way these different ideas have been presented and explored in the games, have had an effect on how I see the world around me. It has made me ask questions, I wouldn't have asked otherwise. I very much hope so that the movie has the same effect.
Provide Epic Action in These Settings
Yeah, that is a no brainer. Of course you need some good action in a video game that has "Assassin" in it's title. But it must be said, that the series certainly has it's distinctive and so to say trademark style of action. I suppose it could summed up with the term "medieval parkour" ;). The movie definitely should capture it.
Based on what we know so far, has the movie got the potential to pull it off?
In short yes... it certainly looks good on delivering.
Firstly they seem to have worked hard in order to capture the historic period they focus on ( the Spanish Inquistion).
Also, from the trailer, it is clear that the basic premise is there - Use ancestors memories to explore a moment in history and gain information that is relevant in the present.
The action? It indeed seems to have captured the distinctive style of the game.
The ideas? The trailer didn't really show much of that side, but that would have been too much to excpect from a short trailer anyway. However, when looking at Michael Fassbender's interview on the movie, it is clear that these aformentioned themes and ideas will be explored.
And, on a side note, the fans of the game series shouldn't worry about the movie feeling unfamiliar since, to my knowlege, it takes place in the same fictional universe as the games. Of course the priority has to be to draw not just the fans of the game franchise but also the fans of well... good movies. Still, I think it means that the fans will get their little easter eggs for sure. For example, I happen to know a certain Italian who was very much active around the time the game takes place.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
One could say that (conveniently enough) the success of the movie lays on whether the creators have followed the "creed" of their source material.
"Nothing is true, everything is permitted" was explained in one of the games in the following way: "To say that nothing is true, is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that we are the architects of our actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic."(Ezio Auditore, 1511, Masyaf).
In regards to the movie, to say that nothing is true, is to realize that the foundations for making a movie out of a video game franchise are fragile, and that the creators must be the shepherds of their own project. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that the creators of the movie are the architects of their own actions, and that they must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic (a hit or a flop).
The movie looks good to deliver based on what we know so far. Let's hope that consequences the creator of the movie must live with are glorious ;).