The release of Assassin’s Creed on the big screen Wednesday, December 21 proves once again that the adaptation of a video game on the big screen is a challenge (read the uncompromising review of Laure Croiset, the Metacritic average is established for the moment at 37/100, severe!). There is no shortage of examples of masterful flop in recent cinema history. And yet, beyond the real quality of the film, Ubisoft has won its bet by imposing its heroes. Here’s how the video game publisher got there.
When Ubisoft embarked on the adventure of cinema, by creating Ubisoft Motion Pictures (UMP) in 2011, he had only one thing in mind: “to promote home franchises in the world of cinema and television”, then explain to Challenges Jean-Julien Baronnet, the boss of the new subsidiary, defector of EuropaCorp, who is aware of the strength of new brands emerging from the world of video games. According to him, they are as strong as those of Marvel. Why deprive yourself of it! Yves Guillemot, CEO and co-founder of the French publisher then declared to Challenges: “Our model is Disney”. However, he immediately set a red line not to be crossed by drawing the consequences of the failures of previous adaptations to video game cinema. Ubisoft Motion Pictures then has the specifications of “keeping creative control to respect the DNA of games” while limiting financial risks as much as possible.
An expansion of the Assassin’s Creed universe
While Assassin’s Creed movie is to stick to the game’s DNA, it doesn’t have to be a simple adaptation. Jean de Rivières, a former Disney employee who joined the UMP dream team in its early days, declares in Patrick Hellio’s book, Ubisoft, 30 years of creation (Les Deux Royaumes edition): “Sébastien Puel and Jean Guesdon, producers of the franchise, asked us to make the same effort as them for the games by creating a new story and exploring a new story”.
There is therefore no question of Desmond Miles and his ancestor Altaïr ibn La’had, a 12th century assassin who moves between Damascus, Jerusalem and Saint-Jean-d’Acre, nor of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the young noble Florentine, even less Edward Kenway, or Arno Victor Dorian, the heroes of the games. The film is intended as an expansion of the Assassin’s Creed universe. But there again, it is necessary for all that to immerse the spectators in a troubled universe, a pivotal time which announces a rupture. The team opts for the Inquisition in 15th century Spain, between Seville and Granada, an ideal theater for the new hero Aguilar. While the games have imposed themselves thanks to their incredible historical environment, the contemporary part takes over in the film, with the hero Callum Lynch who, via the animus which connects the two worlds, is projected in 1492. We find again also the quarrel between Templars and Assassins on the basis of quest to find and protect the artifact, the apple of Eden. In this, the film sticks more than ever to the DNA of the game. Michael Fassbender skilfully slips into the shoes of these two characters, past and present. Added to the very Hollywood cast are Marion Cotillard, not very convincing and Jeremy Irons, rather discreet.
” We are ready “
When Gérard Guillemot, Jean-Julien Baronnet’s successor at the head of UMP, appeared in front of the press during a screening last Thursday, he declared: “we are ready”. As if to say that after five years of hard work, the publisher had achieved his ends with the giants of Hollywood New Regency (Fight Club, The Revenant, 12 Years a Slave) and 20th Century Fox. “For five years, we met many actors and directors, but it was only with Michael Fassbender, our star and producer, then director Justin Kurzel, that we were sure that we could create something unique. », He declares in the preface to Ian Nathan’s book Assassin’s Creed, in the heart of the animus (Milady edition).
Fans of the franchise will in no way be lost in the film. They will find there a whole bunch of winks and references to the gaming world. The acrobatic skills of the assassin are very present, with the risk of sometimes flirting with the Yamakasis, L’Abstergo too, this multinational which serves as a cover for the Templars. “We treated the fans like heroes,” explains Jean de Rivières in Ian Nathan’s book. Even if it means pampering them too much to the detriment of the neophytes who will discover the complexity of the game world through the film. But here we feel the requirement to stick as close as possible to the game.
A fundamental movement
Ubisoft is still in its infancy in cinema. If Raving Rabbids fulfill their mission on the small screen, Ubisoft still has to prove that it has its place to become a new Disney. Several projects are in the works: Splinter Cell with New Regency, Ghost Recon with Warner, Watch Dogs with Sony Pictures. A movie from The Division has also been announced. And that’s not all. Assassin’s Creed should come in a trilogy, a bit like Star Wars, since Michael Fassbender and Justin Kurzel have obviously decided to come back. The end of the first opus also announces the rest …
Ubisoft recognizes that this first film is the cornerstone of a much more ambitious edifice. Open its licenses to a world that goes beyond that of gamers. A nice marketing coup at 150 million dollars according to Alain Corre, the European boss quoted by MCV, for a license that has exceeded 100 million games sold worldwide.
And it is a fundamental movement in which all the players in this industry participate. Like Activision, the world number one, which launched its own studio at the end of 2015 to adapt its games to cinema and television. And for this, as luck would have it, the American publisher went to find a former Disney, Nick Van Dyk. A Skylanders series is thus launched on Netflix. And the Call of Duty adaptation is also in the starting blocks. Activision Blizzard hopes to repeat the success of Warcraft which, if it did not convince the critics (read the review by Adrien Schwyter), blew up the fund thanks to China (more than $ 400 million in revenue) . This adaptation proves “that there is an appetite that goes beyond the world of gamers,” told Challenges Michael Sportouch, VP France. Pushing back the boundaries of video games, this is the new Holy Grail of an industry that feels growing wings.