As you’re probably well aware, Ubisoft has big plans afoot when it comes to mvoies. It’s set up a new arm of its business, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, which will handle the tricky task of adapting several of its big-name games for the silver screen.
To borrow a phrase from Jurassic Park, Ubisoft is sparing no expense in the process, with the adaptations of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell imagined as multi-million dollar event movies with some attention grabbing names attached – Michael Fassbender’s playing the lead in the sci-fi action film Assassin’s Creed, while Tom Hardy will play the stealthy military operative in Splinter Cell.
Overseeing all of this is Ubisoft Motion Pictures CEO Jean Julien Baronnet, and he’s recently engaged in a lengthy interview with François Leger, a journalist at the french film magazine, Premiere. In it, Baronnet explains that his company wants to break with the suspect quality of most videogame-to-film adaptations of the past which, he says, were either made by film studios who didn’t understand videogame culture, or game companies who thought that “because they knew how to make games, they also knew how to make films.”
Ubisoft, on the other hand, are trying to avoid all this by remaining autonomous from a Hollywood studio, and also by bringing in strong filmmaking talent (in Assassin’s Creed’s case, Snowtown and Macbeth director Justin Kurzel) and involving actors in the storytelling process.
“We told [Fassbender] that we were going to build the project together,” Barronet says, “that we have an enormous brand and we want to make a film modelled on features like Batman Begins or Blade Runner. That’s what we’re aiming for. We promised him that he could work with the scriptwriters, that we were going to bring him into all the key creative choices.”
The tone, clearly, will be a fairly heavy one, particularly going by Kurzel’s track record – and Barronet admits as much. But while Assassin’s Creed won’t have much in the way of quips and pithy one-liners, Barronet says “We obviously want the film to have depth, but also to be fun and for there to be some lightness.”
Baronnet also reveals that the Assassin’s Creed movie will lean a little more heavily on its sci-fi angle than the videogame, with its story more evenly split between past and present. Where the scenes set in the present were relatively brief in the game, Assassin’s Creed: the film will see Fassbender playing two characters separated by time:
“Assassin was complicated to develop, because you’re working with two time periods, one contemporary and one historical. With two heros, as you have Callum, the modern-day hero, and his ancestor Aguilar, who have two parallel stories which meet up. Generally in a film, you only have one hero. And with the link between the past and the present, you can’t have one of the stories taking precedence over the other. So structurally, it’s very complicated.”
Marion Cotillard will also be a character in the present-day-set part of the story, though Baronnet wouldn’t be drawn as to whether she plays Lucy Stillman, a character played by Kristen Bell in the original 2007 game.
Ubisoft is clearly investing a lot of cash in Assassin’s Creed, with Baronnet indicating that the budget is somewhere between $150-200m. But he remains confident that, if all goes to plan, the movie will attract a healthy following.
“Our big gamble, is that it works for three audiences,” Barronet says. “Fans of our games, which there are some 95 million of; fans of mainstream cinema who are going to see Star Wars and Spider-Man; and in parallel, we’re also aiming it people who would never think of going to see an Assassin film, people who like independent films.”
Assassin’s Creed is currently before cameras, and is due for release in UK cinemas on the 30th December 2016.
[Many thanks to François Leger for getting in touch with us, and Louisa Mellor for her translation. She’s well good at French, she is.]