How the Assassin's Creed movie reinvented a series staple
Anyone who has played the Assassin’s Creed games is familiar with the complex mythology of the series. But by “familiar with,” I don’t mean to say that they understand it. They just know that it’s a soup of historical figures, ancient aliens, and lots of science fiction, but — you know — sleeve knives, so whatever.
This, of course, posed a challenge for the filmmakers attempting the leap of faith in bringing Assassin’s Creed to the big screen and mainstream audiences. Michael Fassbender is not only the star of the video game adaptation — taking on a dual role in the process — but also the film’s producer. The project, by far the biggest ever for his production company, DMC Film, would need to bridge the gap between the hopeful fans of the games and the casual Friday night moviegoers.
“[The series’ developer] Ubisoft always said that they wanted me to make sure I saw this as a feature film first,” says director Justin Kurzel (Macbeth). “We want to offer fans something new and fresh as a film and not an appropriation of the game.”
That meant boiling down Assassin’s Creed to its core elements. For Fassbender and company, the most obvious game mechanics to transplant were the warring factions of the Assassins and Templars, the all-powerful series McGuffins, the Apple of Eden, and the concept of genetic memory. In the video games, the main present-day character lies down on a high-tech table called the Animus that sends their consciousness back in time to one of their ancestors.
There’s one big problem with that, however. In terms of cinematic dynamism, the Animus has the on-screen presence of a sofa, so that became a problem to solve for the crew. “Then the question is, how do we take something like the Animus, which is pretty inert for the descendant in the present, to be just sitting in a chair and experiencing the regression,” Fassbender says. “We wanted to find something that was more interactive, more physically involved.”
The production design team came up with a few different options for what a more movie-friendly Animus looked like, including one iteration where the subject was suspended in fluid, almost like returning to the womb. But came the version we see on screen: the Animus arm, a rig that allows the subject a full range of motion to mime the actions of his or her ancestor.
“It’s nice when you get that cross-pollination going on,” Fassbender says. “The guys at Ubisoft love it, and they’re actually — I believe — going to use it in future games.”
Assassin’s Creed arrives in theaters on Wednesday. You can see Fassbender enter the Animus in the clip above.