View Full Version : My thoughts on the AC movie (minor spoilers)

12-31-2016, 08:51 AM
What makes a good video game movie?

I've been thinking about this question since yesterday. I want to explain why I felt the Assassin's Creed movie was a successful video game movie. (Not perfect, but good.) In order to do that, I needed to figure out what criteria *I* generally use to evaluate a video game movie. Why do we consider so many of them bad? Are they bad because they're simply bad movies, or are they bad because they failed as adaptations? When you go to see a video game movie, what expectations are reasonable to have and how much should you be willing to compromise?

I thought about the general criteria I personally find important when working out how I feel about a video game movie, and how those criteria apply to AC. Your criteria may be different, which may be why opinions on adaptations of any kind tend to be so divided. I do feel critics have been overly harsh on this movie, but maybe they went in with their own criteria.

So that's really what I think is important to keep in mind when asked if I would recommend the movie to a non-gamer. (To fans of the games it's an unreserved "yes".) Think about what criteria you use to evaluate video game movies and whether your list of priorities differs significantly from mine.

Warning: this turned out to be LONG. :p I tried to avoid spoilers, there may be some minor ones but the ones with any significance are clearly marked.


1. Does it capture the "feel" of the game?

This is the big one, and also the most subjective. People play games for different reasons and what one person considers the game's defining characteristic may not be shared by another.

The reason video game movie adaptations often fail is because they pick the wrong genre, or the wrong approach to that genre. Silent Hill the game is a suspenseful, psychological thriller with lots of disturbing, deeply symbolic imagery. Silent Hill the movie starts off promisingly, but at some point it drops any pretense at psychological tension and just goes into action/gore territory for no discernible reason. The monsters that appear in the movie feel out-of-place because many of them were taken from another game, a game where their appearance was inextricably linked to the psyche of the protagonist of THAT game and hence symbolical of HIS struggles. In the movie, that symbolical connection is nonexistent. So you've just taken a mind**** of a psychological game and turned it into standard action-driven horror with some nonsensical cameos.

The same thing basically happened with the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie. You took a children's game with bright, happy colors and characters that made sense in that fantastical world, turned it dark and ugly like a film noir and transported those characters into a world where they made no sense. You went halfway in by for example keeping Yoshi a dinosaur (a more or less realistic-looking one), but then you make Bowser a human for some reason. The game has its own internally consistent logic - dinosaurs exist, they have intelligence and can interact with humans - whereas the movie is inconsistent even by its own standards ("We think dinosaurs interacting with humans is silly, so let's make Bowser look human. Oh, but Yoshi can be a dinosaur.")

Assassin's Creed the movie, IMO, avoids this pitfall by having no illusions about its genre and target audience. The games are action-adventure, let's make the movie action-adventure. People play the games because they want to see parkour, historical locations, badass combat situations and watching people kill other people. Let's make a movie for those people. Let's not change the formula beyond recognition.

I actually appreciate the first Transformers (live-action) movie for nailing exactly who its audience was and making a movie for those people. When TF came out, critics panned it for not developing the human characters enough and I was just going: "NOBODY WATCHES TRANSFORMERS FOR THE HUMANS, YOU NUMBNUTS." Transformers has always been about the robots. The humans have never been more than an excuse to have someone who is not a robot look at the robots and exclaim "wow, robots!". Nobody who grew up with the series in the 80s went into the cinema thinking "gosh, I sure hope Spike gets an emotionally satisfying character arc". They went in expecting to see giant robots smashing the **** out of each other, and that's exactly what they got. Was it high cinema? No, but did you really expect that from a franchise that was literally created for no other reason than to sell toys?

Anyway, I'm not saying that a movie adaptation should only aim to please fans. The whole point of an adaptation is to introduce new people to a world they are not yet familiar with, that's why it's important to adequately explain the most important concepts (see my next point). But you do have to embrace your audience. If you're adapting an 80s action series about giant robots, you can make some educated guesses as to who your target audience might be and make it for them. If you're adapting a beloved children's game about cute and colorful characters, maybe don't turn it into a PG-rated nightmarish film noir. And if you're adapting a game that most people play for the spectacle and visual imagery, you could do a lot worse than the AC movie which is primarily focused on spectacle and visual imagery.

2. Does it adequately explain the most important concepts?

This is hard for me to judge because the truth is, I've been familiar with these concepts for almost 7 years. To me, they are as easy to digest as would be to a comic book fan the idea that a genetic mutation can give you powers of flight or teleportation, or how a fantasy buff would find it easy to digest a medieval-inspired world with dragons and fairies running about.

For some reason professional movie critics seem to have a hard time accepting the premise of a genetic memory machine and the Apple of Eden, even though these are hardly any more ludicrous or confusing than the concepts mentioned above. That's why I believe the AC movie has been getting such low scores. If you don't buy into the premise, you're not going to get much out of it. Not saying it's the ONLY possible reason, of course. There are undoubtedly legitimate problems that may be more obvious to someone who isn't already familiar with the games. That's why I would love to see the movie a second time with someone who doesn't know anything about the games, to help me see what may be confusing to the uninitiated.

With all that said, I did try my best to look at the movie from an outsider's point of view and figure out how much of essential information was conveyed without turning it into a boring exposition infodump. And personally, I think they did a good job. I was afraid they would try to fit too much lore into a movie whose main purpose is to simply introduce this world to an audience who may not be completely open to it. But they kept the lore to a minimum. They only hinted at some of the more complicated aspects of the lore, aspects that were not central to Callum's story and hence could safely be sidelined. In fact, they may have cut a bit too much out in an effort to keep things simple. Some of the supporting characters - none of whom appear in the games, but are supposedly descendants of characters who do - could have used some time dedicated to their backstories, but only one of them (Moussa) gives us any information at all about himself. It feels like they maybe planned to give better introductions to these characters, but reduced their roles to a minimum to focus on Cal. It's a tough balancing act; delve too much into supporting characters and you risk being accused of trying to cram too much in the movie, delve into them too little and you leave the characters feeling underdeveloped and superfuous. The latter is kind of what happened here. On the one hand, it's a shame, but the finished movie did feel tight and (mostly) focused, so maybe that is preferable.

3. Does the movie's interpretation of established characters "ruin" them by completely changing who they are, how they look etc.?

The AC movie completely avoids this issue by having an entirely new cast, which IMO was the right choice. Callum's story very much mirrors that of Desmond Miles from the games, but is not a beat-for-beat retreading. In a much shorter time, it portrays the same character arc that Desmond went through in the span of five games. That sounds like overload, but it actually works really well. Desmond's arc was a very simple story unnecessarily stretched over five games. Callum hits all the essential beats of the same narrative arc with all the fat trimmed out. He starts off as an average troubled guy, gets captured against his will, fights to retain his sanity, learns some wisdom from his ancestor and eventually accepts his destiny. That is Desmond's story right there, only it didn't take them literally 5 ***ing years to cover it like they did in the games. And since Callum is his own character, fanboys/girls are more forgiving towards the filmmakers taking some creative liberties in telling that story than they would be if it was actually Desmond.

There are some cute nods to established characters here and there that are so subtle only fans will get them. They don't interfere with the story at hand by constantly poking you in the ribs and name-dropping. Jeremy Irons' character, Alan Rikkin, has been a shadowy background character in the series ever since the beginning. The movie is the first time we've ever been shown his face. But when he appears on-screen, he's just another character. They don't build him up just for the fans and to the annoyance of everyone else. It's not as in-your-face as something like Nick Fury appearing at the end of the first Iron Man, when the camera zooms in on his face, as if telling you "look, everyone! It's NICK FURY!!!" and non-comic book fans in the audience are going "....who?". Like being told a joke they're not in on.

Alan Rikkin is just there. If you know who he is, you get a little giddy inside, but if you don't, you're not made to feel like you're missing something.

4. Does it look cheap?

If nothing else would have pleased me about this movie, the cinematography would have. I can be very picky about the visual look of a film, especially adaptations of existing material. I was worried the fight scenes might look cheesy, but for the most part the action feels realistic and fast, with no time for awkward posing. The violent scenes don't go out of their way to shock with gore, a lot of the more brutal stuff is done via clever suggestion (by having it happen in Cal's ghostly Animus visions where you can sort of "hide" the bloody aftermath). Some of the stuff that could look corny (like performing an air-assassination, which simply doesn't look as cool in live action as it does in video games) is saved by good editing.

There are also some genuinely imaginative visuals, like the room with all the zombified Bleeding Effect sufferers with shadowy eagle shapes gently rolling across the ceiling. It's a beautiful and powerful visual: on the one hand it can be interpreted as Abstergo's attempt at pacifying its victims with peaceful imagery, on the other it can be symbolic for having this room full of retired "eagles" (aka Assassins).

The movie didn't try too hard to imitate the look of the games, nor did it go overboard in changing the visuals beyond recognition. Looking at the cold, sterile, slightly futuristic Abstergo facilities in the movie, it clearly screams "Abstergo", even though it doesn't look 100% like in the games. It gets that elusive "feel" of Abstergo right, which goes right back to my point #1.

So much of the success of this movie adaptation depends on getting across video game concepts in a way that is visually both understandable and captivating to a non-gamer audience. I believe it mostly succeeds in that, by not catering too much to hardcore fans but not apologizing for the source material either. The movie has faith in the premise, it doesn't pretend to be more than what it is and treats the lore with respect (while eschewing slavish obedience to details). I don't know if it's a movie made "for the fans", but unlike most video game movies, it doesn't act like fans and general moviegoers are necessarily mutually exclusive. It knows its audience, it knows what people expect to see from a movie like this, and it tackles all those things with confidence.

P.S. Can I ask why the UbiWorkshop replica of the Apple looks so terrible when the one in the movie looks 1000 times better and more accurate to the games? I want to buy the Apple as it actually appears in the movie (it's even silver, just like AC1 established!), not the ugly, scratched-up looking thing they're selling. :(

12-31-2016, 11:37 AM
Nice!!!... :) ...

Much enjoyable read!...Am going to see it meself, tomorrow...So it should be very interesting indeed...

Given that I've also read the accompanying novel - which, as novels do, goes into the background stuff with more depth - I'm looking forward to seeing how much of the character stuff actually transferred to the screen...I spent some of the readthrough thinking, "That'll not be there..."...

Anyways...Looking forward to seeing it, and very much enjoyed your piece there... :) ...

12-31-2016, 12:37 PM
I enjoyed reading it I found a cinema in my country that shows the movie earlier

01-02-2017, 09:46 PM
Nice write-up, SixKeys, especially cuz I agreed with most of it :p. I LOLed at your Transformers "review."

Given that I've also read the accompanying novel - which, as novels do, goes into the background stuff with more depth - I'm looking forward to seeing how much of the character stuff actually transferred to the screen...I spent some of the readthrough thinking, "That'll not be there..."...

After you see the movie, I'd be interested to read what you think of the differences.