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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Assassin's Creed Film Doing Genetic Memories

Edited by Robert Beach 

Why is it so many video game films seem to purposely make terrible decisions in the adaptation process?  Even with junkie games like Assassin’s Creed, where the concept should be impossible to screw up, studios seem to have found a way. I’m a hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan and was looking forward to the upcoming film for a lot of reasons. Though the games have a lot of flaws, their aesthetics and style of action are definitely worth bringing to the big screen and would provide a unique visual spectacle that wouldn’t end up just ripping off a more popular work.
What’s more, Michael Fassbender is signed up for the lead role, and he’s an amazing actor that I actually am a major fan of. He’s a major fan of the games, so one could assume that the visual ethos and thrilling par core action would remain intact through the translation process. Even this first promotional picture is pretty awesome, a solid reinterpretation of the assassin gear for the 15th century. Where is it all going wrong?  Two words: genetic memory.

Wrong Decision 

Yes, it seems the latest high-profile video game adaptation has started production by shooting itself squarely in the foot. According to Birth.Movies.Death, the film will include the byzantine plot component of genetic memories with Michael Fassbender’s character utilizing the animus device to access the life experiences of his ancestor to learn how to fight. This basically means the bulk of the film’s action and adventure will be in training scenarios that, if we’re going by the game’s future sequences, won’t be applied to the real world at all. If I haven’t made it clear, this I’m not a fan of; it’s a dopey and needless gimmick in the game that really doesn’t do anything to enhance the experience. 

In fact, it does the opposite. The additional layer of unreality added by making the central plot of the games a “Simulation of genetic memories” only pushes the viewer further away from truly investing with the story. In the games, this isn’t such a big deal because we just have to slog through the occasional boring future sequence, but in a film, this would play havoc with audience engagement.  It’s essentially making a blockbuster film out of one of the holodeck episodes from Star Trek The Next Generation; nothing is real, and the stakes are textually meaningless. 

Games Don't Have Good Stories

What bugs me most is that you can almost see the wrong-headed sense of fidelity that informed this decision. The idea of trying to remain faithful to Assassin’s Creed’s ludicrously convoluted mess of a plot actually makes me really nervous about the rest of the film’s story. The thing to remember about Assassin’s Creed, as well as the majority of video games, is they really don’t have good stories; they have good story concepts. 

For example, Silent Hill 2 has a great story concept of a man’s guilt and sexual repression being physically manifested in a demonic town, yet the beat-for-beat narrative of Silent Hill 2 is crammed full of padding and dead ends and such. This is mainly because gameplay is enjoyed episodically while the narrative remains singular. Even though a game’s story is padded out with side quests and mini-bosses, we don’t mind because the strict narrative text isn’t the most enjoyable part of the experience. It simply exists to facilitate the more enjoyable gameplay.
In many ways, games as a medium are more in line with TV shows than movies. That’s another instance where the narrative isn’t the center of enjoyment; it exists to facilitate our spending time with these enjoyable characters. That’s why we don’t mind filler episodes of a show or ones with a more insubstantial plot because we’re there to spend time with the characters first and follow the plot second. 
This is why I was really hoping the Assassin’s Creed film would ditch the over complicated and intertwining “intrigue” of the Templar vs. Assassin’s plots from the game. 

Extraneous Mythos Not Needed in Films 

The central idea of warring secret societies of conflicting Eastern and Western ideologies is a really cool idea for a historical action, adventure story. What that story doesn’t need is any of the tedious explanations and long-winded mythos building crammed into the games. You could even boil the story down further to simply Ezio’s quest to avenge his family. The soul of short-form narratives like films is their brevity and definability. Cramming in all that extraneous mythos only serves to obfuscate the conflict at the heart of the story. That’s why so many of the Marvel movies strip out the extraneous bits from their comic book source material, like Tony gaining technopathy powers in the Extremis arc or the secret identities debate from Civil War.  

It’s still entirely possible that the Assassin’s Creed film will be a knockout despite this decision, but I really don’t see how it will enhance the story being told. There are plenty of ways to adapt the Animus and genetic memory aspects of the story to be more compelling and engaging; they’d all hinge on cutting out most of the central Templars vs. Assassin’s plot that has so far defined the series. 

Still, it might be for the best. The clash of secret societies has generally only made things more convoluted and when you get down to it the only thing an Assassin’s Creed film really needs to be good is an engaging plot to prop up the period action set pieces.  If the filmmakers can find a way to accomplish that, then it really doesn’t matter if the action is inside an elaborate simulation or anyone even mentions the templars or assassins. 

Assassin’s Creed is set for release on December 21, 2016

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