Late last year it was reported that video game developer/publisher Ubisoft had formed Ubisoft Motion Pictures, a studio tasked with adapting the company's big video game properties (such as Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell) for the big screen. UMP signed with Sony, which allowed the independent studio unprecedented amounts of creative control and final approval rights in everything from script and casting, to budget and release dates. Many insiders viewed the deal as a misstep on Sony's part, since it gives UMP much control (despite having little experience) in feature-film development.
However, with the latest news regarding Assassin's Creed, one of Ubisoft's flagship titles, public perception about UMP's movie-making strategy may quickly start to reverse course toward the positive: Variety reports that breakout star Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, X-Men: First Class) has signed on through his DMC Film company to both co-produce and star in the Assassin's Creed movie.
UMP CEO Jean-Julien Baronnet had the following to say about the latest Assassin's Creed movie news (via Variety):
"Michael Fassbender was our first choice. Michael (Fassbender) is an extremely smart, talented, versatile and committed actor."
The video game franchise revolves around a man named Desmond Miles who is kidnapped by a clandestine corporation called Abstergo. The organization forces Desmond to pilot a machine called the Animus, which sends his consciousness back in time to relive the memories of his ancestors, who were all part of a brotherhood of Assassins, tasked with influencing the course of history through the murder of select targets. The first game took place during the Crusades and followed one protagonist; the sequel game took place during the Italian Renaissance and followed a different protagonist; the upcoming third game will be set during the American Revolution, featuring yet another new protagonist.
No word yet on how the film version will adapt that convoluted sci-fi/historical drama premise, or who Fassbender would play in the film (Miles, one of his ancestors, or some combination of both). What is known is that UMP will develop and finance the film largely on their own (with some co-financing options to attract potential partners), thereby maintaining tight creative control over the Assassin's Creed brand, which has sold over 30 million video games since its launch in 2007 (with bigger sales on the horizon, thanks to Assassin's Creed III). UMP will also be responsible for choosing a writer and director to head the project, and will manage production costs by utilizing its own resources - namely the two dozen-plus game studios it has under roof, which will be used to create the visual effects for the film.
The UMP experiment is one that many are watching closely; after so many failed attempts (at both the critical and commercial levels) to have big movie studios turn video games into successful and popular film franchises (Doom, Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, etc...), the question at hand is whether or not video game companies will be better at adapting these properties they are so close to and (theoretically) understand better. Assassin's Creed - for better or worse - seems to be guinea pig that could determine the future of video games at the movies.
In any event, having the red-hot Michael Fassbender on board is already a big step in the right direction. With a standout role in Prometheus, another major leading role in the upcoming blockbuster sequel, X-Men: First Class 2, and another possible Awards-attracting role thanks to 12 Years a Slave (his third film with Shame director Steve McQueen), Fassbender's name on the marquee will be an instant boost for Assassin's Creed.
No word yet on a production timeline, as things are still in the early developmental stages. We'll keep you posted on the status of the Assassin's Creed movie as more news develops.