Game-to-Film Adaptations: What Can We Expect From Assassin’s Creed?

Michael Fassbender in the first Assassin's Creed trailer.
Michael Fassbender in the first Assassin’s Creed trailer.

It is no secret that most film adaptations of video games are…well, terrible. Some of the “bad” ones that often come to mind include Super Mario Bros. (1993), Street Fighter (1994), and Mortal Kombat (1995). Whether it be the laughable dialogue, the plot, the disconnect from the source material, or all of the above, films such as these do nothing for the gaming industry and the franchises with which they are associated.

But these older films are not the only adaptations that have been met with negative critical reception. Tomb Raider (2001) tried and failed, as did Silent Hill (2006) and the seemingly never-ending Resident Evil series. Even recent adaptations like Ratchet & Clank and Warcraft did not garner the positive reception that their developers anticipated. If one were to examine and analyze the critical reception of every game-to-film adaptation ever made, the general consensus would be that all film adaptations are terrible, and there is no hope for game-to-film adaptations at all.

With all that being said, what chance does the new Assassin’s Creed film have? The AC trailer has generally received praise from fans and professional critics alike. Paul Tassi at Forbes calls it “mercifully excellent” while Ben Child at The Guardian claims it may be the “video game movie that might just make us forget all about the cinematic crimes” of various producers and directors who have burned us with bad video game films in the past. In spite of the positivity, trailers can be promising but what it really comes down to is the movie itself.

So what can we expect from the Assassin’s Creed movie? Could it truly be the video game movie that redeems its predecessors? To answer these questions (or at least come close to an answer), we need to look at the mistakes other adaptations have made in the past, and how these mistakes might be reconciled for future adaptations to come.

Games Vs. Books: Two Adaptations, Two Polarized Responses

The Great GatsbyVideo games are not the only mediums of entertainment that are adapted into films. Book adaptations also face a lot of heat, yet somehow, book adaptations do not face the same criticism—at least not on such a broad level. Again, the general consensus is that all video game films are bad, but not all book films are bad. Some fans may like the creative liberties that the writers take, while others may find that sticking too closely to the source material really doesn’t produce anything original in terms of adaptations. Producers take the same liberties with book adaptations as they do with game adaptations and the outcome between the two can be drastically different. What are the unseen variables here?

Perhaps the biggest reason game-to-film adaptations fail so much is that they rarely stick closely to their source material (i.e. the games themselves). This tends to get us gamers riled up. But on the other hand, book adaptations don’t always do this either, yet they often receive praise. The answer is not simply that we gamers are a more passionate, fanatical crowd. The answer is more likely that directors and producers just don’t understand games as they should. Only recently did the gaming industry become more mainstream. Prior to this shift, the industry was stereotyped as a form of entertainment for “nerds” and “geeks” who preferred virtual reality over actual reality. Those of us who remember living in that little bubble probably feel a lot more protective of our “gaming community” than members of the “book community” because we came from what was once such a niche community. Ultimately, books seem to be a lot more accessible than video games, even in spite of the mainstream turn which the gaming industry has recently taken.

If it comes down to awareness, how might Hollywood producers better represent video games in the film industry? The following are three points that directors, the film industry, and the gaming industry ought to consider if game-to-film adaptations hope to be successful.

1. Necessity: Should Games Just Be Games?

Sam and Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
Sam and Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

The fairly recent announcement of The Last of Us and Uncharted film adaptations received mixed responses. On one side were the fans who welcomed these beloved games to the big screen, while on the other side were the fans who felt that games these days—especially The Last of Us and Uncharted 4—are cinematic enough that they don’t need film adaptations. The shift from cutscene to actual gameplay in games like these is so seamless that it truly is like playing a movie. Eliminating that interactivity thereby eliminates the magic that makes games nowadays so spectacular. Is it really necessary to adapt everything into a film? According to one Professor Kirk Kjeldsen at Virginia Commonwealth University: no. Kjeldsen claims that a game-to-film adaptation “is like making a song out of a painting or a sculpture” because games and films are “completely different animals.” Indeed they are, and if directors understood this, they might be more inclined to leave video games alone—except for, you know, the money.

2. Alternatives: Why Not Go the CGI Route?

Cloud Strife in FFVII: Advent Children.
Cloud Strife in FFVII: Advent Children.

Remember Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children? Of course you do. In 2005, Tetsuya Nomura released this entirely-CGI film as a sort-of sequel to the universally beloved Final Fantasy VII (1997). Though the film received mixed reviews, the majority of critics agreed that the graphics and the fight scenes were outstanding. For a game as vast as FFVII, and one with such a passionate fan base, it would seem a terrible risk to allow anyone but Nomura to touch a cinematic sequel (and by “anyone,” I mean Hollywood). Any given Final Fantasy game cannot be translated to film without 150% care and devotion to the source material because of the vastness and depth of the world, the characters, and the story. If a film adaptation is absolutely necessary, producers ought to consider CGI first and foremost, especially given the high quality output of games these days.

Furthermore, for games like those in the Final Fantasy lineup that defy reality (hence the word “fantasy”), it would be impossible to convert those infamous boss battles, those summons, and those gravity-defying fight scenes into Hollywood cinema without lots of CGI and green screens. If a director is already going to use that much CGI anyway, why not just go the full-CGI route? In the end, CGI films do what “real” films can’t do. In the end, the majority of game fans would probably prefer a CGI film produced by the same company that produced the game itself.

3. Creative Control: Leave it to the Professionals

If after the first two points, Hollywood producers still find it necessary to adapt a video game into a film, the least they could do is give a huge portion of creative control to the same studio (i.e. writers) that developed the game in the first place. It has been confirmed that Neil Druckmann, the writer and director of Uncharted, Uncharted 2, Uncharted 4, and The Last of Us, is actually writing for the film adaptations of Uncharted and TLOU. Melissa Loomis at Gamerant calls this “promising” because Druckmann “knows the story, knows the audience, and knows how to make it work.” Of course, this doesn’t mean Druckmann has 100% creative control in production, but if all game-to-film adaptations had people like Druckmann on board, we gamers would sleep better at night knowing our beloved franchises are not going to their deaths. If Hollywood knows what is good for it, it will continue to allow these creative geniuses into its golden city, and let them do what they do best.

Back to Assassin’s Creed…

Assassin's Creed

Going by the above criteria, Assassin’s Creed is 0 for 3. It has been confirmed that most of the movie will be set in the present rather than in the past. Although Desmond Miles was loved by the majority, his story was not what most fans played for. Red flag Number One. Additionally, the film’s producers already have plans for two sequels. It is just a bit too early to be jumping the gun on a trilogy when the debut film has not even been released and its fans are already on the fence about it. Is this confidence or naivety on the producers’ part? Who knows? Red Flag Number Two. Lastly, the franchise hasn’t been doing too well lately, especially considering the generally poor reception of games in the series such as AC:III (2012) and Unity (2014). Syndicate (2015), the latest AC release, saw better days than its predecessors, but Ubisoft has been beating the dead horse for a while now. If some fans are already done with the gaming series itself, why would they bother with a film adaptation?

But these points don’t necessarily mean anything. Although this will be director Justin Kurzel’s first video game adaptation, his past films such as Snowtown (2011), The Turning (2013), and Macbeth (2015) all received generally positive reviews from critics. Furthermore, Ubisoft itself is developing the film, so that should give us fans at least a little peace of mind. Michael Fassbender—who will play the protagonist, Callum Lynch—has stated he knew nothing about the AC series until he took the role, yet since then he has thoroughly educated himself and seems to understand now just how attached fans are to the franchise. Hopefully his efforts to produce something true to the source material will show in the end.

All of this, however, is just speculation. Assassin’s Creed can be a box office hit or a huge flop. Ultimately, it all comes down to the movie itself. Come December 21, we will see if Assassin’s Creed can break the curse that its predecessors unleashed.

No pressure or anything.

Works Cited

Tassi, Paul. “The First ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Trailer is Mercifully Excellent.” Forbes, 12 May 2016. Stable URL: http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2016/05/12/the-first-assassins-creed-movie-trailer-is-mercifully-excellent/#2b1b83e028c7

Child, Ben. “Assassin’s Creed: Five Things We Learned From the First Trailer.” The Guardian, 12 May 2016. Stable URL: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2016/may/12/assassins-creed-trailer-analysis-michael-fassbender

Gaston, Martin. “One Professor Attempts to Explain Why Video Game Movies Are Always Bad.” Gamespot, 14 April 2014. Stable URL: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/one-professor-attempts-to-explain-why-video-game-movies-are-always-bad/1100-6418987/

Loomis, Melissa. “Lost in Translation: Why Video Game Movies So Rarely Work Out.” Gamerant, 2015. Stable URL: http://gamerant.com/why-are-video-game-movies-bad/

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I am currently a student at CSU, Fresno, pursuing my B.A. in English. Someday I will write for the gaming industry. Until then, I am just a fangirl.

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34 Comments

  1. Gale
    0

    The problem with video games is narrative.

    Whilst video games have plot (often way too much plot) the narrative is entirely in your hands.

    Think of funny bits in games. Most of the time you’ll be thinking of a hilarious way you screwed up or a good shot you pulled off. Something that was unexpected that made everyone laugh. This is the narrative of games.

    Films can’t have this, so they have to fill in their own narrative in plots and stories that were never deigned for it.

    A good vide game movie would need to capture this, but I don’t really think that possible. Games are games. Films are films. They have their own strengths.

  2. Bolt
    0

    The only video game adaptations I can remember enjoying were Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Neither were anything special but if they are on they are entertaining enough. Maybe because they are horror films I don’t know.

  3. Woodle
    0

    I think God of War could be great, Kratos is a compelling flawed character that has a solid character arc and you can take all sorts of liberties with mythology, but I doubt it will ever get an R rating that it would require to be good, so that’s out.

    Uncharted would be good but it would suffer from the same malaise that surrounds films like Tomb Raider, National Treasure, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; it would just be naturally compared to Indiana Jones and pale in comparison.

  4. Natashia
    0

    They tried too hard to be faithful. Strange but unlike comic-book adaptations, I guess for video games you have to have more creative freedom.

    Which is why I think Assassin’s Creed will be the first great video game adaptation. Followed by Splinter Cell with Tom Hardy and the Division with Jake Gyllenhaal. Basically Ubisoft knows their shit.

    • Yajaira
      0

      Agreed. But then you have the fans crying out loud against it. I also think it comes to the fact that critics are know with preconceived notions against those movies. I don’t think Warcraft is as bad as critics make it out to be (will say for sure after I watch it though), just like Prince of Persia, which was a far more decent blockbuster than many out there.

  5. Munjeera

    You are definitely not “just” anything at all. Great article. I might even go see the movie.

  6. Stapleton
    0

    The problem with videogame movies are the protagonists. In a videogame, you are going to be failing constantly so you are given an overpowered avatar with a vast array of skills in order to compensate. The tension comes from finally succeeding at a difficult task after failing numerous times.

    In a film, it’s basically like watching a perfect playthrough of a game. The aspect of failure or possibility of failure has been removed, making the hero ridiculously over-qualified for his or her mission. The drama of overcoming obstacles is completely removed, and thus zero tension.

    A good example of this being circumvented is Edge of Tomorrow, which is based on a book that was inspired by the trial and error process of playing a videogame according to the author. I think this film captures the drama of playing a videogame, far better than any direct videogame adaptation. It illustrates the thrill of studying a seemingly insurmountable challenge and overcoming it through patience, planning and persistence, despite impossible odds. It “gets” videogames and what makes them interesting far better than any of these adaptations.

  7. Halsey
    0

    While movie adaptations of video games tend to be lame, at least movies about video games tend to have more success from time to time.

    Wreck-It Ralph, War Games, Tron … sure, there’s a lot of stinkers out there, but I feel like when filmmakers aren’t bound by the restrictions of making an adaptation, they can have more success. Maybe we just have to wait for a new generation of directors that’s more familiar with video games as a medium until we see some quality adaptations, though.

  8. SilverLine
    0

    Silent Hill remains one of the best, truest-to-game movie adaptations I have seen.

    It might not have been an Oscar nominee, but it brings the horror, oddity and feeling of desolation the Silent Hill series excels in.

    • betse
      0

      It’s visually stellar, but I think it tries too hard to shoehorn in set piece moments. Turning Pyramid Head into Silent Hill’s mascot is also pretty much the worst thing Americans have done to the franchise.

  9. Estell Fite
    0

    I watch Wing Commander once every couple of months. I don’t know, it just never ceases to amuse me with its schlockiness.

  10. Sage
    0

    Call me when they make the “Fallout” movie.

  11. River
    0

    Nice article. I think some game elements are too fantastical to shelve out and properly make it believable. I think bio shock infinite would be good but too much cgi. That’s a big part too much cgi.

  12. Mr. Chris
    0

    The problem is that the movies that get made are always based on games with either very generic concepts—which are themselves based on pre-existing concepts—or games with very vague, pasted on concepts.

    Warcraft is just a generic fantasy story that’s been told hundreds of times, and in better ways. The games were prolific not because of their stories, but because of their actual gameplay mechanics.

    This goes for all games turned into movies. But mechanics do not translate to movie making, so all they are left with are bland, derivative stories. Or having shoehorn in a story where there was none.

    If they were to make movies based on games with original, inventive, and actually-good stories, and treated it more like adapting a novel than trying to haul in players through name recognition and fan service alone, then they’d have an infinitely better chance at making good films.

    There is a chance with the Assassin’s Creed film, because the franchise does have a highly interesting original story, and the movie has the acting and production values to back it up.

  13. Swan
    0

    I really enjoyed Warcraft the Beginning it’s well worth seeing, believe me there’s a whole host of poorer films out there!

  14. eli
    0

    I think a Donkey Kong movie could be awesome, or a Burger Time. Let alone a Ghost n Goblins!

  15. GaLa
    0

    If we accept the premise that characters purposely lacking striking characteristics is the problem, then an adaptation of a complex character like Kratos from God of War, might better lend itself to film. Kratos is just an example, but there are plenty of better characters in the game world that would make interesting protagonists. Take heed Hollywood!

  16. Swartz
    0

    Can’t wait for Assasin’s Creed. As for other game to film adaptations, I thought Prince of Persia was actually a fun movie – whitewashing aside. Mortal Kombat was also definitely fun to watch as a teen who loved the games. Just because films don’t get great ratings from critics doesn’t mean they’re not enjoyable.

    Street Fighter could have been a cool movie if they did it like Bloodsport. They got the actor, but did a terrible job of making a good movie. It just goes to show that video games aren’t inherently bad – they are just made badly since the studios count on the fan base to watch it anyway.

  17. Lester
    0

    The Tekken movie had some good fight scenes and it is a sci/fi action movie it has the Blade Runner style in the movie.

  18. Ming Trimble
    0

    I still believe that a handful of games would make awesome movies, Zelda, Metroid, and Halo are the first that come to mind. If they stayed true to the source in the same way that Marvel stays true to the comics, they should be able to please a broad range of audience members.

  19. CHUN
    0

    A movie should never be made based on a video game, the whole point of a video game is to play it, not watch it. That is why all these movie fail.

    • Rhett
      0

      I disagree, movies and games are both stories. You can just play one of them instead of watch it.

  20. Drake
    0

    The first Mortal Kombat film was the only adaptation I actually thought did a good job of staying true while pleasing people outside of the fan-base (it was like Enter the Dragon w mythology in it). Although the effects don’t hold up ($18M in 1995 – the time when CGI was starting to take place in films – isn’t a lot of money to work with) it is still a fun film to watch IMO (the scorpion fight is still awesome).

    Still wish that they would have done the gritty remake Mortal Kombat that was teased to us back in 2010 w the internet short.

    Street Fighter (less said of the 2009 Chun Li film the better) also could have been awesome had they actually not hammed it up as much and actually hired a great fight coordinator like Mortal Kombat did. It could have been a lighter but fun film had they gone in that route instead of playing it for the cheese factor (granted Van Damme was in the height of his cocaine years and was making terrible film decisions all around – who would work w Dennis Rodman or Rob Schnieder as their side kick????)

    The Tomb Raider films are also films that I don’t understand why they tried to over complicate with their convoluted plotlines. It really baffles me how they couldn’t get it right as the material is easy enough IMO to adapt that could make an easy enough film to please general audience members.

    Warcraft I was expecting to do bad because it is so much of a world building type of game that it was never going to get the love from people outside of those who don’t play it (granted its million of users) but even then the fans themselves will be critical if they don’t make it perfect in their mind.

    • Damion
      0

      But Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist hits the Street Fighter movie. Have you watch the Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist series? Watch it.

  21. Onie
    0

    I’ve never played the video game, but Silent Hill is an exceptionally beautiful, eerie film.

  22. Sam Spradlin
    0

    I know I’m blinded by nostalgia, but I have never understood the hate for the Super Mario movie. It was nothing like the game – and maybe that’s why people are upset – but it was a wildly creative dystopic sci-fi movie. It felt like it belonged to the era of Blade Runner, Total Recall, Judge Dredd, and Fifth Element.

  23. I feel games should be left as games. The video game allows to the player to take control of the narrative. In a movie setting this would merely be stripped away.

  24. zoom
    0

    Not all games can be adapted into a movie well. How the heck do you make a good movie out of plumbers who jump on turtles and eat mushrooms and flowers to get more power?

  25. I have moderate hopes for this Assassin’s Creed movie. I like that they are using a time period they haven’t visited in the games with the Spanish Inquisition.

  26. From what I’ve seen no one has seriously put any effort into a video game adaptation.

    Most of these stinkers take a popular property a slap on a famous actor or two then do their paperwork from a country that throws you a huge tax break when you film there.

    Most of these movies were absolute trash but people still watched them. The people involved all left a bit richer after it all.

  27. ahh now I’m so nervous for the assassin’s creed movie!!

  28. The first mark in this movie’s favor is that Uwe Boll isn’t involved in the production. With disasters like “Bloodrayne” and “House of the Dead” under his belt, he is the Ed Wood of video game movies.

    Of course, with Warcraft getting such a mediocre reception, I don’t have very high hopes for AC at all. I don’t think Hollywood has truly embraced the notion that a video game movie can just be it’s own thing. The closest they came was “Doom” – hardly a shining example.

  29. I am incredibly nervous for this movie. I really want it to be good, but I’m not getting my hopes way up there. I believe that the movie creators believe they’re creating something with quality, but, as many have said before me, a lot of what gamers like out of video games is our participation/involvement. Can’t speak for everyone, but I love discovering the characters and story game develpors created, in a way they want me to discover it. What we’ve seen in the past with video game movies is characters we should know becoming unrecognizable. Great write up

  30. Hollywood sees certain video games as a cash grab in the sense that they can take the title, put a big action movie star in it, and twist it into whatever movie they want it to be. (i.e. Doom). Given that it seems they know what they’re doing with the Assassin’s Creed film, we should expect at least a decent movie.

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