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While most movies and television shows based on video games have continued to be, for the most part, mediocre at best, there is zero indication that Hollywood is planning to stop trying to make them succeed anytime soon. Case in point, Netflix’s recently announced live-action Assassin’s Creed series, which follows only a few years after the same game series tried, and failed, to become a film franchise.
The Assassin’s Creed movie was not good, to put it very lightly. Even the film's star Michael Fassbender admitted the movie had problems. In fact, it may have been one of the worst examples of a video game becoming a movie that we’ve seen, which is saying a lot. That doesn't mean that Assassin's Creed can't make for a potentially interesting series, but there are a few things the new project's creative team should keep in mind in order to avoid going down the same dismal road as the movie.
Focus On The Correct Time Period
One of the things that makes Assassin’s Creed such an interesting project to try and adapt into a movie or a series is that it is both a historical epic and a science fiction story. The games tell the tale of a centuries-old clash between two ancient orders, the Knights Templar and the Assassins. Thanks to a bit of sci-fi hardware, players take control of a modern assassin and are able to relive and control, to a certain degree, historical events lived by the main character's own ancestors.
The game series has always placed its focus on the historical part of that story, with only the occasional break in the action to touch back on the modern-day side of things. But the movie flipped the script by focusing more on Michael Fassbender’s modern-day hero, and only making brief trips into the past for action sequences. This probably made sense during the scriptwriting phase, since the modern character seemed more important than his long-dead ancestor, but it just didn't work in practice.
The Netflix series needs to bring the focus back to the historical setting and elements. That side of things is always more interesting, and while the science fiction side of Assassin’s Creed should not be ignored, it’s what makes it all Assassin’s Creed, after all, it should be the B-plot.
Don’t Make The Animus A Big Deal
The piece of technology that makes the time-jumping action possible is called, in both the games and the movie, the Animus. In the games, the Animus is just a table or a chair that the subject sits it, and the historical component is experienced by them like, well, a video game. It would be boring if you had to sit and watch them inside it.
In the movie, the Animus was a massive structure that allowed a person to physically move about. It was an attempt by the film to add some more action to the overall story. It didn’t work. In the end, it felt like you were literally watching a movie about a guy playing an Assassin's Creed video game. What’s more, it’s not necessary. The details of how and why the technology works are unimportant. If the rest of the series works, people will willingly suspend disbelief.
Reboot The Story
In fact, if we want to jettison the entire concept of the Animus, that’s fine, too. The Assassin’s Creed game series has been going for over a decade, and in that time the games have piled lore onto lore and it’s honestly gotten all pretty messy. Maybe the TV series is the perfect time for a reboot.
Rather than trying to incorporate all the various elements that fans of the games are familiar with, (the Animus, the Bleeding Effect, the Apple of Eden) the Netflix series should be willing to start fresh. Take what is useful from the games, but don’t feel beholden to them. Create a story that works as a TV series first, and a video game adaptation second.
Make It Pretty
While the Assassin’s Creed games are about characters, the true star of the best games in the series have always been the environments. Each game isn’t simply set in the past, but in a specific location during an important period of history. Florence, Italy, during the Italian Renaissance. The Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Boston and New York during the American Revolution. The game designers go to great pains to recreate these locations as best they can, making the game world feel real and alive.
The Assassin’s Creed movie was set during a historical time and place, the Spanish Inquisition, but the location wasn’t part of the film’s character. Everything was washed out and dull looking, rather than the vibrant colors that are usually part of the game. Whether filmed on location or recreated with digital effects, the set pieces of the Assassin's Creed franchise need to have a character of their own. Wherever and whenever this new series is set, it needs to feel like the characters are really there.
Use An Ensemble Cast
Both the movie and the majority of the games focus on a single character. While that's understandable for a video game, as it connects the player and the avatar more, that simply not necessary in a TV series, and the Netflix series would be better served by bringing in more characters. This is supposed to be an ongoing battle between two secret organizations, so they should feel appropriately huge.
This will allow for a broad and diverse cast of characters, that can potentially take the series in different directions, especially if we're gearing up for multiple seasons of this. It also helps because this way, if one character turns out to be dull as dishwater, there will be other characters viewers can still get excited about.
Ok, this one isn't a huge deal, but it's an indisputable fact that Assassin's Creed: Black Flag – the one about pirates – is the best game in the franchise. So, going this route wouldn't hurt one bit.
There's a lot of potentially good story to get out of Assassin's Creed. The story could go to multiple different time periods over the course of multiple seasons, or even just multiple episodes, keeping things fresh and exciting. However, for an Assassin's Creed series to work it should probably not use the 2016 movie as a template.