Video game movies scare me.
Historically, they’re not successful. There have been a few modest wins here and there, but mostly they’re bad bets, costing way too much and earning little, and not one has ever equaled the kind of critical acclaim their comic book-based cousins are capable of achieving. The only self-sustaining video game movie franchise is Screen Gems’ Resident Evil, made on the (relative) cheap to no acclaim and moderate profits. It’s not the most impressive record.
I had a front row seat for the HALO fiasco that unfolded in the mid-aughts, which Wired covered thoroughly here, and it was my trial-by-fire for movie business (or more accurately, how not to do movie business). Following HALO and Disney’s struggle with Prince of Persia—which face-planted with audiences and set in motion events that coalesced with the similar John Carter mess and subsequent ousting of Rich Ross—studios have grown leery of investing in video game titles. The two genres, games and films, just don’t get each other. The business models are too dissimilar, the philosophies too disparate, but worse, the game companies will insist on maintaining not only too much creative control but also too much of any potential profits. What should be a relationship as seamless as comics and movies instead leads to bitter divorce after bitter divorce (although we may want to talk about how hard Marvel can be on their directors sometime).
And now Michael Fassbender is stepping into the fray, taking on Assassin’s Creed, a hella cool game property that’s as movie-ready as HALO ever was, set to not only star but also co-produce. I love The Fassbender, and I am totally down to see The Fassbender be a badass assassin dude, but this makes me nervous. This is where my inner fangirl brushes up against the real-world experience. I want to do jumpy claps and wait with bated breath for whatever inevitable awesomery could result from this, but I remember HALO. And the less than stellar results of Prince of Persia which bears strong resemblance to Assassin’s Creed in style and substance. I have a hard time getting excited for this because in my mind, video game movies and poison are inextricably linked.
Still, perhaps the prospect of having to pull together a movie without major studio support—Sony has kinda sorta agreed to maybe honor a distribution agreement if Fassbender and game maker Ubisoft can get the movie made—will keep them on a manageable, realistic path. Hopefully they’ve learned from watching Microsoft tank their own deal with excessive demands, and Ubisoft, having gone through this with Prince of Persia already, will be able to rein in the excessive spending and expectations. I don’t want to see the video game movie curse get the better of Fassbender. But it’s certainly an invitation to disaster.