Video-game movies have a very bad – and not entirely unfounded – reputation. That’s because most video-game movies are without a doubt terrible, and there are many reasons for this. Games have become increasingly more cinematic as time has moved on, even bringing aboard major film talent in the form of composers (Hans Zimmer, Clint Mansell), writers (Paul Haggis) and actors (Robert Carlyle, Michael Ironside, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, too many to list etc.).
Unfortunately, as gaming’s cinematic value increase rapidly it seems that the people left out in the cold are the men with the money in Hollywood. They don’t play games, and why should they? As far as they’re concerned they’re a trivial past time with the sophistication of Tetris. The breaking point was when Max Payne was fumbled in its journey to the screen. Max Payne is the perfect story for a film, it has a great lead character and a gripping thriller narrative. There are many reasons why the changes the film made were a bad idea, (believe it or not, casting Mark Wahlberg was one of the few things the production did right) but its fundamental flaw was failing to get to grips with the source material and the effects of drug abuse and loss.
Essentially, video game properties are not taken seriously by film executives, and they have no real interest in making them. The reason why games ever reach film studio development is because they have an audience that money can be made from. The final nail in the coffin of video game to movie potential came when Halo couldn’t receive adequate funding. Halo? One of the biggest game franchises of all time that would be perfect for the big screen, could not acquire funding because Bungie tried to make it faithful to the games. The executives said that it had to be changed, Master Chief would have to be a big name actor who ran around with his helmet off for most of the film (ala Sylvester Stallone‘s much maligned Judge Dredd) and he would need to have a love interest in the film. This, combined with the news that Gears Of War was going to be reappropriated as a low budget PG13 film is just…painful. Due to this profound lack of understanding I figured that the book was almost all but closed on videogame to movie conversions. Put it this way: when some of the more valiant attempts at the niche were coming from Uwe Boll, you know it’s about time to just give up and pretend it never happened.
However, Ubisoft have decided they’re going to push conversions of some of their biggest properties to the big screen, and keep control. Assassin’s Creed was the first to have project details surface with the incredible Michael Fassbenderbeing cast as titular assassin Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. What was once a rumour or could be dismissed as fleeting ambition is now suddenly far more legitimate. There’s no other available information on the project, though the fact that a star as high profile as Michael Fassbender has signed on is a very promising sign. Ubisoft will be aware of the pitfalls of the Disney financed Prince of Persia movie that flopped to the mat two years ago, and while yes, the two properties are very different for those of us in the know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up being somewhat similar. They both feature middle eastern settings and acrobatic leads that use an assortment of blades. While, Assassin’s Creed definitely has more in common with say, Hitman, than Prince of Persia‘s unique forays into high fantasy, the parallels within Hollywood still exist and will still have an effect on the production of Assassin’s Creed. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how this project develops.
Ubisoft are keen to maintain this positive momentum, so they’ve announced today that the enigmatic Tom Hardy has signed on the dotted line to portray legendary sleuth Sam Fisher of the Splinter Cell series. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize this as great news. Tom Hardy has been storming Hollywood as of late after his incredible performance in Nicholas Windig Refn‘s British independent film Bronson, with scene stealing roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Inception, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless. He’s an actor who is in great demand, so it’s a huge boon for Ubisoft to have him sign on to the project so early in its development cycle. Of course, on the other hand that gives him a lot of time to potentially drop out.
Tom Hardy is currently working on shooting a fourth Mad Max film, where he assumes the role of the eponymous character, replacing Mel Gibson from the classic Mad Max trilogy. Splinter Cell‘s script is being penned by Eric Warren Singer, who previously wrote the lacklustre thriller The International, as well as having another script of his on the black list called American Bullshit (currently being developed into a film by David O. Russell with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams). Let’s hope that the Splinter Cell script displays more of the flair of the latter and less of the mediocrity of the former.
Despite this excellent news there have been some stirring in the gaming circles, claiming that Tom Hardy is not a good fit for the role. While Sam Fisher is definitely a good 20 years older than Hardy in the games, it’s clear that Ubisoft are going to “update” the story. Much like when Iron Man was updated from the Vietnam War to the Iraq war, it’s clear that the film iteration of Sam Fisher will see him being involved in more modern conflicts, rather than the deep seated paranoia left in him by his experience during the Cold War. While one could effectively argue that this would strip away part of his fundamental character flaws I feel it’s safe to say that they will find an appropriate substitute. Interestingly enough, back in June Tom Hardy took an extremely dangerous research trip into war zones in Afghanistan for a film project he is producing called Samarkand. He hired a group of Special Forces to protect him and went into the most dangerous areas he could obtain access to, to conduct research right on the front lines. This experience could prove invaluable to his shaping of the character of Sam Fisher.
Hardy is renowned for his acting chops and intensity and it’s about time that he found himself in an action franchise. I imagine due to the current state of Hollywood that Sam Fisher will find his film representation leaning closer to the more recent Bourne-influenced entries in the series, rather than the slower paced, more ponderous games of yesteryear. As long as Splinter Cell doesn’t consider inheriting the shaky camera and epileptic editing from the Bourne series; and instead choose to focus on crafting impressive cinematography and intense action found in films such as Mission Impossible 4 and Skyfall; I’ll be a happy camper. I find it to be a very exciting prospect to see Tom Hardy‘s name up in lights along with other recent genre stalwarts like Tom Cruise, Daniel Craig, Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner. Hardy has the screen presence to pull off a truly memorable version of the beloved character.
Jean-Julien Baronnet, CEO of Ubisoft Motion Pictures had this to say:
Michael Ironside played Sam Fisher in the game series, and while he definitely doesn’t have the pulling power to play the lead in the film iteration, it would be great to see him get a chance to appear in the film, either as a government personality or even a villain. Ironside used to rock villain roles in the 80s, but has been noticeably absent from our cinema screens from sometime (except a random appearance in last years X-Men: First Class). Here’s hoping Ubisoft consider paying a great character actor a nice homage to his time in the role.
There are no further details about the Assassin’s Creed or Splinter Cell movies as of yet, so I would image these films will not see the light of day until at least 2014. Both projects are certainly far more attractive to investors and studios now that they have high profile leads locked in, but the nature of this business is that it can rapidly change. Ubisoft need to be smart and move fast, because if the production starts to lag, Hardy and Fassbender are in high enough demand to not wait around too long. So, while this is good news it’s nothing concrete yet, as these projects still need a lot more before we’ll see them in front of us. It’s very promising and comforting however, to see that Ubisoft have a huge amount of confidence in the projects, which is probably how they managed to snag these actors way ahead of time. When more details are released, we’ll have them for you.