Don't get too excited about that Assassin's Creed movie, because development hell could be just over the horizon. To get the movie made, Sony Pictures has signed over a massive amount of creative control to game developer Ubisoft, and that might just mean the flick never happens at all.
Assassin's Creed is a massively popular videogame franchise, with more than 30 million copies of three installments sold and a fourth game on the way that's expected to have equal or greater success. This means that any movie made from the blockbuster games would have a massive built-in audience, and that means money, and that means Ubisoft wants to hold on to as much power as possible.
According to insiders, the Assassin's Creed film rights landed at Sony only after several other studios—including Universal, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks—passed on the project when they either couldn't handle Ubisoft's demands or just didn't want to. But now that Sony is ready to deal, they're giving Ubisoft approval on nearly every phase of the production, from the script to the budget to the cast to when the thing hits theaters.
"As a director, even Steven Spielberg cannot get this kind of deal," one insider told Vulture.
Though it certainly seems like a good idea to give a direct role in the filmmaking process to the people who made the franchise so successful in the first place, there are some who fear that giving Ubisoft this unprecedented level of control over the project could spell doom for an Assassin's Creed movie before it even gets off the ground.
"The whole Ubisoft/Sony deal is a waste of ink, paper and time," another insider said. "The level of control Sony gave up means, effectively, that Assassin's Creed will never—and I mean never—get made."
But why does Ubisoft want to be so hands-on in the first place? Don't they have videogames to make? The answer to that question can be summed up in three words: Prince of Persia. See, that's also a Ubisoft property, and they let Disney make a movie that turned out to be an absolute flop.
Disney claims Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time bombed because Ubisoft couldn't leave well enough alone, but Ubisoft claims that Disney messed it up all by themselves. Either way, that flick's failure means Ubisoft is doing everything it can to keep the same thing from happening to its other properties. It's understandable, but it could have a very negative impact on the filmmaking process for Assassin's Creed.
"It's [Ubisoft's] billion-dollar brand, so I get that they're protective," an unidentified studio head who was once interested in the flick says. "But they're not moviemakers, and the only way to make sure it's a bad movie is to undervalue what movie studios do—and this is a deal that totally undervalues what movie studios do."
But what does Sony have to say about all this? They make movies, too, but they seem to think letting Ubisoft get this deep into the movie business is just fine. The reason might be a simple financial one. Another source claims part of the deal is that Ubisoft will invest a considerable portion of its own money in the flick, leaving Sony to pay "only a fraction of what a studio typically would spend to option or develop a script."
So Ubisoft is basically buying its way into the movie business, and lots of people in the movie business are saying it just won't work. But why not? Let's not be so quick to call this a disaster. The whole take-the-movies-into-your-own-hands thing seems to be working out pretty well for Marvel, so why can't it work for Ubisoft? It might be a strange new way of doing things, but it's too soon to call this a bad idea. After all, Hollywood's been making bad videogame movies for a while now, so why not let the game developers themselves have a turn?