After the release of “Macbeth” in 2015, it appeared that Justin Kurzel was poised to set the directing world on fire. “Macbeth,” which starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, was well-received coming out of Cannes, and the film served as a follow-up to his solid debut, “Snowtown.” But then, Kurzel decided to tackle the video game adaptation, “Assassin’s Creed.” And unfortunately, that film dealt a blow to the momentum of Kurzel and signaled that the up-and-coming director was not bulletproof.
In a recent interview for an upcoming episode of The Fourth Wall podcast (coming soon!), Kurzel opened up about his time making “Assassin’s Creed,” and more importantly, what he learned about adapting a video game and what he would do if he had the chance again. Long story short, video game adaptations are super tricky and feature films probably aren’t the best artistic medium for them.
“There were certain aspects of the game that everyone thought would be fantastic to have in the film,” said Kurzel. “I don’t think there was ever like, ‘You have to do this.’ I think the challenge is the ideas in the game are so complicated.”
He continued, “[In ‘Assassin’s Creed,’] you’ve got two different worlds; the modern world with Callum Lynch who then goes into the Animus and goes back to a particular time. And to be honest, that’s why most people play the game—to be immersed in a particular period of history. So it was really tricky, that balance of how much to you start in the future and how much do you land in the past, how the two time periods riff off each other, and that became the most challenging part of the writing. There are aspects of that film I really love and are really unusual and I definitely was surprised by some of the feedback from it because I think there’s a lot of merit in it. But the most challenging part for all of us was to land what is a really complicated story and that from the beginning was the thing we knew was tricky.”
Even though Kurzel didn’t have the most success with his “Assassin’s Creed” film, he does still have ideas for potential sequels. Though, to be fair, he understands that those aren’t likely, at this point. Much like the video game franchise, a potential film sequel would have also played around with more timelines and different periods in history. Interestingly, the time-period that intrigued Kurzel a lot was putting the main character in a more contemporary setting (as opposed to the first film, which explored the 15th century.
“I don’t think we got down the track too far with [a sequel], but I mean, it’s obvious—pick your time period in which you could’ve traveled to next,” the director explained. “Instead of going back so many years, I thought it’d be really interesting to go back to a period in time that felt closer to the present.”
All things considered, the experience on “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t seem to have soured Kurzel on the idea of blockbuster filmmaking. As for video games, and “Assassin’s Creed,” in particular, the filmmaker believes that the best medium for those adaptations to thrive is probably not the big screen.
“I was thinking about adaptations for great books as well,” said Kurzel. “How do you suddenly take a 600 or 700-page book that’s a masterpiece and shove all that in 90 minutes? Sometimes I think you need to dismantle it all and approach it in a very simple way…So maybe, ‘Assassin’s’ would work really fantastically as a series. Maybe there’s a way of simplifying the concept of the game to really capture the heart of it.”
We’ll have to see if Kurzel gets the chance to tackle another blockbuster in the future. For now, he’s promoting his new film, “The True History of the Kelly Gang.” Next up, he has multiple series in the works, including a new one that is in production on Apple TV+ and a forthcoming series based on the famous Richard Flanagan novel, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”
You can hear the full interview with Kurzel on the next episode of The Fourth Wall, which will be released soon.
Additional reporting by Griffin Schiller.