Release Date(s)2016 (March 21, 2017)
Studio(s)Regency/Ubisoft/Kennedy-Marshall (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
In 1492, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, the Knights Templar are at war with the mysterious Assassin’s Creed. The Templar seek the ancient Apple of Eden, an artifact that will allow them to control the free will of all Mankind, an outcome that only the Assassin Aguilar de Nerha (Michael Fassbinder) and his followers can stop. In 1986, young Callum Lynch is traumatized when he learns that his father has murdered his mother, an act that sets Cal on a life of crime. But when the adult Cal (also Fassbender) is executed for a murder of his own, years later in 2016, he wakes to learn that he’s actually been whisked away to a strange medical institute in Spain, where Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his scientist daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard) are continuing the Templar search for the Apple… a search in which Cal is destined to play a crucial role.
I have to say, Assassin’s Creed surprised me. Yes, it’s based on the popular videogame franchise, but it’s a project that Michael Fassbender helped to produce. To direct, he recruited Justin Kurzel, with whom he collaborated previously on 2015’s visually stylish updating of Macbeth. Together, they’ve assembled a formidable cast and crew, including writing partners Todd Louiso and Jacob Koskoff, who also scripted the Macbeth adaptation. Now, if those names aren’t familiar to you, you’ll be surprised to learn that Louiso also played the timid record store clerk in Stephen Frears’ outstanding High Fidelity, working alongside John Cusack and Jack Black. That is as interesting a mix of talent as I’ve seen collaborate on a film in a long while.
Now… sure, you can’t think too much about the plot here, which involves Cal reliving the experiences of his 15th Century ancestor by tapping into his “genetic memory,” which is a real thing but not the way its depicted here. Yes… this is a videogame adaptation, but it’s certainly a better one than I’ve ever seen before. And yes, this film has a definite Dan Brown vibe that kind of works but is also paper thin and you just kind of have to go with it. Still, there’s not a zombie, vampire, or clone in sight, and it’s genuinely nice to see a big budget VFX action film that doesn’t involve mutant guys in tights fighting other mutant guys in tights. I couldn’t tell you how closely Assassin’s Creed adheres to the style and plot of the videogames, because I’ve never played them. What I can say is that, for 115 minutes, was mildly entertained by it. I certainly didn’t expect that to be the case going into this.
For fans of the 4K Ultra HD format, Assassin’s Creed is 115 minutes of pure eye and ear candy. The film was shot digitally in large format using the new ARRI Alexa 65 camera via the ARRIRAW codec (in a mix of 3.4K and 6.5K resolutions). It was finished as a true 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, given an HDR color timing pass, and the result has been released unmolested by 20th Century Fox on 4K UHD. This image is simply gorgeous. There’s an amazing amount of fine detail visible, with a lovely smooth and natural quality to it all that you can only get form large format filmmaking. Right from the film’s opening shot, flying into a sunset, the colors begin to dazzle you with extraordinarily rich and subtle shadings of orange, red, gold, blue, green. Shadows are incredibly deep – so much so that at first you might think this is another case of a filmmaker going darker rather than bright with HDR (see Arrival). But no – once your eye adapts, you soon realize that detail abounds. Torch light and candle flames glow brilliantly, casting warm light and flickering shadows. Skin tones have a lovely natural texture. The film’s visual effects are heavy in “2.5D” atmospherics, grounding them in a unique kind of reality, and I have a feeling that Double Negative actually rendered some of them in full 4K. To my reckoning, this disc stands side by side with Fox’s The Revenant in that it delivers a pure 4K reference image on this format.
The audio side of the presentation offers an equally reference-quality English Dolby Atmos mix that paints a smooth and natural soundstage. The mix impresses by subtlety as well as sonic assault. It’s one of the most effortlessly atmospheric mixes I’ve experienced in some time, completely surrounding you within the sonic environment. You can hear the size and tonal quality of the film’s spaces changing around you, from a confined holding cell within the medical institute, to an ancient temple, to vast open battlefields. The height channels are seamlessly integrated into the mix, extending the sound environment over and around the viewer. When the so-called “Animus” is being used, and in the rooftop-hopping action sequences that follow, the overheads come alive with activity. Everything about this mix impresses, from dialogue to score. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French, Castilian, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS, with subtitles available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French, Castilian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the included Blu-ray offers the film in 1080p HD with the following bonus materials (all in HD):
- Take the Pledge: Behind the Scenes of Assassin’s Creed (5 segments – 41:05 in all)
- Conversations with Justin Kurzel (4 segments – 20:22 in all)
- Deleted Scenes Conversation with Justin Kurzel & Christopher Tellefsen (22:23)
- Deleted Scenes (10 scenes – 15:44 in all)
- Gallery (3 galleries – 8:20 in all, as viewed auto advance)
- Theatrical Trailers (2 trailers – 4:22 in all)
As you watch these, a couple of things become clear. First, Fassbender was intimately involved in many aspects of this production, because he seems to able to tell you as much about it as anyone. Also, this film included a significant subplot, involving a teenaged Assassin girl orphaned and raised by the Templars in the present day, that was deleted very late in the game. It was cut for good reason, but it’s fascinating to see those scenes, to hear the filmmakers talk about why they were deleted, and to learn how the were able to focus the film more tightly in the editing room by doing so. In addition to the extras listed above, there are also sneak peak trailers for Logan and a couple of other things. And of course you get the usual paper insert with a Digital HD copy code in the packaging.
Assassin’s Creed didn’t get a lot of love from critics or moviegoers, but I encourage you to give it a second chance. While it’s not likely to win praise in the pages of The New Yorker, it’s definitely a better film than you may have been expecting. More importantly, this is one of the best 4K Ultra HD releases to date in terms of pure A/V quality. It is absolutely a reference title on this format, and thus belongs in the library of every self-respecting fan of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. When your friends come over and you want to blow them away with 4K, HDR, and object-based audio at its finest, pull out this disc and Fox’s The Revenant. They’ll be impressed. Definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt