- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2017

A critically lambasted, cinematic adaptation of a beloved video game franchise from last year looks to capture a more forgiving home theater audience with the release of Assassin’s Creed (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 116 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $26.99) in the ultra high-definition format.

Michael Fassbender starred as Cal, a death-row inmate kidnapped by a shadow organization called the Knights Templar. He’s forced to relive an ancestor’s life via a high-tech machine called the Animus with help from father/daughter scientists Alan (Jeremy Irons) and Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard).

His “regression” takes him back to 15th century Spain as Aguilar de Nerha, a premier member of the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and on a quest to find the Apple, a genetic sequence tied to freewill that the ancient Knights are also seeking.

Now, the beauty of playing the video game series was always spending a majority of my time roaming around a fantasy world where the prime assassin would interact with historical figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, George Washington and Blackbeard the pirate.

All of that creative possibility was sucked from the movie and replaced with just a selection of scenes set in an ancient realm, but too many taking place in a mind-numbingly sterile research facility loaded with test subjects and guards.

Despite infrequently sprinkling in such original game play elements during the regressions as a 120-foot leap of faith (not into a hay cart), climbing and running along walls, acrobatic parkour flourishes and close-quarters combat (with those legendary hidden wrist blades), it was just not enough to salvage the film.

4K UHD in action: The visual detail explodes thanks to the 2160p digital transfer of the 4K source material. Scenes in a cathedral on a 65-inch HDR monitor looked like I was standing in the structure. The high-speed battles amidst rooftops were even more nail-biting and a gruesome stake-burning sequence became almost unbearable to watch. I just wish the effort had more moments to get lost in.

Best extras: For a movie mired in mediocrity, it’s impressive that the bonus content strives to rationalize the film’s existence and how production staff strived to stay reverential to the source material.

Viewers will first need to pop in the included Blu-ray to find all of the bonus contents that feature around an hour’s worth of filmmaking fodder.

Specifically, five featurettes touch upon the period costuming, antique weapons for the assassin, the recreation of 15th century Spain and acrobatic combat with almost one third of the time spent with the director Justin Kurzel interviewing his brother, the movie’s musical composer Jed Kurzel.

It’s worth noting that I found watching some of the cut scene footage from many of the games wedged into the featurettes much more intriguing than most of the movie.

Best of the bunch of the extras was a look at some of the 22 minutes of deleted scenes accompanied by a discussion with the director and editor Christopher Tellefsen.

Mr. Kurzel and Mr. Tellefsen often focus on a mysterious female character that was cut from the movie, a 14-year-old girl named Lara (Octavia Selena Alexandru).

Her performance and scenes with Cal were so good (she actually allows Mr. Fassbender a chance to act) that they veered away from the core relationship between Cal and Sophia.

What’s also clear after listening to the discussion is that even though the filmmakers had no regrets, they had doubts on the story focus and tried to let screening audiences guide them.

Finally, what should have truly been a great extra for the package is nonexistent. How does 20th Century Fox and Ubisoft not add a way to access and play levels of one of the many “Assassin’s Creed” games via the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles either through a download code or extra disc?

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