Assassin’s Creed: Enter the Animus with Director Justin Kurzel

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Take a look at the first 20 minutes of Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed.

20th Century Fox previewed 20 minutes of Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed footage in London this week

The world got its first look at director Justin Kurzel’s big screen take on Ubisoft‘s hit video game franchise with the recent launch of the first Assassin’s Creed trailer. ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to dive further into the world of the film during a recent visit to the film’s set at Pinewood Studios. Now, we’ve got even more from 20th Century Fox‘s December 21 release as we’ve seen a rough cut of the film’s opening, totaling about 20 minutes of Assassin’s Creed footage! Read on for a description of what we saw and then check out insight from Justin Kurzel himself.

The Assassin’s Creed footage begins with The Black Angels’ “Young Men Dead” playing as we see, through a sweeping establishing shot the arc of an eagle in flight high above the Earth. On the ground, set against a dusty contemporary landscape, a young boy has his back to the camera. He lifts a hoodie over his head and we turn to see his face. This is a younger version of Michael Fassbender’s Callum Lynch. He’s riding a bike and the shot moves again to a higher angle, looking down on Callum as he rides along dirt road, “Young Men Dead” still playing. A subtitle lets us know that this is “New Mexico, 1988.”

The Black Angels song is replaced diegetically by Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” as young Callum, with some urgency, rides into a suburban garage and heads into a kitchen. His mom is sitting there, but she’s not moving. There’s blood trickling down from her neck, gathering at a charm pendant wrapped around her wrist. Her throat has been cut. Then we see Callum’s father, standing in the kitchen in a hood, blade in hand.

“Your blood is not your own, Cal,” says the father.

Cal runs out the back as several cars pull up outside the house. There’s another charm pendant hanging from one of the vehicles’ rearview mirrors. Gunshots go off as Cal runs and runs, first across rooftops and then into the dusty street. The shot looks back up to the sky where the eagle continues to soar.

Justin Kurzel directs Assassin's Creed.

28 years pass and we’re in Huntsville, Alabama at a prison where the adult Cal is being held. His cell is filled with eerie charcoal drawings.

“He draws things from another time,” a guard tells a priest, who has arrived to read Cal his last rites. The guard explains that Cal has led a troubled life and, most recently, killed a man in a bar.

“Father,” says the guard. “That man has the devil in his head.”

“Are you here to save my soul?” Cal asks as the priest enters his cell.

“Something like that.”

Soon thereafter, Cal is brought to another room where he’s prepped for lethal injection. The priest reads aloud Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking“:

“My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree toward heaven still, ” he says, “And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill. Beside it, and there may be two or three apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple-picking now.”

“Tell my father I’ll see him in Hell,” says Cal as the poison enters his veins and his life flashes before his eyes.

Assassin's Creed is directed by Justin Kurzel.

And then he wakes up.

Cal is now in an all white room where Marion Cotillard’s Dr. Sophia Rikken watches over him. She tells him that he was executed and is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Cal tried to leave but, unable to walk, is forced to crawl out of the room and into the mysterious facility’s hallway. Rikken makes no move to stop him, but orderlies watch as Cal’s crawl slowly becomes a walk. He moves past others, including a girl who repeats the message from his father:

“Your blood is not your own.”

Cal picks up speed and finds himself inside an arboretum which includes among its many plants an apple tree. Cal takes an apple in his hand and sees a massive opening on the far wall, revealing that the facility is built into a mountain and overlooks a small city. Michael K. Williams’ character, Moussa, approaches Cal and warns him that there are eyes in the walls. Cal is more interested in the ledge and, sensing Cal’s interest, Moussa tells him to jump.

Before Cal can do anything, though, a guard shoots him with a non-lethal weapon. He falls unconscious and the apple rolls from his hand.

“Prepare the animus,” says Rikken.

Justin Kurzel is the man directing Assassin's Creed.

“I love the idea of a modern day character learning from the past,” Justin Kurzel explained, following the Assassin’s Creed footage presentation. “Being taught by the past… To me, it was just like adapting a book. It was no different from ‘MacBeth’… The character has no idea who they are and learns that he actually belongs to a tribe that is 5,000 years old. That concept and idea is very cinematic. That’s what I felt like I was adapting.”

Justin Kurzel was working with Fassbender and Cotillard on last year’s Macbeth when Fassbender, who himself had been developing Assassin’s Creed as a producer, approached him about helming the adaptation.

“It’s all new characters,” Justin Kurzel continued. “They’ve all been designed and created from an original story. But the concept of the game and the spirit of the game is there and that is really to do with having access to these memories and the idea of history defining who you are. It’s an origin story, this film, so it’s about a man in the modern day who kind of discover who he is and the fact that his lives lead back years and years and years and generations and generations.”

Although the film includes quite a few direct references to the world of the game, Justin Kurzel felt that it was important to focus on the the themes he felt really embody what Assassin’s Creed has to offer as a story.

“The ideas in the game are what I think makes it quite so popular,” says Justin Kurzel. “They’re so human and within reach and universal that we’re really just drawing on that for our narrative… I’m fascinated by [the concept] that your DNA kind of defines who you are. That you might be unbelievable at violin and you just pick it up and you can play it. Does that come from an ancestor who was extraordinary at it. Did years of practice not go to waste? Was that talent passed on in the blood? That happens with experiences, too. There’s something about tragedy and experiences of war that, emotionally, is kind of passed on to you. I love the idea that we have to be responsible with our lives because we don’t die with our bodies. It continues. I find that very moving. I have daughters that are ten years old. My father died six years ago. The idea that I’m the in between and that blood carries through I thought was a really powerful idea and concept.”

Macbeth director Justin Kurzel directs Assassin's Creed.

Of course, there are more than a few difference between the game and the film including, as you can see in the trailer, the look of the Animus itself. The device that Cal uses to effectively travel back is, in the film, represented as a massive snakelike appendage.

“My biggest question was, ‘How does Cal, the modern day character, learn from his past?'” Justin Kurzel explains. “Intellectually and psychologically, I could see that how that character in the past would change and shift him. But I also wanted to see physically how he would become an assassin… The arm that created it is almost like a marionette. It’s something where Aguilar in the past climbs a wall or jumps and then the arm allows the character to do that.”

Justin Kurzel also wanted to find a way to ground the stuntwork in reality with Michael Fassbender himself performing stunts whenever possible and an impressive team of Parkour experts being utilized to make sure everything stayed practical.

“The first thing we discussed was that we didn’t want our assassins to float through the air,” Justin Kurzel explains. “We wanted them to land with a pump. He was very keen on doing a lot of the stuntwork and doing whatever he could to make it feel real. I just didn’t want to be in a parking lot with a huge green screen. I mean, I didn’t when I was actually in Malta in 40-degree heat trying to make a jump out of someone, but I thought that was important that you saw the effort.”

There’s still a great deal of mystery yet to be revealed about where the Assassin’s Creed film will take the story, but fans might want to look to the Robert Frost poem as a hint.

“It was actually Michael who found the poem,” says Justin Kurzel. “We were sort of talking about what he might hear in the execution scene. Perhaps this is a poem that his mother had spoken to him about. Hidden in that poem was ‘protect the apple’. ‘Protect the artifact’” We loved the ambiguity of it and the sort of codedness of it.”

Assassin’s Creed hits theaters December 21.