The Wide Angle: Falling for realistic special effects

Published 6:46 am Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Dec 21 of the this year, the “Assassin’s Creed” movie will hit theaters and I couldn’t be more excited.

I’m a major fan of the video games and so like all fans, I’m thrilled to be able to get the chance to see it brought to the big screen.

That being said, however, I’m also a bit nervous for a variety of reasons. First, I don’t want to see my beloved games ruined by another subpar game-to-movie adaption. Second, it’s a video game movie and so that by itself is enough to make a fan worry and third, video game movies by their very nature almost demand copious levels of special effects and CGI.

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So yeah, I have a healthy suspicion on how this will turn out despite a stellar cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, but just recently I saw something that gave me a little more optimism.

Producers, directors and parent company Ubisoft have been pushing for realistic effects making use of professional parkour athletes and practical effects. Real, actual stuntmen and women.

A key element to the games is the parkour element. That genre of sport has the athletes using the very buildings themselves to get around and climb in fantastic ways. Director Justin Kurzel is pushing for as much realism as possible and using actual people climbing actual structures in physics-bending ways is a perfect way to adhere to the games themselves.

But the most amazing practical stunt was the Leap of Faith. In the games, a Leap of Faith is literally a leap from a tall structure into a pile/cart of hay or water. Yes, I realize nobody is going to jump from a building into a cart of hay without altering how your body is formed, but to make the jump seem real, Kurzel wanted it to actually happen. That is, a stuntman, playing the part of Michael Fassbender’s lead character Aguilar, making a very real leap from an extremely long way up.

Stuntmen have been doing this for years, but it has been over 30 years since a jump of this height has been attempted. Thirty-five to be exact.

Stuntman Damien Waters attempted and made jumps of 70 and 90 feet before finally attempting the 125-foot fall to get the shot they were looking for. When Waters made his final jump, he hit the inflatable bag at 61.1 mph. He essentially jumped the equivilent of 11 stories. That is an unreal danger just for one effect.

I could write the whole column on this movie on its own, but it’s more than that.

Hollywood, and these genre of movies in particular, have a heavy reliance on computer generated special effects and they have suffered for it. They appear gimmicky and cheap. The “Star Wars” prequels were both a prime and horrific example of this. Instead of using actors a vast majority of background characters were CGI and worse, it was easy to tell. You become so distracted by that that the rest of the movie suffers.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of problems with the prequel movies, but heavy use of CGI was a main complaint and left a bad taste in the mouths of fans.

The newest “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens,” and the upcoming “Rogue One” have special effects but they have gone through great efforts to add in as much real effects as possible.

Of course you can point to the “Resident Evil,” movies as a direct example of how to ruin a video game movie. Those movies blatantly use needless special effects like giving out candy, which should be a crime when you have quality special effects companies that could give you that extra dose of realism.

Will “Assassin’s Creed,” be the exception to the norm of video game movies falling flat?

Probably not. Even though there is a lot of promise and optimism in the movie world, these kinds of movies have enough hurdles to climb, but the idea that they are pushing so hard to include realistic effects to heighten not only the movie but the experience for fans is laudable and welcome. If for no other reason the cast and crew of the movie deserve the respect that so many other movies have attempted to kill.