Producer Jean-Julien Barronet, former head of Ubisoft Motion Pictures and a producer of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film, is starting Marla Studios, a new film production company that will focus on adapting video game franchises to feature films.
Barronet left Ubisoft three months ago, in a split that was reported as “amicable”. His contributions to the upcoming Tom Hardy-led Splinter Cell adaptation were also reportedly significant. Ubisoft is currently in the process of adapting several of its properties to film, and other projects in the works include adaptations of Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon, directed by Michael Bay, Far Cry, and a recently announced adaptation of The Division, which will feature Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor and a producer.
Barronet’s new company does not currently have any projects in production, but hopes to speak to video game companies and have something underway within the next year. He is of the belief that, despite a historical lack of success in the market, video games have great potential as film properties. He could be right — Warcraft, released earlier this year, grossed $422 million dollars worldwide despite being panned by critics, and Ubisoft seems to be very optimistic about Assassin Creed’s Christmas weekend release.
Despite Barronet’s optimism, I’m a little bit skeptical of his logic. While we seem to be more ready to buy in to video game adaptations than before, I’d be surprised if they were able to get to the point of being reliable source material for films. Additionally, most video game adaptations that have been successful in the past have a combination of a big-name star and/or a well-known producer or director. Prince of Persia had Gyllenhaal and megaproducer Jerry Bruckheimer. Tomb Raider had Angelina Jolie. It’s hard to say whether the draw for those films was the franchise or its star.
One exception to this is Warcraft, which featured little to no recognizable stars, and the recency of its release is promising. Warcraft was also based on an absolutely massive franchise and made an unusually high amount of its money overseas (usually a sign that the visuals are more of a draw than the film as a whole). It also seems unlikely that after the success of something like Warcraft and, potentially, Assassin’s Creed, that video game companies would be looking to outsource production of film adaptations to other companies — why give your film to Marla when you could go the Ubisoft route and hire people to produce it in-house?
There’s another issue in play when considering video games as films, and that is that there just has not been a great, or even a good, video game adaptation. Depending on who you ask, the best quality adaptations came from Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, or Angry Birds. Perhaps Barronet sees something that other film producers don’t, and he has a strategy to improve these adaptations in ways that were previously unprecedented. Unfortunately, his personal track record is limited, and we won’t really have any idea of whether his vision of a Batman Begins-esque Assassin’s Creed is going to work until it comes out in December.
Interested in other opinions on video game to film adaptation? Check out Top Shelf Gaming’s TSG Asks feature on the topic.