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Assassins Creed: Lineage

New Video // Unrated // November 15, 2011
List Price: $15.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 21, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Film Web Series:

Assassin's Creed: Lineage isn't being marketed properly. There's really no way of getting around it: claiming that it's "the movie prequel" to the wildly popular videogame series misleads those who glance over the cover, since the main feature only takes up about thirty-five (35) minutes -- even though the back of the packaging insists that it's two-and-a-half hours, including extras. That runtime, however, does hold true when considering all the content crammed onto the disc, and it's why fans of the series should consider coughing up their florins for it. While Lineage offers an inessential but alluring-enough live-action glimpse into the events occurring before Ezio Auditore (or Desmond, however you want to look at it) donned the retractable blade and white cloak in Assassin's Creed II, the bonus content, which delves into the construction of the game series' first two entries, makes for a comprehensive bonus disc-style presentation that would've exquisitely complimented a collector's edition of one of Ubisoft's productions.

Directed by Yves Simoneau (V), Lineage itself first descended on the scene just before the release of the second Assassin's Creed in October of '09, which then existed as a series of three ten-minute promotional short "films" that, for this home-video release, have been seamlessly edited together. It focuses on Giovanni Auditore (Romano Orzari), Ezio's father, and how he's caught in the midst of a shift in power during Renaissance-era Italy, dictated by corruption and murder among its upper-crust political and religious leaders. Voiceover from Giovanni imparts heroism on his deeds as he slices and dices the mercenaries employed by Rodrigo Borgia (Manuel Tadros), who arranges an important assassination on a key political figure that the elder Auditore must try and stop. Conversely, the short segments also focus on Giovanni's home life, and offers glimpses of how he maintained his family under the guise of a "banker" -- which offers glimpses at a young, impressionable Ezio.

Giovanni's causal actions follow a structure best likened to watching a live-action version of a mission from one of the Assassin's Creed games, complete with the establishment of the target villain, dramatic twists of happenstance, hand-to-hand brawls that alternate in speed, and overtly chatty exposition. The music's rhythm and metered camerawork capture the visual essence that developer/publisher Ubisoft achieves, and it's a surprisingly handsome reproduction that stays overwhelmingly faithful to the game's focal points: an assassin on the prowl, wall-climbing, and shadowed observation. Costumes appear much more opulent than the budget must've allowed, especially in the intricacies of the Auditore family assassin gear, while sweeping green-screened scenery sinuously marries with the photography to create a romanticized glimpse at 1400s Italy. The battles are fierce and well-choreographed, and they're aided greatly by a competent editorial eye. It looks, breathes, and moves like it should, only smaller-scale.

So, why does it feel like something's missing from Lineage? Mostly, it's the cramped storytelling that darts between locations across Renaissance Italy, telling a story of espionage and scheming that's only convincing as a love-letter to its fans -- mostly because it's adamant on planting the seeds for the game's narrative, part of the promotional content's purpose. Everything outside of the intimate moments with the Auditore family feels like invigorated test footage crated to sell a feature-length Assassin's Creed film, which, based on the steady-handed execution, would get the project greenlit. It's only whenever the younger version of Ezio slips into the picture that there's a degree of gravity to what Ubisoft has concocted, both in the back-story of the franchise's protagonist and in the way that a almost super-heroic father conceals his identity during the era, almost like Zorro with a meaty historical background. Fans will relish what's going on here, and that's what's inherently important.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

A lot of care and attention can be seen in every frame of Assassin's Creed: Lineage: preserving the authenticity of the costumes in comparison to the games, the elevated-reality historical feel of 15th century Italy, and the steady focus on shadows and flickering candlelight. New Video's 2.35:1 1080p transfer sinuously slips through the shadows and bustle of battle, cradling the full gamut of contrast shifts and palette vibrancy present with a concise high-definition eye. Rich color usage -- cobalt blues at night, rustic tans and oranges in interiors, and sun-coated tiles in large buildings -- shows off an adeptness in compression, solidity, and contrast balance that's impressive, even when comparing it against some of the year's finer Blu-ray releases. This is assuredly the way to watch Lineage, and it's worth forking over the money to see it in this fashion.

The audio isn't as impressive, given that it's a 2-channel DTS-HD Master Audio treatment instead of a full surround option, but the clarity and punch present still takes it a few ticks above merely watching it online. Clanking of swords and the sheathing and unsheathing of Giovanni's hidden blade let out skin-tingling crispness, while the music carries the assassin's movement from location to location with a steady, mildly-throaty caliber of bass. The audio gets a little unruly in its dynamic range at a few spots, bristling a little more than it should, but ultimately there's a lot going on here that'll engage the ears. I just wish that the sound design had been embellished into a full 5.1 treatment, but that's part of the budget territory we're working with here.

Special Features:

Here's the hitch: currently, Ubisoft still has Assassin's Creed: Lineage up on their official website for public viewing, in three segments as it was originally introduced. Aside from having them in a sharper-quality transfer, there has to be some added incentive(s) to make picking up the Blu-ray worthwhile, especially considering the length of the prime feature. Luckily, and somewhat oddly, the trove of supplemental features accompanying Lineage adds a shiny flipside of the coin with this Blu-ray, which should be weighed just as heavily as the central feature itself. On average, a limited/collector's version of a game usually runs about $10-15 more than the standard edition, so, in essence, that's sort of what's going on here: paying that extra coin for a collection of features that enrich the after-game experience. And it's only icing on top of the cake that New Video replicated (albeit, in a streamlined fashion) the Animus navigation interface from the games for perusing the features ... or, "Syncing Memories".

Aside from The Making of AC: Lineage (15:08), which covers the photographic, green-screen and production elements of the short itself, we've also got another original creation from Ubisoft for enthusiasts to peruse: Assassin's Creed: Ascendance (7:55). Featuring the same voice cast from Assassin's Creed II and employing a quasi-oil-painting art style, it delves into the roots of Cesare Borgia as a way of prepping the viewer for the events of the third Assassin's Creed game, Brotherhood. Unfortunately, the artistic perspective it attempts with rigid character movement underneath the faux-paint veneer takes you out of the experience, rendering uninteresting and makeshift movement throughout the eight-minute short that's simply not appealing to look at. It's a shame, too, because the story it tells is intriguing and the gruff tone of the game's more grueling moments comes out loud and clear. A Making of Assassin's Creed: Ascendance (5:30) feature, which analyses the art style and project's focus, is more interesting than the feature.

The rest of what's here focuses on behind-the-scenes material involving the first two games, consisting mostly of video diaries and trailers that shift between 16x9 and non-anamorphic presentations. For the original Assassin's Creed, we've got a trio of Develop Diaries that cover Artistic Direction (3:45), the game's Freedom (3:01) to roam, and its historical Story (3:52), alongside four Trailers. Assassin's Creed II comes with even more features, paramount being the six Developer Diaries that focus on: Ezio: A New Assassin (3:36), talking about the non-playable characters roaming around in Power to the People (3:29), the location research and reproduction in All Roads Lead To ... (3:55), chatting up the upticked violence in All Fair in Love And ... (3:45), Ezio's gear and upgrades in Clothes Make the Man (4:25), and Desmond's Animus interface -- and Ezio's home town -- in Home Sweet Home (4:08). A few brief Focus segments delve into unexplored areas, such as the Assassination Arsenal (1:38) and Factions (2:55), and a solid in-depth Interview (18:30) covers the fabric of the Renaissance era explored in the game. A slew of Trailers fill out the rest of this wing.

Polishing off the rest of the supplements is a short teaser Trailer for Assassin's Creed: Revelations (:51), the newest game in the series.

Final Thoughts:

If you look Assassin's Creed: Lineage -- a thirty-plus minute prequel that focuses on Giovanni Auditore, the father of the game's protagonist -- as spending $10-15 for a half-hour of content (that's still able to be viewed online), then you'll come away unsatisfied. Ubisoft delivered something surprising in its mix of promotional live-action content, enthusiastic back-story, and replication of the game's graceful and visceral tones, but the fact stands that it simply doesn't stand on its own, only as a footnote for the game's followers. That's not really the right way to look at it, though; instead, fans of the series, the disc's target demographic anyway, will have access to Lineage, AC: Ascendance, and a slate of features about the Assassin's Creed line of videogames handy in one Blu-ray disc. It would've paired great with Assassin's Creed Brotherhood or, hell, even AC:Revelations (the newest entry), but the low asking price is comparable to the premium you'd have to pay for a collector's edition, so it all works out in the end. Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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