"The Inquisition, Look Out Sin"
And rest assured that despite the film mostly taking place in 2016, it does have a massively epic quality. While the set I visited was only for the Abstergo scenes, the third of the film which takes place in 1491 was represented in a variety of ways, including with set photos of action sequences already shot in Malta (they went on to shoot several more in Spain during December 2015).
In those Malta set photos, we glimpsed Michael Fassbender’s parkour double, Damien Walters, leaping across rooftops in Valletta. Even with the contemporary windows not yet digitally removed, it appears to be straight out of the video game. But more impressive still is the already filmed 1491 centerpiece: the Auto-da-fe.
In history, the Auto-da-fe was a "public penance" utilized as essentially a sentencing hearing by Catholic Inquisitions in Portugal, Mexico, and, yes, Spain. While traditionally the actual executions did not occur on the same day, mythmaking has made it so, and the glimpses we have of the actual “execution” in that scene are jaw-dropping.
During the sequence, Michael Fassbender as Aguilar—with flowing long hair, no less—is chained up at a post alongside a mysterious female assassin, clearly about to be burned at the stake. A friar looks on with a torch ready (probably Torquemada), and in the distance there’s a dais where the king and queen of Spain sit in all their decadent pageantry. Subsequent photos show that both Aguilar and his female companion break free, however some other poor bastard is lit up like a Christmas tree behind them in the distance.
It is very evident that the director of last year's Macbeth is helming the film when Fassbender is swashbuckling in a wide shot that has a focus so deep it reaches the barbecued heretic in the background.
"There's something very exciting about going between two different palates," Kurzel told me during our interview. “I mean the past feels like a Caravaggio painting. It’s rich and very seductive, and like the game—the light in the game is just extraordinary—so, there’s a romance to the history that we really didn’t want to lose contrasted with this very sophisticated, architectural kind of heavy design world of modern day painters.”
Set designer Andy Nicholson is also evidently proud of the sequence.
"One of the best uses of location in Malta was the Auto-da-fe sequence where we had an existing Maltese fort, which had three sides—big courtyard for three sides, it was 150 feet squared courtyard—and within that we built a huge, very dramatic woodwork, black set of bleachers overlooking the stage where the Inquisition was happening.”
Costume designer Sammy Sheldon also spoke fondly about the ambition of the scene where she designed all those costumes, and over 200 masks for the present Spanish peasants. Yet, her greatest challenge might have been adapting the costume from the game to be photo-realistic. While she incorporated 15th century Spanish influences, such as the silks and Moorish influence, the costume had to remain accurate to the game and Ubisoft’s specific guidelines.
As a result, Sheldon said they went through 20 or 30 versions of the hood, including “versions of the hoods that are stuck to the head and have all kinds of contraptions under there.” But she said they were satisfied when it “looks small enough to mimic the game but also big enough that it looks natural. That’s a tricky thing to do, because throughout the game every piece of fabric is manipulated from shot-to-shot and that can’t happen in live-action.”
to be continued...