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Sony targets ‘Assassin’s Creed’ for bigscreen

Studio eyes new franchise based on massively popular vidgame

Sony Pictures has put a target on Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed,” closing in on a deal to develop a film franchise based on the popular videogame series.

Studio is in final negotiations to adapt and distribute the bigscreen version of the historical actioner, landing the film rights in a bidding war after Ubisoft started shopping the property around Hollywood over the last several months. Studios, including Universal, also were vying for the project.

Deal comes after the French gamemaker launched Ubisoft Motion Pictures, at its Paris headquarters in May, as a shingle to seek out entertainment partners to turn its titles into films and TV shows. Jean-Julien Baronnet, former CEO of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, heads the venture.

Through the division, Ubisoft wants to maintain more creative control over the development of its games for other platforms rather than broker traditional one-off licensing deals with studios, something that proved key during the bidding process with Sony.

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The company views adaptations as a way to turn its games into larger brands that will get the titles in front of more consumers while creating lucrative new revenue sources for the company. One of its first projects is an animated TV series based on the “Raving Rabbids” franchise that will air on Nickelodeon.

The “Assassin’s Creed” deal also comes as Sony increasingly is eyeing the videogame space as a potential source for future franchises. It also has an adaptation of Naughty Dog’s “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” and “InFamous” in development with Arad Prods. Titles are exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation division.

The first “Assassin’s Creed” game bowed in 2007, with a fourth installment, “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations,” set to hit store shelves Nov. 15.

Property, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, revolves around a bartender named Desmond Miles who is captured by a secret corporation called Abstergo Industries and forced to go back in time to various historical periods like the Renaissance and Crusades to relieve the memories of his ancestors — all assassins — in order to recover ancient artifacts. New game is set in 16th century Constantinople.

More than 30 million copies of the games have been sold worldwide.

Because “Assassin’s Creed” has been one of Ubisoft’s higher-profile titles, with its iconic hooded hero and lavish cinematic sequences that unfold in between gameplay, the company is looking to turn it into a major tentpole at megaplexes, which would mean Sony would likely co-produce and co-finance the production instead of Ubisoft footing the entire bill.

In August, Ubisoft chief Yves Guillemot, at the Gamescom confab in Cologne, Germany, said that he wants bigscreen versions of “Assassin’s Creed,” “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” and “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.”

Ubisoft’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” already was adapted by Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, earning a disappointing $335 million worldwide, with just $91 million of that in the U.S. last year.

Although sources close to the talks confirmed the deal was moving forward between Sony and Ubisoft, the gamemaker said it had “no specific news to share at this time,” according to a spokeswoman. Sony declined to comment.

“As we’ve stated before, Ubisoft is actively looking for film opportunities for our top brands,” the Ubisoft spokeswoman said. “There is high interest from top Hollywood studios to collaborate on these brands.”

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