Video game adaptations have, until now, never worked out well as films. There are plenty of examples of film makers ‘getting it wrong’. Hitman (Xavier Gens, 2007) is one, as well as Max Payne (John Moore, 2008) is another, and the absolute low must be (although I’ve never seen it) Uwe Boll’s 2007 adaptation of Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King.
If turning a video game into a film has proven difficult, the very idea of turning a theme park ride into a blockbuster movie seemed bordering on the insane, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer believed in the idea of Pirates of the Carribean. And it proved a commercial success. So if anyone would be able to produce the first successful video game adaptation, it should be Bruckheimer.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is based on the hugely popular platform game from the 1980s and 1990s, in which the player controls a hero whose main task is to climb steep walls and jump booby trapped pits. And it must be said: such scenes feature extensively in the film and are engaging and at times even sensational.
Also good are the central performances of Jake Gyllenhaal (ridiculously beefed up) as the titular prince and Gemma Arterton, whose role is similar to that in Clash of the Titans, but much better written. Comic relief is provided by Alfred Molina, as a black market organizer of ostrich races. Ben Kingsley does the typical Ben Kingsley thing on routine and there are very creepy assassins in the form of historically misplaced Hassansins. Mike Newell is a surprising choice as a director, but a good one: as he manages to get the characters work out.
The plot is completely bonkers. There is a mythical dagger that contains the Sands of Time, which, when released, turn back time a few seconds or minutes. But there is also a huge stack of time-sand that can turn history even further back, but with the risk of starting an apocalypse. Arterton’s character is a princess-priestess who guides Gyllenhaal’s prince on a quest to safeguard the dagger and the sand, while he is also seeking to uncover the frame-up in which he got blamed for the murder of his adoption father, the King.
The bonkers plot is complicated by references to the war in Iraq and the search for secret weapons. This is completely misplaced and unnecessary. The climax in the third act produces an awful conclusion that completely plays against the logic of the quest that filled the preceding hour. The reaction to this contrived solution is: “No, they did not just do that. They can’t have, it’s a cheat.” And as, we all know, cheating ruins gameplay.
Another video game element that is very prominent is exposition. Basically, this film has two types of scenes: action sequences, and scenes in which one character (mostly Arterton’s) tells another character (mostly Gyllenhaal) what they must do in order to achieve or prevent something, so that subsequently this or that may or may not happen. These scenes really get on your nerve halfway through the film.
Still, as summer entertainment, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time succeeds. It has got exotic locations, beautiful leads, comic relief, threatening bad guys, convincing and sometimes impressive action sequences and a noisy climax.
The film will be a commercial success, and the first video game adaptation that worked out. Despite the cheating. Bruckheimer and Newell can credit themselves with that.
By the way: I previously predicted that the film would be rubbish because video game adaptations always are. I am not quite certain whether I was right or not.