Video game movies: the new comic book movies? Let’s be frank – translating a digital interactive entertainment product to the big screen is a dicey proposition at best. Cinema history is littered with the corpses of Super Mario Brothers and Bloodrayne. But there’s a little bit more muscle behind Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer, for one, and A-list lead Jake Gyllenhaal. And the source material is also strong – series creator Jordan Meichner is one of the first designers to really emphasize storyline and atmosphere in his games, going back to 1989’s original outing. So how does the movie stack up?
It’s easy to see that Bruckheimer views the Prince as another multi-film franchise in the same vein as Pirates of the Caribbean (and who would have thought that I’d be saying that about a movie based on an amusement park ride?) All the ingredients are in place, but where Pirates swam like Michael Phelps, Prince just sort of sits there. Sure, it delivers everything we’ve come to expect in a summer blockbuster – big stunts, big fights, a hot chick (the stunning Gemma Arterton, who sadly doesn’t have that much to do as Princess Tamina) – but it’s missing that essential spark that would elevate it above the action pack. It’s hard to say exactly where the blame lies – Gyllenhaal is perfectly competent (and shockingly buff) as the Prince, investing the swashbuckling action with presence and energy, despite his perplexingly bad English accent. And you can’t go far wrong casting Ben Kingsley as your villain. But the whole enterprise seems a little… off.
I guess my qualm with the movie is that it just doesn’t seem all that necessary – Meichner tells great stories in his video games, so why did this need to be a movie instead? When we’re watching the Prince run up walls and leap in parkour-influenced action sequences, why don’t we get to control him this time? What makes the games fun is the immersion, and to be quite frank games with the immersion cut out don’t make very good movies. It’s sort of like damning with faint praise to say that Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time is by far the best of the lot, but there it is. It’s fun, exciting, sometimes visually stunning, but as an experience it pales to putting the Prince through his paces yourself.