As the most high-profile video game movie since 1993's Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has a lot riding on it. Which for a movie like this, is a little unfair.
See, being a Disney movie, with a big budget, big stars and big names behind the scenes, I think people may go into this hoping that, perhaps, Hollywood would finally make a great movie based on a video game. Something gamers can point to and say, yes, this is what we want when Tinseltown comes knocking.
Prince of Persia is not that movie.
It Doesn't Suck - I'll deal with this in more detail later, but on the whole, this is a solid, if unspectacular adventure movie. It does what it does, and it does it well. Jerry Bruckheimer may look like a fox, but he's canny like one, too: He knows how to craft a piece of entertainment. It may not win any awards, but not every movie has to; some can just be a cheap thrill, a guilty pleasure. This is one of those films.
The Sands Of Morocco - While the film suffers in parts from an overuse of CGI, in others its visuals are breathtaking, the backdrops and environments doing their best to turn a fluffy family adventure movie into something Lawrence of Arabia would be proud of.
Yup, It's A Video Game - The advantage of basing a movie on Prince of Persia is that the series doesn't really have an established canon. There are no real characters or plotlines to violate. All this movie needed to do to stay faithful to the source was to make sure the Prince was as nimble as a cat, and decent with a knife. On both counts, he succeeds, the frequent use of (appropriate) acrobatic moves doing a better job of bringing the character to life on the big screen than 1000 pages of dialogue could have managed.
Roguish Charm - Jake Gyllenhaal does a passable job as Prince Dastan, even appearing genuinely dashing at times in his tense relationship with Gemma Arterton's Tamina, but Alfred Molina's Sheik Amar is the one who really kicks the movie along, his brevity providing a welcome injection of humour at key points to an otherwise blandly serious film.
Ostrich Racing - Ostrich racing is awesome.
Scooby Doo - The end of the film dances a very fine line between being clever and being contrite. While it succeeds on the whole, there's a certain section that plays out like the end of an episode of Scooby Doo. It's torture.
The Sands Of Time - The movie is too long. There comes a point around 2/3 of the way in when you think, yes, with this story and these characters, this is a good point to end it. Sadly, it then drags on for another whole plot arc, and while the end ultimately justifies the means, the plodding pace of the middle section of the film undoes a lot of the great work done by its snappy opening and closing sections.
Plot By Numbers - I get that producer Jerry Bruckheimer packages entertainment. He doesn't craft fine films (though director Mike Newell sometimes does!). I also get that the primary audience for this flick will be families, not grizzled cinema snobs. But this movie is at times unbearably predictable, its clichés coming thick and fast, particularly towards the end of the film.
I think it's terribly unfair for gamers to continually hope that a single film can somehow light up the genre. That after two decades of Tekken and Doom we'll somehow get lucky and land a Citizen Kane. It's just not that easy.
Look at comic books. It took years of trial and error before films worthy of Batman and Spider-Man could hit the silver screen, and I think video game movies are going through that same teething process. A process in which Prince of Persia may ultimately play a vital role.
Why? Because it doesn't suck. Sure, it's no blockbuster. It'll be lucky to get a sequel, let alone go down in history as an epic tale of sand, back flips and knife-play. But it's a solid film. It has a decent cast, a decent story and some decent effects. Most importantly, though - for me at least - for the first time in my life I could sit down with my wife, watch a movie and not feel embarrassed to say it was based on a video game.
And surely that counts for something.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was directed by Mike Newell and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Released in North America on May 28.
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