Has ‘Prince of Persia’ Nailed What It Means to be a Video Game Adaptation?

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Jake Gyllenhaal puts on his sexy face in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

I’m not much of a gamer, and that may in fact be an understatement considering in the last few years the only games I have played and finished are “Gears of War,” “Burnout,” “Uncharted,” “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and just a couple of days ago “Uncharted 2.” I don’t know where that places me in the gamer revolution, but considering that’s about 6 years of gaming outside of playing a little “Tiger Woods,” “NBA Street” and “Hot Shots Golf” I would say I am on the outside looking in. However, I’d like to think I know enough to at least open up a discussion concerning the growing trend of adapting video games into feature films, primarily based on the recently released trailer for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a film that hits theaters on May 28, 2010.

Watching the trailer it looked like we are pretty much talking about a simplified Lord of the Rings as Jake Gyllenhaal must protect a time-turning dagger. Instead of taking it to a fiery death, Jake must return it to a “secret guardian temple” so it doesn’t fall into Sauron’s Nizam’s (Ben Kingsley) hands. Instead of the curious relationship between Frodo and Sam, Jake takes along the gorgeous Gemma Arterton for the ride. And who could really argue with that?

It looks like they are trying to continue the Pirates of the Caribbean vibe in terms of music and comedy, as the relationship portrayed in the trailer easily mashes up Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom into Gyllenhaal’s character with Arterton playing the headstrong Keira Knightley role. Warner Bros. and Guy Ritchie appear to be taking a similar tact with Sherlock Holmes and I expect both films to appeal nicely to the masses. However, this appears to be quite the turnaround for the video game genre, which has seemed to largely try to seduce teen boys into theaters and hope for a small amount of crossover. Prince of Persia, which has already been rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, should appeal to a wide range of audiences and should it prove to be any good who’s to tell how big it could get?

IGN has already done a “Rewind Theater” trailer commentary for the film with the game’s creator Jordan Mechner, who discusses the trailer and how it compares to the video game. I included part one just to the right and the second part is embedded at the end of this post. Mechner discusses the input he had in the game, the reasons for changes and the ins and outs of it all adding, “I never wanted to do a movie that would retell the story of ‘Sands of Time’ the game. ‘Sands of Time’ is a story I wrote to be played and it works perfectly in the game, but with a movie we had a chance to do something different.”

Towards the end of IGN’s part two of the commentary, Mechner discusses the size and the scope of the production and looking back that is really something that’s been missing when it comes to recent video game adaptations. Even beyond having the Oscar-nominated Gyllenhaal, Oscar-winning Kingsley, BAFTA award winning director Mike Newell and (hopefully soon-to-be Oscar-nominated) Alfred Molina, we are talking about a large production that appears to be trying to make an entertaining blockbuster as opposed to half-assed recent attempts including Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Max Payne, Hitman, DOA: Dead or Alive, BloodRayne, Doom and Alone in the Dark. Even as a mild fan of the Resident Evil franchise, they have never been able to move beyond what I felt was a solid jump start. I know some of you in this audience like Silent Hill, but the ending of that one really stunk in my opinion.

As a fan of the first Pirates of the Caribbean and someone that can watch the sequels and not get too upset, I am now looking forward to this film. It’s obviously not going for anything too grand and focusing more on entertaining through character quirks and grandioso action set pieces. I can get down with that, and not being a gamer I don’t really have any kind of real expectations. I just wonder, if this one succeeds will filmmakers and studios begin looking at video game adaptations more seriously? Will the idea of Gore Verbinski’s failed attempt to bring a big budget version of “BioShock” to theaters seem more plausible? Will the even more dramatically failed attempt to bring “Halo” to the big screen look like a missed opportunity worth revisiting?

Having recently finished “Uncharted 2” and enjoying the fun I had playing both it and its predecessor, games are doing most of the work for screenwriters and filmmakers already. It’s going to become just a matter of properly adapting and adjusting for the big screen that will become the big hurdle, a hurdle it sounds like “Sands of Time’s” Mechner has already considered. We now just have to wait to see how it turned out.

Watch the second part of IGN’s commentary with Mechner below and I added 13 screen captures from the trailer to our Prince of Persia gallery, which you can check out right here.