Obscure Gamer – a Prince among men

Sitting near my computer is a pile of unwatched films on DVD, each of them based on a computer game. They all have a bad reputation, both as films and as adaptations. But the other day I did pay my money and take a chance on visiting the cinema to check out Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the movie adaptation of the successful series.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a summer blockbuster worth my time.

Of course, story has always played a strong part in the Prince of Persia games. The original had a fairly straightforward “save the princess” scenario, but the hour time limit and the fiendish traps made it a difficult task to complete. The sequel took more than four years to arrive, but was as stylish as the first game – the Prince is exiled, shipwrecked and then fights his way home, told through cutscenes between the improved platforming puzzles and increased swordfighting element.

Things stepped up a notch with The Sands of Time – Ubi Soft approached creator Jordan Mechner to revive the series after the disappointing Prince of Persia 3D, and Mechner agreed on the proviso that every effort was made to produce a high-quality game. The end result was exceptional, a clever mix of platforming antics and time manipulation thanks to the Dagger of Time. Ubi Soft continued with two sequels (and a Wii remake) but Mechner headed in a different direction.

First came a pitch to movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the wheels were set in motion to produce the movie that has finally arrived this summer. Then Mechner created a graphic novel based on the game. Mechner had always wanted to be a film-maker, his time at Yale University being dominated by his increasing interest in programming for the Apple II. (His interest in animation prompted the use of rotoscoping – tracing live action footage – for Karateka and the first Prince of Persia). He is credited as being the “screen writer” on the film version, since much of his original storyline remains after tweaking by more experienced writers.

The games took an unusual direction, with the 2008 “reboot”, simply called Prince of Persia and featuring a character who isn’t even explicitly named as being a prince. Many gamers and critics disliked this entry in the series for the inclusion of Elika, a female character who could save the hero from dying. It was a controversial addition.

And that brings things up to date, with the 2010 film. Director Mike Newell, most famous for Four Weddings And A Funeral, may have seemed an odd choice but he kept the characters interesting and cast some fine English actors. In the movie the Prince is known as Dastan, a street urchin adopted by the king – at odds with the game, where the Prince was never given a name.

Through a series of locations, spectacular stunts and CGI, an unfolding story about the Dagger of Time and what the villain aims to do with it is brought to a dramatic conclusion and a final twist (which I will not reveal here). Suffice to say, Jake Gyllenhaal puts in an excellent performance as the Prince with able support from the Princess in the shape of Gemma Arterton. If the film is to follow the game and become a franchise, then these two will help ensure its success. There are even Lego playsets and characters based on the film, and a fresh new Ubi Soft game. Although not directly based on the film, The Forgotten Sands fills in the gap between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

And so, there is no need to rewind time and convince Disney to stop making the film… it’s turned out well.

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