Thursday, August 4, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 18

Day 18 – An Adaptation of a Book, TV Series, Etc.

Movie adaptations of already-existing properties are an idea as old as the hills, and despite the feeling nowadays that Hollywood will make a movie about anything with an established brand. Some, like the Harry Potter films, are direct conversions from books to movies, while others, like Starsky and Hutch, are based more on the concept of characters the audience is ostensibly familiar with (70’s TV show movies were to the late 90’s and early 2000’s what comic book movies are to the 2010’s).

There is one type of adaptation movie that is close to my heart (with usually disastrous results): the video game movie. As a huge gamer, I want the franchises that I know and love (or don’t know at all) to succeed at the box office, but the video game movie is one of the most consistently awful genres in Hollywood, thanks in large part to misguided ambition and some German guy whom we’re not discussing here. With that said, let’s take a look at a game movie that had the best chance to make it. Did it succeed where the others failed? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

As I said earlier, video games have yielded some of the worst pictures ever put to screen, but I couldn’t help but be optimistic at the promise of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Based on the franchise as a whole, but mostly culling from the PlayStation 2 game of the same name, Prince of Persia was not only getting super-sized budget, but it was to be directed by Mike Newell (whose credits include Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and produced by Jerry frickin’ Bruckheimer, whose audience-pleasing sensibilities we’ve already discussed. Combining one of the most unique stories in the last generation of games with the financial might of the Walt Disney Corporation seemed like a recipe for sure fire success, but how did it ultimately work out?

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starts with a prologue, showing a young street rat being adopted by the king of Persia (present-day Iran) after saving another young boy from harm. Flash forward several years, and the street rat, Dastan, has grown into a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal), prince alongside his two brothers, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). The three, their father (Ronald Pickup), and their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) are leading an army to invade the city of Alamut. During the invasion, Dastan discovers a mysterious dagger that can turn back time. Unfortunately, before he can figure out the dagger’s special perk, the king is murdered, and Dastan is blamed for it. Fleeing with the Alamut princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton), Dastan must uncover the treachery against his family, and discover more about the dagger.

Dastan and Tamina's journey carries them throughout several exotic locales and wardrobe changes.

Prince of Persia should be a fun sword-and-sandal romp, but ultimately falls a bit flat. Though it’s not grim and miserable like other blockbusters from the same year, it never hits on the vein of fun that turned Pirates of the Caribbean from a theme park ride into a multi-billion dollar film franchise. This is a damn shame, because all of the elements that could make Prince of Persia a great popcorn flick are all there, but, oddly, never quite hit their mark.

Let’s start with what the film gets right. I rather enjoy the Scheherazadian depiction of ancient Persia, and though it never quite seems as appealing as the rich blues of the Pirates movies, the production design of Prince of Persia is stellar. I also appreciate the small nods the movie directs towards the game franchise; as a fan of the series, I liked Dastan and Tamina’s parallels with the prince and Farrah, the two protagonists from the Sands of Time game from 2003.

That list was shorter than I thought it was going to be. Perhaps it’s because, while the movie doesn’t necessarily get everything wrong, it garbles what could be some of its more successful elements. For example, I like Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton, but something about their portrayals of Dastan and Tamina seems, well, off. Not like they’re doing a bad job, but they never quite click. The same goes for the action; I like both parkour and swordfights, but the constant slowdown moments and clumsy direction make them (and, as a man, I never thought I’d have to say this) boring, and the surprisingly bloody level of violence even further throws off the Family Tentpole aesthetic.

It never gets too extreme, but the amount of violence in Prince of Persia feels counter to its goal of reaching out to Mom and Pop in Oklahoma.

Prince of Persia is also too busy for too little outcome. While the first Pirates movie (which this film so desperately wants to be) blustered back and forth between islands and sword fights and naval battles, the ride itself was enjoyable enough that it didn’t matter how overly busy the movie got. Prince of Persia, on the other hand, moves too fast for us to enjoy the ride, leaving the project with a feeling of much ado about nothing. The movie lacks a feeling of fun, although the shadow of fun can be seen just out of sight during most of its running time, making the whole thing frustrating to watch.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is, in my mind, the best adaptation of a video game yet, which still doesn’t speak very highly of either Prince of Persia or video game movies in general. Still, I’m not sorry I picked it up on Blu-ray, and maybe I’ll watch it again sometime. Now let’s do better with that Uncharted movie, alright guys?!

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