One of the first computers I was exposed to wasn’t mine, but a macintosh my best buddy (who comments on here now and then – the smartass ;)) owned. A game that came on the machine was one “Prince of Persia”, a game so insane the two of us working together could not get very far (part of the frustration was probably drawn from the fact that we had no idea what the controls were).
Fast forward to centuries later (in internet time) and “Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time” releases on the PS2, Xbox1 and Gamecube generation of games. It’s probably the only game I can remember which I bought because of the commercials. The rock music, the promise of rewinding time… I had never wanted to play a game that bad in my life.
And it stood up to every expectation.
I loved Prince of Persia and played through the next three games eagerly. To say I was both looking forward to and dreading the movie, is a bit of an understatement.
The movie itself is… pretty good. What is it lately where nearly every movie I’ve seen is just two steps shy of absolute greatness? Well, if you didn’t play the games, you’ll probably enjoy the movie more than those who did. Spoiler free score:
Spoiler talk below
I missed the first few minutes of the movie so I’m going to try and avoid discussing any problems which seeing those first minutes might have corrected. Let’s break the talk into two: without the game and with.
1) How does the movie work regardless of the game?
Not too bad. They still do the shaky cam act a few times when it would be much more thrilling and exciting to be able to see everything clearly, but during the biggest and most impressive stunts, the director is smart enough to give us a still shot so we can appreciate the glory. The quick cuts and shaky cam are worse when we have what I’m going to call an “architecture scene” – a scene where the character is covering a lot of ground in buildings, cities, etc. More than once I never got a feel that everything was connected. I know movies film on different sets and stuff but their magic is supposed to be in convincing us that this is all taking place in one small area at a specific time. In several instances it came off that the prince was just jumping from one set to another.
Action movies also have what I like to call a “plot threshold”, where they can only hold up so much plot before collapsing under the weight (examples: Van Heilsing, Pirates 2 & 3, much of Michael Bay) and PoP really pushed that line. You can tell when the structure is cracking when plot threads start making no sense. For instance, it is said that the “gods” (and since it’s the heartbreakingly gorgeous Gemma Arterton saying this, who also played in Clash of the Titans, you can get a lot of meta jokes out of it) gave the McGuffin dagger to man. Later we learn that it can be “returned” to the stone it was pulled out of and destroyed. Let’s set aside theological questions a moment because that’s not that big of a deal. Why do humans still have this dagger? We are told this thing is extremely powerful and dangerous. Why have the “guardians” of it held on to it for so long? Why not get rid of it as soon as possible? Heck, it’s mentioned that this dagger could open up these WMD sands and destroy the world… so why not send it as far away from the sands as possible? (like, to America) Why keep it in a building directly over the sands? At some point you want to scream at the guardians of this dagger as they panic, “it’s your own damn fault!”
There is supposed to be a plot point with these “executive assassins” that had long been abandoned but were secretly being employed by a high state official. Unfortunately we’re barely told about them until halfway through the movie and then they suddenly become a big deal. They really should have been established earlier and had more subtle recurrence through the film. As it was, they barely had an impact and almost seem to have been added as an afterthought.
As a slight, personal annoyance, I am frustrated with modern stories that can’t comprehend a legal system working without DNA evidence (aka the CSI effect). Thus, toward the end I was practically screaming at the screen where the prince is convincing his brother of a truth by demanding “look into your heart.” Argh! Can we stop this hippie bullshit? Forget looking into your heart, or your “feelings”, can we get someone to use a bit of their BRAINS and get something like EVIDENCE involved? What bugged me even more about this was that with the time rewind (yes, a time travel movie has an “undo” button, try not to be too shocked), the prince had more than enough evidence to convict half the nation! No, instead we get a plea to feel the right thing. Is it any wonder people are becoming bigger idiots every day?
2) Comparing the movie with the game
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was… pretty much a perfect video game for adaption. Cut out all the “play” sections (aka, take the cut scenes) put them together, add in a few action sequences to spice it up and you have a 2 hour movie ready to go. This movie decided to do a little bit of all the current gen PoP games and geeks of the game can make a really fun trivia sport of spotting all the game shout outs peppered through the movie. Of course, these are well DONE shout outs, actually serving the plot and having purpose, not really pointless ones that mark a bad movie. Jake does the best of all the prince’s incarnations and really captures his spirit. Gemma is the hotness of all the PoP babes blended together and then brought to life by mighty (and awesome) wizards. By the end of the movie, you almost love her as much as Farah or Elika. If I have any complaint about Ben Kingsly, it’s that we don’t see him enough as the vizier.
The biggest and hardest to digest change is the back story of the dagger and the sands. In the first game, they were a complete mystery, just a force of nature that you (the player) had to deal with, and it worked really well. Game 2 (Warrior Within) dealt with where the sands and knife came from and was an extensive backstory of what happened to bring us this turmoil. Story wise, it wasn’t half bad. Instead of an “Empress of Time”, PoP: the movie, gives us a myth about the gods using a flood of sand (instead of water) to destroy man and the dagger as… something. As discussed earlier, besides closing off an obvious and awesome avenue for a sequel, this change opens up all sorts of questions and problems that the movie doesn’t need. On some level, I wish they didn’t bother explaining it at all, our suspension of disbelief can handle it. Just tell us what it does (oh yeah, and letting out a bunch of time rewinding sand might be a bad thing) and let it be, we don’t always need in depth explanations – especially if they make things worse.
But all that would have been forgiven if they had just kept the line. (warning: long rant approaching over one sentence). In the first PoP game of the series, there is one line in particular which the game ultimately hangs on. It is (more or less), “Let me tell you a story.” I know this sounds weird but the entire game works beautifully because of that one line. It both opens and closes the game, tying the ends together into a beautiful knot, creating one of the best depictions of a time paradox/loop you’ve probably ever seen. What’s even better is that this line would fit seamlessly into the movie. By the end of it, the Prince (as before) has met the princess he has fallen in love with but she doesn’t know him (it’s almost heartbreaking). But of course, she knows the dagger, knows what it can do. Here the prince has the one person in probably the whole world he can tell this fantastic adventure to who would actually believe him, and he doesn’t say a word about it. Instead, the movie commits a foul. After showing us about 2 hours worth of it’s philosophical point, the movie then insists on closing out with a couple of captions that TELL us what its philosophical point was. Which we didn’t need! Why not show us everything coming together? Why not show us the first step toward the prince and the princess reforging their bond? If they had thrown in that line, I would have given this film 5 shells easy.
As it is, this is a near-perfect popcorn/summer movie and is, without question, the best video game movie ever made. It’s just a shame that the movie was so close to perfection…