Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the latest movie to be adapted from a video game, is the tale of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of the Persian ruler, a nobly roguish scrapper fitted-up for a crime against the crown. Losing the trust of his brothers (Toby Kebbell and Richard Coyle) and uncle (Ben Kingsley), he goes on the run in an attempt to prove his innocence but matters become complicated when Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) reveals the mystical, time-altering properties of his looted dagger.
With the producing clout of Jerry Bruckheimer and the almighty power of Disney behind it, could this be the film to buck the trend of unsuccessful translations from console to cinema?
The ReelScotland den of thieves, Richard Bodsworth, Ross Maclean and Jonathan Melville, attended the public premiere and met once more for a roundtable to find out.
Ross Maclean: Has there ever been a truly successful video game to movie adaptation? I don’t think so. A lot of them have individual elements which translate well but when the concept of a catsuited female archaeologist can fail so badly, you have to wonder if they’re developed enough source material to adapt for film.
Richard Bodsworth: Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter kicked it off in the early-to-mid nineties, before talentless wads like Paul W.S. Anderson and Uwe Boll decided to massacre them. They have all been pretty rubbish. It’s odd because games like Max Payne seemed perfect for cinema. Some people like the animated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within but that’s not really my thing.
Jonathan Melville: The very words “adapted from the hit videogame” is usually enough to make me shudder. I expect heavy CGI, a plot that won’t take much to understand and the need to appeal to the broadest 13-24 year-old audience, removing any subtlety. Not that I’m judgemental¦
Ross: Games are far more developed now but translating them for film robs them of the immersive, interactive quality which makes them work.
Richard: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Doom and Hitman, not to mention Boll’s ‘contributions’, have all been poor.
Ross: So, what do you think they were aiming for with Prince of Persia? (Other than loads of money, considering Jerry Bruckheimer is behind it!) I know he did one of the Harry Potters but Mike Newell doesn’t seem an obvious choice to helm something like this.
Richard: When Bruckheimer took it, it was obvious how it would be.
Ross: I’m a fan of Jerry Bruckheimer’s work but they’re certainly not works which could ever be described as subtle.
Jonathan: With Prince of Persia I think the makers were looking to rope in the games fans with the title and the casual viewer with the “epic” tag being bandied about.
Ross: I almost think the game history was incidental to it. It’s really just an excuse for a desert-based spectacular, with the added cachet of having a title recognisable to some.
Richard: I suppose it’s easier to start a franchise with a following already rather than start from scratch.
Jonathan: I suspect that the game is quite central to it in that the studios want a recognised name to sell their product on and, for a great number of viewers, they already know the product. I wouldn’t say they’re being any more cynical than they are with any other property, but the past association does remove an element of originality.
Ross: I suppose, but do you not think they’d be eager to drop the video game association considering the chequered history of those adaptations?
Jonathan: I think they were quite successful at the box office. I also think the name helps the promotion. Critically they tend to get a drubbing.
Ross: Certainly critically they do. What of the plot?
Richard: Pretty standard fare as expected.
Ross: It’s a convoluted plot that’s near mind-bending to follow. There are so many expository scenes about ancient legends and mystical practices.
Jonathan: Exposition was the name of the day here really, so much back-story and mystical mumbo jumbo being spouted by Gemma Arterton that I thought she’d faint with the sheer number of lines she had to remember, never mind the searing desert sun!
Ross: Its most obvious forebear is Pirates of the Caribbean, but this doesn’t have the same charm and lacks the revelatory turn which Johnny Depp gave that. Jake Gyllenhaal makes for a fairly bland action hero, unable to quite carry off the swagger and charisma required.
Jonathan: I certainly got the Pirates vibe, but it did feel a bit like a knock-off version. It felt a lot like a live-action Disney cartoon, with Gyllenhaal going googly-eyed more than once as he tried to eke out the humour. The ostrich sequence was him at his worst.
Richard: There was a real lack of chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Arterton which took me out of the story a bit. His accent was also rather off-putting.
Jonathan: Chemistry was pretty non-existent between the pair of them, just a standard romantic sub-plot that had no wit or passion to it. The direction felt quite flat during their scenes.
Richard: Alfred Molina did provide some comic relief.
Ross: See, I thought the comic turn by Molina was one the worst things about it. Could they not get Omid Djalili or something? Molina just seemed to be riffing on the scuzzy Middle Eastern role that usually goes to Omid in this type of film.
Jonathan: Poor old Fred. He does tend to get typecast in these humorous sidekick roles. There’s a moment when he shouts something like “we’ll meet again!” while trapped in the caves and it was very much a cartoon moment. Quite cringeworthy.
Ross: In terms of setting, the extras looked in-keeping but the main cast look about as far from Persians as it’s possible to get. All the ˜smoky eyes’ make-up in the world can’t hide that. There was enough guyliner on show to make Russell Brand look au naturel.
Richard: Not sure who was wearing more mascara; Gemma Arterton or Ben Kingsley? Molina was a close third.
Jonathan: There’s possibly more to be said about the decision to fake tan a mostly-white cast and pass them off as being from Persia, but that argument nulls and voids most American films of this genre, so I’ll move swiftly on¦
Ross: Richard Coyle looked most out of place; more Viking than Persian.
Jonathan: There were a lot of orange people in this. I’m sure they hired someone from the self-tan shop along the road from me.
Ross: Toby Kebbell is an exciting actor but he’s underused and undefined here “ he becomes little more than just another face in the already-teeming crowd.
Jonathan: The cast list was nothing to get excited about really. Kingsley I can just about forgive as he seems to be getting into the spirit of it and actually isn’t in it that much. It was obviously a nice little job for him to pay for the new garage.
Richard: I still don’t get the Arterton thing. Sure, she’s good for the dads but like all these big budget films she’s been in, I’ve yet to be blown away.
Ross: I actually did like her in this. She was quite sparky, but she did nothing for me in Clash of the Titans though. Here, she had a bit of the vitality of, say, Princess Leia.
Richard: The film looked much better than I expected, which was a CGI block.
Ross: The set design and general ambience of the location was beyond reproach. It looks really impressive, with a nice attention to detail. It looked surprisingly ‘real’; set-based, but at least tangible.
Jonathan: I was impressed by the look of it, the wide shots were sumptuous. I did feel there were a few too many close-ups of the actors and only small sections of sets could be seen in quite a few shots, which was a shame. I wonder if they blew the budget on the exteriors and the FX and Newell had to make do with the corner of a soundstage back in England to shoot the the interiors?
Ross: I thought the action was generally a bit sloppy. Parkour is as old hat now as the overuse of wire fu was a few years ago.
Richard: Not sure it’s as old hat as that.
Ross: It’s used in everything now. Die Hard 4.0 was the death knell. Since Casino Royale, everyone wants a piece of it.
Jonathan: From what I know of the game, there’s a lot of running and jumping, so I suppose they were trying to be faithful to it. The promotional material did make play of the fact that this meant less CGI could be used, but I think that’s rubbish when you see a lot of the stunts carried out – huge leaps for the characters and a huge leap of faith for the viewer to believe there were no wires.
Richard: I enjoyed a lot of the action sequences regardless.
Ross: Me too. They were quite fun. I agree with Jonathan though; not as natural-looking as you’d expect. The scenes of the time dagger itself were actually pretty nice and visually well-handled. I liked the time-jumping elements of the plot a lot.
Richard: The whole idea of the dagger, as well as the way it was delivered onscreen, was very nice. I liked the combination of parkour and hand-to-hand combat, which comes fast and furious.
Jonathan: The action sequences did the job and went past at a fair old lick, so no real complaints there.
Ross: There was a distinct lack of threat in the film. The reveal of the villain should come as no surprise to anyone. Not to give it away but take a look at the cast list and have a stab!
Jonathan: I’d agree; one look at that cast list and I knew who it would be. They’re certainly not trying to do anything original with the genre and, again, it felt quite cartoonish, certainly with the Hassansins and their attacks.
Ross: The Hassansins did nothing for me.
Richard: I thought they would be a little bit more evil or look cooler. If you go in looking for a bit of fun, that’s what you are going to get. The writing and chemistry is bad but there’s enough to enjoy.
Ross: It’s old-fashioned fun; not cynical. I did enjoy it a lot.
Richard: My main issue was the lack of chemistry between the two leads and the lack of charisma from Gyllenhaal. The guy looks the part, but the minute he opens his mouth it almost sucks you out of the picture. However the constant, exciting and, at points, breathtaking action is enough to keep anyone entertained.
Jonathan: Despite a relatively straightforward plot being given an unnecessary sheen of complexity thanks to the weight of curses and prophecies, and a general feeling that there was no real danger for anyone involved, Persia was a harmless piece of entertainment which did what it said on the tin.
Richard: It would be easy to pick it apart as it has its flaws but it’s a good pre-summer blockbuster.
Jonathan: If I was a lot younger and hadn’t seen Indiana Jones films or any number of sword and sandal epics (whatever they say about Prince of Persia, I don’t class it as an epic) then I’d probably have been hugely excited by it. As it is, I can see what it was trying to do and think it did it pretty well.
Ross: It had me pretty gripped. It’s hard to chastise it too much. Flaws were there but, for me, they were only relatively minor. I’ll happily watch scimitar-wielding and camels. This delivered that in spades.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opens in cinemas across Scotland on 21 May.