About a year ago, Rotten Tomatoes published a list of the “best” video-game-to-film adaptations. The shocking result: of the 20 films listed, none achieved a “fresh” rating. Indeed, the highest rated movie scored a shaky 44% review average.
Since reading that article, I’ve been interested in exploring the dark and seedy world of video game movies. I want to expose myself to the horrors that lurk within the category, exploring the absence of quality for fun and amusement. Today, I begin that journey.
The first video game movie I will review for Splodinator is 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the theatrical take on the 2003 Ubisoft game of the same name. Conveniently, I have played and loved Sands of Time, and thus feel especially well equipped to despise its film counterpart.
The movie begins with the king of Persia encountering a young orphan, Dastan, risking his own life to save another street rat (I got that term from Aladdin!). This prompts the king to adopt Dastan and raise him as his own. Shift forward some 20 years: we must now endure the political dealings of Dastan, his two brothers (biological sons of the king), the king, and the king’s bitter, bald, eyeliner-wearing brother (gee, is he the bad guy?).
The backdrop for this character work is the invasion of an innocent city. Uncle Nizam convinces the brothers to go for it despite their father’s orders by claiming the city supplies weapons to the enemies of the kingdom. It is here that Dastan encounters his blatant love interest, Princess Tamina. She’s hot! She’s sassy! They don’t get along at first!
It turns out Uncle Evil only wanted the invasion to get his hands on the Dagger and Sands of Time. A combo which would allow him to reverse time many years and make himself king. Uncle murders the king and frames Dastan to get his justice-loving acrobatic-ass out of town. Dastan, aided by his hot princess friend and convenient comic-relief frenemy Sheikh Amar, then goes on a quest to stop the villainous ways of his uncle and clear his name.
It’s the kind of plot that allows for easy set-ups of fight scenes, twists, and other distractions to fill out a movie run time without having to create characters deeper than cardboard stand-ups, or offering anything genuine or of interest.
I don’t generally take issue with changes made for film adaptations. I understand that what works in a movie is often different than what works in other media. When it comes to video game movies, an especially great deal of liberties can understandably be taken considering the typically thin story present. Having said that, the story I have described above is only in the vaguest way similar to that of the game which bears the name Sands of Time, and it’s worse for it.
In the game, there is a prince (though he was born a prince), there is a sassy princess (though she is actually likeable), there is a city which doesn’t deserve to be invaded, and there is a bad dude out to exploit the Sands of Time. What there is also, is a chance to get to know these characters and recognize actual chemistry between the prince and princess as they are forced to cooperate by the following rather dramatic difference in plot: the city is trashed, ruined by the Sands of Time. Every other person and creature kicking around has been turned into a sand monster.
Following this premise could have made for a more engaging film. It would have, at least, given us something more unique and moody. Another positive: the joyous side-effect of removing many of the tanned English-folk playing Persians.
The Sands of Time game is well liked for its intuitive controls, intense platforming, and complex puzzles. Unfortunately for anyone watching the movie version, the movie makers couldn’t figure out how to translate these things to film. They tried, however, by shoehorning in some camera work reminiscent of the game, some wall jumping, and a tricky-to-open gate.
A slower, more carefully paced movie that gave the audience time to appreciate tricky situations and hair-raising heights could very well have worked. Instead, the filmmakers failed to ever create a sense of real danger for the characters by rushing the plot along from scene to scene like they were scrambling to get it all in, thus preventing any emotional involvement from the audience.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is better than most video game movies (largely by default for being technically competent), and much worse than any action popcorn flick worth its ticket price. It occupies a dull middle ground that prevents it from achieving the fun of comic-book action movies, and the utter cheesiness of other game-to-film movies. It is entirely unremarkable.