Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opens in the U.S. this Friday. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina, and directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter 4), the movie is based on the video game of the same name in which a prince must save the world with the help of a dagger that can send its user back a short period of time.
I have never played the Prince of Persia games, but still I have a considerable interest in how the film turned out. As I discussed in one of my earliest posts on this blog, not a single theater-released movie based on a video game has been widely considered to be any good.
My post on movies based on video games
The video game movie with the highest IMDb user rating is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, with a weak 6.4. And the only thing about the movie that is based on a video game is the title! But, apparently, all other video game movies are worse. In that previous post, I wondered when, if ever, we'd get the first good video game movie--when we'd finally get a movie to validate (and justify) the genre and stop disgracing us video game fans in the eyes of the general public.
Could Prince of Persia be this movie?
A review at Variety said that the movie was enjoyable enough, but forgettable. Lisa Schwarzbaum gave it a lukewarm to favorable review at EW, summing it up with a respectable grade of B. The film has already been released in some markets abroad (in countries where lots of people watch the World Cup, studios want to release their films early to avoid the competition), so it already has (as of 4pm Hawaii time 5/26/10) 3916 votes on IMDb. The user rating currently stands at 6.8 stars, which is a bit above FF: The Spirits Within, but a movie's IMDb rating tends to fall considerably after initial high ratings from the fans who saw it opening weekend. Still, the 6.8 may not be fairly considered an initial high rating because the film hasn't even been released in the U.S., its largest market. So really, it's still too early to tell if Prince of Persia will be considered the first good video game movie, or if it will join all the others in the genre junk pile.
The issue of whether or not movies based on video games can be good is especially relevant to me at the moment, since it has now been officially announced that one of my favorite video games, BioWare's Mass Effect, is being developed into a movie by Avi Arad and Legendary Pictures (BioWare forum announcement, more details at Heat Vision blog). Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend, Thor) is in talks to write the movie script.
I had a lot to say about the prospect of a Mass Effect movie back when I first heard the rumors of the project.
My post on Mass Effect as a movie
I'm not sure I'd say all the same things I said back then, but my main ideas hold. Mass Effect is already pretty movie-like, but it gives the player the freedom to make choices about who the main character is and what decisions he or she makes that influence the progression of the plot (and the galaxy). How will I feel with a movie, where all of those choices are made for me (and surely for most players they will make a number of "wrong" choices)? And, if the movie is bad, will it degrade the image of the video game? Of all video games? (This is based on my fear that movies based on less-well-known media are the general public's ambassador to that media. So, if a prime example of some niche media genre--be it video game, graphic novel, or fantasy book--is translated into a trashy movie, it might make the entire genre represented by that movie look bad.)
Now Mass Effect 2 has come out, and it's even better than the first game. That's a good sign, but it brings with it new worries. Are they planning on doing a trilogy? Can they keep it fresh and interesting for three whole movies (I mean, if no movie based on a video game has ever been good before, what are the chances of them striking gold three times)? How unfortunate would it be if they make the first film and it doesn't do well enough to make the second, better game into a movie?
Anyway, as a video game lover and movie enthusiast, I definitely hope some day to see a movie based on a video game turn out to be good. Or great (but let's not be too hopeful). Prince of Persia, I wish you well.
Update: My follow-up post after seeing the movie on its opening weekend is here.