Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: The Film: The Review

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a really great game. Good plot, fun gameplay, neat visuals, and actual characters who interacted with each other, having conversations while the player got on with the platforming. Naturally, to build on this success the company made a sequel. They described it with statements such as "edgier" and "more mature". I would describe Prince of Persia: Warrior Within with phrases like "lots of ass shots", "they got rid of the good music and instead went with angry rock", and of course "immature bullshit designed for the lowest common denominator".

The pile of rubbish that was Warrior Within aside, The Sands of Time did get loads of critical acclaim, and so it's not surprising Disney (what?) decided to crank out a film version. The producer being... Jerry Bruckheimer?! Well, at least he's not directing...

The film turned out to be pretty good (for a game-to-film adaptation: excellent), though with four writers it's no wonder the film feels slightly disjointed (points for having Jordan Mechner, creator of the very first Prince of Persia, involved with the script). The bigger problem is that all the cool parts of the game are missing! No blade traps, no sand monsters... and the fight scenes lack time rewinding, which would have been great fun.

The plot involves a magic dagger that, when filled with magic sand, can be used to turn back a minute of time. This was a cool MacGuffin in the game that served a purpose in the gameplay - making the combat and more importantly the platforming a relatively risk free exercise. In the film, it's not used beyond some key moments in the plot. This is boring! We could have had the title character getting killed in combat and then taking it back. Or missing a jump and taking it back. Or anything else involving impending doom.

The effect when time is run back is unnecessarily overblown - the game uses a little bit of screen distortion and lets the player thrill to the sight of what they just did going backwards. The film cuts as time rewinds, making it nowhere near as visually effective. Even better, they could have played all the sound backwards. That's a neat effect too! But we get some music instead. Dramatic music, of course. Which is another sore point for me...

Stuart Chatwood's soundtrack to the game was brilliant. It's really a joy to listen to on its own. I'm listening to it right now. The music in the film isn't bad, it's just... not quite as good. Sadly, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: The Film: The Soundtrack will no doubt be on sale, and Chatwood's work is going to languish in relative obscurity. But I suppose that relative obscurity is the relative obscurity of all those people who played the game and raved about it, so he can't complain.

One of the great things about the game - the thing that probably got it the most points - was that the titular Prince (I think the various video game incarnations might have names, but who cares? "Prince" is a name... when it's not an unpronounceable symbol) and the Plucky Young Sidekick Girl/Love Interest actually had conversations during the puzzle bits. They had personality. They were likeable. I wish I could say the same about the main characters of the film. Gemma Arterton, who was shown to be capable to some extent of acting in Quantum of Solace, is here a plank of wood. A plank of wood with a whole heap of fake tan to make her look exotic. Oh yes: they went there. As for the villain... Ben Kingsley is good, but I would have liked the implied motivation of the game (saving himself from death) rather than "seize the throne". It's something actually worth risking the world for, right?

I will say that the big "sand glass" (not a giant hourglass, but a crystallized tornado) - and the big explodey underground scene it stars in - was an impressive bit of CGI. The acrobatics and Parkour are in the film, though not quite in the same fashion. They did get one of the key bits right - undoing the events of the story to save everyone - but by the end I was actually relieved to see it, which means they got quite far from the things that made the game so enjoyable.

If you've got the means to play the game, I say track down the game, and watch the film later. The film is quite good, for a popcorn flick. It does for a video game what the first Pirates of the Caribbean film did for animatronic theme park rides. I think I was let down because my expectations were quite high. It's got a couple of funny bits (ostriches, being inherently ridiculous, are a good source of humour), it's done well enough, it's got style... even if that style is stolen from a lot of other films. What it hasn't got is the original Prince of Persia game as a hidden extra.