Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The swashbuckling Prince of Persia is one of the all-time great action-adventure video game series. In fact, Prince of Persia could be called one of the founding fathers of the action-adventure genre. The original game came out way back in 1989, conceptualized and developed by an enthusiastic game developer and storyteller named Jordan Mechner. The game captivated the audience with a magical formula that blends addictive gameplay with a rich storyline based on the classic One Thousand and One Nights tales. The storyline and character chemistry have a strong impact on the core gameplay, which was a rare thing back in those early days.

Jordan Mechner was heavily involved in the first two Prince of Persia projects (Prince of Persia and Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame) alongside Brøderbund Software. With the third game in the series, Prince of Persia 3D, Mindscape conceptualized and developed the whole thing, while Mechner only worked as a consultant (the game was published by Red Orb Entertainment). Unfortunately, Prince of Persia 3D failed to impress audiences and its reception was mixed. However, the series’ legacy was so rich that it would take more than one mediocre entry to kill the appetite for new Prince of Persia games.

In 2003, Ubisoft Montreal released Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which served as a soft reboot for the series. Just like the 1989 original, The Sands of Time mixed innovative platforming gameplay with an epic storyline inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. The Sands of Time sold more than 14 million copies since its 2003 release, and it received a good amount of praise from critics and fans alike.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

With video-game-to-movie adaptations on the rise, a Prince of Persia feature film was inevitable after the success of the Sands of Time trilogy (The Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones). Walt Disney Studios took this exciting project and produced a live-action Prince of Persia movie that premiered in May of 2010.

The production scale was huge and the budget was around 200 million dollars. Jerry Bruckheimer was brought on as producer after his success with Disney on The Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure. Mike Newell directed it, and Jordan Mechner co-wrote the story with John August. The film starred Jake Gyllenhaal as the prince himself.

When Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time hit the big screen, the result was not much different than other video-game-to-movie adaptations. The film struggled to recover its massive budget (though it would eventually be profitable) and failed to impress critics and audiences alike. While there were plans for a sequel, those plans were ultimately cancelled.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Why did the Prince of Persia movie fail to captivate audiences the way the video games had? One simple answer is that it did not come up with an original storyline. This has been the case with way too many big-screen adaptations of video games. Whether it’s Tomb Raider, Prince of Perisia, or Uncharted, films based on video games stick too close the games’ stories and sequences so they just feel like old wine in a new bottle.

Filmmakers don’t seem to grasp the concept that video-game adaptations are different than novel adaptations. When you’re adapting a novel to the big screen, your audience is people who have been recommended the book but never got around to reading it. This means that a somewhat faithful adaptation will be the perfect way to give them the high notes of the story without having to actually read the book. With video games, though, the target audience is people who have already played the games. For these folks, it’s better to serve up a new storyline that feels like it fits within the same universe as the games without being too overly dependent on the video games’ plot points.

The mantra is quite simple to understand. Part of the excitement of playing a video game is the surprise — a player’s euphoria increases with unexpected twists in the tale. When that same person sees a video-game character on the big screen, there are no surprises left. It can get boring to see the same sequences and storylines you’d already played through.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

This is definitely true for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; the film does not offer anything new or extra to thrill seasoned players.

The film has a few good moments of action and some memorable sequences, particularly in the opening half. However, in the second half, the film lacks any surprises because it plays way too close to the source material. While it includes elements like time-rewinding, the magical dagger, and the Prince conquering India with his Persian army, none of these things will be new to anyone who’s played the game.

I think it’s becoming clear that filmmakers need to come up with original storylines for video-game adaptations. Prince of Persia could have been a benchmark for similar game-to-movie adventures, but it falls prey to the same failures as so many other video-game-based movies.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

And one final note: The Prince’s next scheduled outing is a video-game remake of The Sands of Time. While it will be nice to relive the adventure with a modern coat of paint, these are sands we’ve walked upon several times already. I think it’s time that the series does something different so that it can feel new once again.

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