I’m pleased to say that I’m pleased by the movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. One thing it has going for it is that I can recommend it to just about anyone. As movies in general go, it’s pretty good; the acting is good, the pacing is good, the action is good. The soundtrack felt a little generic, but it suited the film just fine. The story is solid, coherent, and whole — which, again, is more than can be said for most movies based on video games. In short, it’s worth watching.
Compared to the Game
I played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time right about when it came out. I was 79% of the way through the game (or so my save data assured me) when I lost the contents of my hard drive. I must confess that I left off finishing the game in despair — as any gamer knows, losing your save data unfairly is a great way to make you feel like doing anything but playing that game. It’s been seven years now, and I still haven’t picked it up again.
I’ve forgotten much about the game’s story. That will be rectified soon, since I’m reinstalling the game as I write this. However, that meant I went into the movie recalling certain elements and the feel of the game. While watching the movie, some things about the game came back to me. Most of the things I found myself remembering were different from the movie, but the changes made were good ones.
Before I went, the things I hoped to see in the movie were:
- Proper execution of the Dagger of Time’s abilities
- Plenty of wall running and other acrobatics
- An antagonistic relationship between the prince and the priestess
Dagger time is visually gorgeous, and I noticed while watching the end credits that there was a team of graphic artists devoted to the dagger time effects. The mechanics of the Dagger’s usage is different in the game than it was in the movie. If I recall correctly, in the game you can only rewind several seconds at a time — just long enough to undo a mistake and save yourself from certain doom. You can use that several-second ability multiple times, until the Dagger runs out of sand, at which point you had to find more. In the movie, the dagger can hold enough sand to wind time back by one minute, and as long as the wielder keeps pressing the button he goes backwards until the sand is used up.
That’s a fairly big difference in how the Dagger works. However, the change is a good thing. In the Sands of Time video game, the Dagger does serve as a story element, but since you spend most of the game running around jumping off of walls and the like, it’s at least as much a gameplay element as a story element. Having the Dagger able to rewind up to a minute in the game would have made it powerful to the point of silliness. In the movie, however, there’s a much higher ratio of story to action. Access to more sand is limited in the movie, too, since the prince’s foes don’t just drop sand left and right. The Dagger’s power is something the prince must ration, and the situations in which it gets used require more than a few seconds’ rewind for storytelling purposes.
The ratio of action to plot in the movie is lower than I’d hoped for going in, but when coming out of the theater, I was glad for that. As I mentioned above, the story and pacing are solid. That would be untrue if it had had as much action as I’d initially hoped for. They weighted the movie in favor of story, making for a better movie without neglecting the acrobatics which are the hallmark of the Prince of Persia series.
For all that, the movie felt right, for the most part. I was a bit skeptical about the fact that Alamut didn’t turn into a crypt at first, but while the prince’s lonely journey through the palace with everyone except the antagonistic priestess to keep him company worked for the game… well, who’d want to watch that for two hours on the big screen, really? If they’d kept to the game that well, the movie would be just another video game movie, a flop and a travesty and another source of tears for us poor gamers. The fact that the relationship between prince and priestess were so well done wouldn’t change the fact that it would essentially be nothing but action scenes. I like good action scenes, but I generally like them to be tied together by something a little deeper.
I must say, there is one thing I’m glad they changed. Jake Gyllenhaal is a fairly good-looking fellow, and I wouldn’t have objected to seeing him shirtless in that hot desert sun, but the prince’s gradual disrobing that occurred throughout the game would have had no place in the movie. It’s quite possibly the silliest thing in the game, and while I found it highly amusing when I was playing The Sands of Time back in the day, it would have detracted from the movie. The movie does a good job of being serious about the story without being too serious, but a shirtless prince would have come across to the masses as fan service instead of being seen for the throwback to the game that it would have been.
The changes made for the movie adaptation of The Sands of Time were chosen in the interest of making a good movie. And it is good; you should see it, and you should take your non-gaming significant other and friends to see it, because they’ll like it, too. It’s unlikely to win any Oscars, but the Academy looks for deep, artistic meaning in a movie; this movie is meant for entertainment, and entertaining it is.