Most computer/video game to movie conversions are dismal efforts: at best, superficial and ultimately forgettable pulp entertainment; at worst, cynical attempts to milk fans of the franchise that just disenchant them and drive the profile of game-based movies into the mud. I missed Prince of Persia on release but wasn’t especially fussed – action movies are commodities to me – but actually seeing it, I was pleasantly surprised.
The 2010 film Prince of Persia is definitely just entertainment, but it’s above average for a game-based movie. I was surprised that Disney produced the film, but it soon became clear: a very pretty (if CGI-heavy) setting, a healthy dose of humour, much of it banter amongst the characters, a semi-supernatural storyline that was still semi-serious, and showy set-piece sequences: Disney was looking for another Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t think they quite succeeded: the movie lacked the comedic density Johnny Depp brought to the first Pirates film, but it was a solid, enjoyable effort.
Gyllenhaal was a likeable enough lead; Gemma Arteton somehow lacked the appeal she brought to Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, and her pugnacity grew wearing; Ben Kingsley looked completely villainous with the goatee and shaved head. The storyline was pretty good, (crafted by the designer of the original 1989 game and its 2003 update Jordan Mechner!) but the ending was weak, and there was too much reliance on minor characters (the ostrich racetrack owner and the blade-thrower) where interaction between the brothers could have been so much richer. I liked the pseudo-historical incorporation of the original Assassins and use of Alamut.
The use of Western actors and accents for the putatively Arab setting jarred at first, and this is certainly an example of Hollywood’s hopeless attitude to race. However, I didn’t mind it as much as I expected here: unlike say Memoirs of a Geisha, this is fantasy story made purely for entertainment, with no pretentions of depicting something real, and is based upon a constructed, deliberately romanticised image of the setting.
Prince of Persia was the top-grossing videogame movie so far, and it’s worthy of that modest achievement.