(2010) dir. Mike Newell
viewed: 05/28/10 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

The list of films adapted from video games is not a particularly auspicous one.  Starting with the misbegotten Super Mario Bros. (1993), the couple of Lara Croft movies, a number of films by noted bad filmmaker Uwe Boll, the Resident Evil film series, you’ve really got to wonder if there will ever be a good movie adapated from a video game.  Ever.

I find myself occasionally watching a film that is not adapted from a video game and thinking to myself that it has the plot (or lack thereof) to compare it to a film adpated from video games, but then I realize that I am potentially denigrating something that of which I know little.  I mean, of all the video games that have been made into movies, I think the only one that I’ve ever played was Super Mario Bros. And perhaps that is dating myself a bit.  But I do know that the “video game” has risen immensely in technical complexity, storyline, and in its general form.  So much so that I am willing to believe that there are video games with much more quality potential plot scenarios than the ones that have thusfar been transformed into film.

And really, as a starting point, depending on expectations, you still have to write a script, hire actors, stuntpeople, designers, directors, and actually make a movie.  So, in many ways, it’s not like the opportunity isn’t potentially there.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the latest and perhaps the biggest film yet made from a video game.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, we’ve got a sort of fantasy adventure set at some fantasy point in time in Persia.  So lots of scimitars, Arab costumes, and lots of probably highly inaccurate depictions of styles and people that never existed.  But the story has echoes of others told.  A street urchin (Gyllenhaal to be) is brought by a king to be a “prince of Persia” along with two of his own blood sons.  They are a noble group, but are about to be duped by the evil machinations of the king’s brother, Ben Kingsley.

Here’s where the thing is a little funny.  Kingsley tells them that he has a spy who is certain that this other kingdom is developing weapons of mass destruction (swords and steel-tipped arrows) and that they need to be invaded and destroyed.  Though Gyllenhaal and his father doubt the verity of these reports, the uncle pushes them onward to attack.  Of course, it all turns out that this “intelligence” was falsified, and that in the end there is a great power “beneath” the castle that Kingsley’s conniving villain is really after.  I hope I don’t need to spell out this metaphor for you.

Because if you really start to muse over the implications beyond their surface, it’s awfully muddy.

The power is something that one accesses by using this special knife, with a red ruby button on the end of the hilt, to “turn back time”.  The knife trick only works for about a minute, but as the film’s title suggests, is sort of the key to the storyline.  Gemma Arterton, who caught my eye earlier this year in Clash of the Titans (2010), is the princess/protector of this secret power over time and also Gyllenhaal’s love interest.  She’s pretty darn gorgeous, I’ll give her that.

In the hands of director Mike Newell of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), the romantic tensions between Gyllenhaal and Arterton feel like pure retread repartee.  And the action sequences are, while occasionally stimulating, often cluttered and over-edited, with occasional slo-mo grainy moments, and lots of clanging and clashing and hoo-haw.

While it’s no Uwe Boll film, it’s still quite weak summer blockbuster material.  Not an iota of freshness amidst the whole kit and kaboodle.  While it doesn’t hurt to linger on Gemma Arterton’s face for moments, the film doesn’t flex much intellectual muscle nor show a whit of action, jumping, swordfighting that one hasn’t seen many times before either.  And much like the subtext of the missing WMD’s, so goeth the entertainment value of the latest of our video game-spawned movies.