The Walt Disney Pictures-distributed movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
, opening on May 28th, is perhaps the most concerted effort toward getting a video game property onto the big screen.
With backing by Jerry Bruckheimer, a proper director (Mike Newell, known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Donnie Brasco), and input from Prince of Persia
creator Jordan Mechner, this has the potential to be the slickest video game property on the big screen, giving the impression that it will be enjoyable for children at least.
In a panel at Wondercon, director Newell, producer Bruckheimer, lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and creator Jordan Mechner, who also wrote the first draft of the script, discussed their thoughts on bringing this property to the non-interactive stage.
Theme And Tone
“I think Jerry and I felt that it was going to be a very important thing that he and I should feel the same about it,” began Newell. “We should feel good about it. This was not going to be a postmodern tone, by which I mean you do something heroic, you turn to the camera, and you wink. We didn’t want that at all.”
Newell added that the whole team “…wanted it to feel real. We wanted the audience to sense the emotions.” Newell hadn’t played the game extensively though. “I have a 14 year old son,” he said, “and the game actually is a bit too early for him. The first version was over by the time he was playing. He fights the second world war, mostly.” The director did give it a go himself though, and “was absolutely hopeless. I dropped into the revolving knives all the time.”
Bruckheimer likewise is not an avid gamer, in spite of having created a game studio with MTV some years back, which is still anticipating its first release. Bruckheimer noted that it was thanks to Jordan Mechner that the production was able to find the drama of the original property.
“Considering this started with a character on the Apple II computer which was 40 pixels high, to go from that to Jake [Gyllenhaal] is pretty incredible,” said Mechner. “I was right out of college, I was home for the summer, and I loved movies,” he added, referring to the original game’s creation.
“I was inspired especially by the 1940s swashbuckling movies like Thief of Baghdad.” So he dressed up his brother in baggy clothes, had him do all the moves, photographed it, and worked from there in his creation of the main character.
Gyllenhaal was asked how he went about recreating the game character in live action. “I started from the outside first,” he said. “I am a really physical person, and pretty athletic, so I started training pretty early for the part.” He wanted to be able to do his own stunts, and to that end learned some parkour from its creator David Bell.
“[The prince] has the difficult challenge of being able to take the situation at hand as serious as it’s possible to be taken when you have a dagger that can turn back time and you’re being chased by guys with snakes coming out of their arms,” joked Gyllenhaal. When it came to the character’s motivation, the actor was equally glib, making statements like: “He likes to jump off things. He also likes princesses.”
But on a more serious note, Gyllenhaal noted that he had “played the original side-scrolling video game that this man invented. Who knew how our fates would meet so many years later? Definitely there’s pressure there. I know how important the game is to so many people.”
The Film’s Creation
Mechner agreed, saying that “as much as I love video games, not every video game should become a movie.” For him, the movie works because it’s set in the universe of the One Thousand and One Nights text, which has a lot from which to draw.
Bruckheimer had nothing but praise for Mechner. “The thing I love about [Mechner] most is that he’s an absolute research freak,” he said. Everything in the game and everything in the script for which he wrote the first draft, was based on research, what it was actually like,” including available technology and garb.
But technology ultimately limited the movie’s presentation. Bruckheimer was asked why the movie was not in 3D, and it was time and available technology that were to blame. “At the time avatar hadn’t come out,” he began. “At the time we went to Disney and said we’d like to do it in 3D, and for whatever reason it was really costly. And the cameras at the time weren’t as advanced as they are today.”
The crew eagerly anticipated fans’ reactions, but knew what they were getting into. “It was exciting,” said Gyllenhaal. “It’s great fun, you know? And my boots literally took 20 minutes to get on, so they were indeed hard boots to not only get on, but also fill.”