Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says he may have done the impossible—made a movie based on a video game that doesn't suck: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on the Ubisoft actioner.
"It's like a Lawrence of Arabia with this kind of supernatural element added to it," Bruckheimer said on Oct. 27 in a group interview at his offices in Santa Monica, Calif. "It's like an old-fashioned romantic adventure film. It's really a wonderful biblical story about jealousy. It goes back to all the primal fears and conflicts through history, so it embellishes upon interesting things."
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, a street urchin taken in by a king and made a prince. He must recover a dagger infused with the sands of time and keep it out of the wrong hands. As he jumps across rooftops, slides down sand hills and scales castle walls, Dastan also romances Tamina (Gemma Arterton), so there's something for everyone.
"We tested the movie a few weeks ago," Bruckheimer said. "It tested extraordinarily high. It surprised me, because I always think these things are going to fail, but this one turned out great. The women [loved it]; I was surprised. I thought we made a terrific movie for the boys, but the women flipped over this film. I've never had a score where the parents—and there is violence [but] it's PG-13—the parents rated the film 100 percent excellent or very good, which never happens. So it's one of these movies that we know they'll take their children to go see it, which is a huge advantage for a film, if the parents think it's cool that the kids can see it."
Even Pirates didn't fare this well when it screened for test audiences, he said.
Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner helped adapt the film to screen, writing early drafts of the script and supporting the whole production. What gives Prince more of a fighting chance than other video-game movies is that Mechner always envisioned the game as a movie.
"I did the best I could on side-scrolling Apple II to try to capture that kind of excitement, and running and jumping and really the first 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981," Mechner said. "The movie, as you've seen, goes very far beyond that. There's Parkour, there's sword fighting. It's pretty extreme. I loved movies growing up as a kid before I loved games—in fact, actually before video games had been invented. This is a game that was inspired by movies, so, I think, really, in writing the first draft of the screenplay I just kind of set out to write a movie in that genre, the kind of movie that I love, that inspired me to create the game in the first place."
That original 1989 game featured simply a prince running horizontally, jumping across chasms and fighting palace guards. The Sands of Time entry evolved for game systems like Xbox and PlayStation 2, with a 3-D style, and the prince had more acrobatic abilities.
A strict adaptation would not have made a great movie, though: For one thing, there'd be very few roles for actors if the film followed the game's story. In the game, the sands of time turn everyone in the kingdom into sand monsters.
"There are no sand monsters in the movie," Mechner said. "For the game, turning everybody in the world except for the two main characters into sand monsters was really useful, because it created an inexhaustible supply of enemies for you as a player to fight. But that's a story that's meant to be played with a controller in your hand. A movie is an experience that's sort of a ride to go on shared by an audience, so we didn't want to make the movie about fighting monsters."
To create the feel of a classic epic Hollywood movie, Bruckheimer set up as much location shooting as possible. There are still computer effects, particularly for the time-travel sand, but much of modern-day Morocco still looks like ancient Persia. The film shot in cities such as Marrakech, Ouarzazate and Erfoud.
"It's just sand," Bruckheimer joked. "There's plenty of it there. No, what we did was we had a fantastic production designer who created these amazing sets. We actually built a lot of what you saw. We added some set extensions to the top of the frame, but a lot of things that you see in there are actually stuff that we built or took structures in Morocco and added our own construction to those actual old structures. We found a part of the city that was one of the most ancient parts of the city that we were able to use for this movie. The city allowed us to shoot there, and the government allowed us work with the residents, as far as being in the suits. It's stopped in time."
Prince of Persia opens May 28, 2010.