Prince of Persia: The Savior of Video Game Movies?

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is in Hollywood’s pipeline and ready to spring in theaters across the nation on May 28, 2010 with Jake Gyllenhaal as the Persian prince. He was superb in Zodiac, funny in Bubble Boy and turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain.

So, I mean it when I say if there is a white boy who can pull off playing a Persian it’s Gyllenhaal. Even when you think of Persia (modern day Iran for our geography and history impaired readers) you don’t think about a white boy from California, but I digress….

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the sequels (Don’t be naïve. The studios are working on those as I write) stand at the precipice to show the world that a great movie can be based on a video game. That’s if the studio has done its job and made a movie worth a damn.

Movies based on video games are not that good. Okay, I was being polite. Movies based on video games usually suck. Why can’t Hollywood make a good video game based movie? To see why Hollywood can’t make a decent movie based on a video game, we need to look at another area of pop culture that Hollywood has managed to screw up over the years: comic books.

It took a long time for Hollywood to get comic book movies right. For years Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) stood as the shiny movies on the hill that other directors and studios yearned to emulate.

If you know movies then you know storyboards plot out a movie, set up shots, and give directors a sense of what the movie should look like. If you know anything about comics then you know that comic books are storyboards with words and captions. So why did it take so long for studios to get on the ball and make good comic book based movies?

Some folks say a good comic book movie was impossible until effects technology caught up with the story. That’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t explain: The Hulk (either incarnation, but I prefer the Ang Lee version), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, X-Men, X-Men 3, Spawn, Ghost Rider, and Spider-Man 3.These movies were filled with special effect goodness yet failed to deliver a watchable movie.

Others say a good movie based on a comic book was impossible until studios were willing to pony up enough money. This seems like a valid argument. No one will believe a man can fly if he is hanging from the rafters by fishing line. Without a decent sized budget, the chances of landing quality talent is low. If the audience does not believe that a billionaire playboy dresses up like a bat to fight crime then the movie has failed.

This argument doesn’t hold up either. Please refer to the above list of movies and add: Batman and Robin, The Spirit, Daredevil, Elektra, Spider-Man 2, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. All of these movies had talented actors, but the films were abysmal.

I would argue that not only is it important to have good effects and a good budget, but you have to have good source material. I’m not saying that the movies mentioned were not good comics. I was a faithful Spider-Man reader for years before I discovered girls. The problem is that there is too much information to choose from and the movies are trying too many things. Movies end up with more than one villain, which dilutes the conflict in the story, and many plot lines never seem to be resolved.

Movies like 300, A History of Violence, The Watchmen, Sin City, and The Road to Perdition don’t have this problem. These were limited stories. There are no convoluted story lines to go through in order to create these movies. With movies like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Superman, the director took the best plot points and used them to craft a great screenplay.

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If comic books are storyboards, then video games are short movies. The story is told through cut scenes between blowing shit up and solving puzzles. Those responsible for the big screen adaptations only have to play the game to know plot and appearance. Heck, if they used the Internet they don’t even have to play the game.

So, why hasn’t there been a good movie based on a video game? The stories found in video games are as good and original as anything Hollywood puts into theaters. I would argue that good video game movies have had the same problems as their comic book counterparts but with one exception. In most comic books, there is too much information to distill a good movie out of. The opposite is true of most video games, there is not enough information.

Take Street Fighter, for example. (Take your pick as to which one was worse.) The 1994 version, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Time Cop) and Raul Julia (The Addams Family), tried to stay as true to the video game as possible. But by doing so, it showed the property had limited movie potential.

Nothing in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009), besides the name of the characters and the title, gave any indication that it was based on a video game. If you didn’t know the video game, you would think that it was just a bad movie. Although, I did like how Chun-Li went from being an Asian baby to a Caucasian Kristen Kreuk (Smallville).

Mortal Kombat (1995) was a serious attempt at a movie that both gaming fans and audiences of the action genre could enjoy, but stiff acting and sub-par effects distracted from an otherwise decent movie. I give it points for recreating the fatalities made famous in the video game and the fight scenes were pretty good. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, did not fare as well and most fans try to forget that it was even made.

In 2006, DOA: Dead or Alive appeared and quickly disappeared. Nothing could save it from being a monstrous waste of time. However, the amount of bikini-clad flesh that was on display was every fan boy and gamers’ wet dream. Let’s not forget Mario Brothers and Double Dragon. No, I take that back. Let’s do our best to block these out of our memories forever.

 

The problem with these video games is the lack of a developed story.  It’s fine when you are playing a video game, but it doesn’t give screenwriters enough information to work a script. They are forced to create their own ideas or a story from the ground up. Originality is never a bad thing, but if the script is bad then little can save it from being a bad movie.

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If comic book movies had Tim Burton and Richard Donner as pioneers to show the world that good comic book movies can be made, then video game world has Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson (and you thought you would never see these names in the same sentence) to show the world what video game movies should not be.

No one is more infamous for churning out video game movies than Uwe Boll. When I say “churning out” I really mean putting the video game into a movie meat grinder until there is nothing left but a steaming pile of rot.

I wondered how Boll managed to keep making movie after movie. If I were a director in this country, two back-to-back flops would ensure that I never worked again. In Germany, the opposite is true. The more you lose, the more you gain if you’re an investor. When it comes to taxes, the investors can either give a big chunk of money to the government or invest in a movie. Investing in a movie keeps the German government from taking as huge of a bite as when money is put straight into a bank. Germany, like other European countries, help finance films through the country’s film board.

The question was answered, but I still wonder how he gets actors. Is it the money? Did Ray Liotta really need the paycheck from In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale? Is it the scripts? Did Oscar winner Ben Kinglsey read the script to BloodRayne and think to himself that this was a movie he wanted on his resume next to Schindler’s List? Is it the characters? Did Christian Slater decide to play Edward Camby in Alone in the Dark because of the multi-dimensional aspects of the character? No, he did it because he has no career, but that’s beside the point.

I still have no idea how Boll manages to secure the movie rights from video game companies. Even after his movies destroy anything that resembles the video game and each of his movies does worse than the previous one, companies still sell him the rights. If Boll offered a shit-ton of money (believe me that is A LOT of money) to the companies they can still say “no,” but they still say “yes.”

This leads me to believe that Boll has made a pact with Satan. Yes, Boll and the Dark Beast of the Pit have formed their own production company. There really is no other explanation. If there is, I would like to hear it.

If you think that I am being too hard on Boll and he is not that bad of a director, then Google his name and you’ll find site after site filled with nothing but contempt for his movies. Go ahead I’ll wait…. See, I’m not alone.

Boll even has his own entry at Urbandictionary.com. To pull an “Uwe Boll” means that you really suck at something. For example, if you’re playing pool with some friends and your game is off tell them, “Man, I’m pulling an Uwe Boll today.” However, your odds of improving your next performance are 100 times better than Boll ever coming out with a watchable movie.

Paul W.S. Anderson, England’s answer to Uwe Boll, had a decent amount of success bringing the Resident Evil franchise to the big screen. The first one was good, but the sequels got progressively worse. Now IMDB.com reports that Resident Evil: Afterlife is due to hit theaters sometime this year. I will hold off judgment until I have seen it, but the math tells me that this one will be a real stinker.

Paydays for these movies don’t fare any better. There are exceptions like Tomb Raider, but most of these movies don’t make their money back or if they do it’s not by much. Max Payne cost $35 million and brought in $85 million. House of the Dead was made for $12 million and brought in $14 million. Dead or Alive was made for $21 million and brought in….wait for it…$7.5 million dollars.

The profit drops when advertising is deducted from the back end. There has not been a blockbuster that Hollywood studios hope for when developing a property for the big screen. However, this has not stopped them from courting gaming studios.

The Halo movie has been batted around more times than a crippled mouse in a cat’s badminton game. At one point, Peter Jackson was ready to helm the movie, then rumors had Steven Spielberg having at it. Now the latest news from Microsoft is that the Halo movie has been put on hold indefinitely.

The Gears of War movie is closer to becoming a reality. It was revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con this year that the videogame wannabe movie has a director (Len Wiseman, Live Free of Die Hard ) and a writer (Chris Morgan, Wanted) attached to the project. However, there is still no cast, no completed script, no storyboards, and no studio attached to produce. In other words, this movie is in pre-pre-production.

Just because there is a writer and a director attached is no guarantee that a Gears of War movie will be made. Or at least, made by these two individuals. The longer it takes to start production there is more of a chance that one, or both of them, will pull out for another project. It’s happened plenty of times in Hollywood. I don’t doubt that we will see a Gears movie it is just a matter of when.

BioShock has been on again, off again for quite some time. At one point, Gore Verbiniski (Pirates of the Caribbean) was set to direct. However, he decided not to direct the film because it conflicted with another movie he is directing (see I told you it happens). The studios replaced Verbiniski with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The only film that most American audiences would know him for is 28 Weeks Later.

All our hopes and dreams for a quality video game movie rest on Prince of Persia’s shoulders. The movie has many things in its favor. The source material has a strong story. There aren’t that many gaps in the story that need to be filled in. For the most part, the only chore that the writers have to do is fill in dialog and screen direction. Also, the people involved in the movie are unlike any other assembled to create a video game movie. There is real talent involved in the making of this movie.

Starring alongside Gyllenhaal is Gemma Arterton. Most moviegoers will know Arterton from Quantum of Solace (or as I like to call it: The worst Bond movie ever made with the exception of Never Say Never Again). She played Bond girl Strawberry Fields. Arterton easily held her own opposite Daniel Craig. In Prince of Persia she will star as Tamina, Prince Dastan’s love interest.

Ben Kingsley, the only Persian with a key role in the film, plays the bad guy Nizam. When the man is on is his game he’s one of the best actors who ever graced the silver screen. If you don’t believe me check out The House of Sand and Fog, Schindler’s List, or Gandhi (he won some awards for that last film). When he is off his game he can be one of the worst actors that ever graced the silver screen. If you don’t believe me check out What Planet Are You From?, You Kill Me, or The Love Guru ( he won some awards for the last one, but I doubt that he puts them on display).

Mike Newell is directing the film. Newell has directed Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pushing Tin, and Donnie Brasco. He also directed a little feature called Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s easy to see by his resume that Newell knows how to make character- driven films and the big- budget plot driven films. If he can capture both styles we may have a movie that is as strong on CGI effects as it is on quality storytelling.

Rounding out the cast of suspects is Mr. Blockbuster, Jerry Bruckheimer. Forget what the South Park clowns think about Bruckheimer. The man knows what it takes to make an entertaining, fun film. If you didn’t like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, or The Rock odds are that you liked Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur or Black Hawk Down. If there is not one single Bruckheimer movie you like, you either have no pulse or are trying to be cool, because nothing that he has been involved with could be any good.

If the movie is as good as I think it will be, and if it makes the box office money that I think it will, the other video game movies sitting in Limbo will be put on the fast track for production. It’s a no-brainer. Studios cash in on success.

The other movies will have a standard to shoot for, forcing them bring their “A” game. It’s a win for everybody involved. We could very well be seeing the dawn of great movies based on video games.

Here is the thing. I know these are only movies; movies based on video games. I know that none of these movies are going to enlighten anyone to the plight of the workingman, help the situation in Darfur, or awaken the world to the horrible living conditions in India. All I want; all we want, are watchable, entertaining movies that are based on the video games that we all know and love. Is that too much to ask for?

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