The Review: Movies based on video games are almost invariably bad movies. From the spectacularly awful Super Mario Bros. onwards, the genre (if it deserves such a grand title) has thrown out bad movie after bad movie, so it would take a brave soul to invest major summer movie money in a video game adaptation. On paper, this had two things going for it – it’s based on one of the best games from a series of really good games, and it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which normally ensures at least some level of quality threshold.
But there’s something else in common with most video game movies – any of the best bits in most of the not completely terrible ones do have that feeling of watching someone else play a video game, in that it would be more fun to be controlling the action than watching someone else do it. As video games themselves have become more cinematic over the past ten years, you could reasonably hope that adaptations would also improve, and to a certain extent that’s true here. If anything, the biggest single failing here is of the movie to use the video game power effectively – the rewinds thanks to the sand offer less here than they did in the original game, and somehow feel less mythical.
There is good stuff here if you’re patient, but it’s mixed in with some not so good. Jake Gyllenhall was an unlikely choice for the titular prince, but brings a flawless English accent when, after movies like Robin Hood, people may not have complained if he’d stuck with his own, and he has also acquired the appropriate physical stature. Gemma Arterton, sadly, fares less well; she gets some good lines, although oddly her accent is less convincing than Gyllenhall’s in some places, and she doesn’t have the same sense of fun that she’s managed to bring to some of her other movies. That’s left to Alfred Molina, who is comic relief to such an extent that he appears to be in almost an entirely different film, but one that while not necessarily better, may at least be more fun. Ben Kingsley delivers a rent-a-baddie and manages to be clichéd without being scenery-chewing, when neither or both may have again served better. The script is the most variable, keeping things moving along nicely with the occasional surprise, but sometimes featuring exposition so heavy you can almost see the bottom of the screen sagging under the weight.
Going in, you’d hope that the movie might evoke comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean or an Indiana Jones movie; instead the level is more Romancing the Stone and its desert based sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, with the main characters bickering their way through a sort of road movie adventure. This is the best video game adaptation yet brought to film, and that is damning with faint praise, but the action scenes are all well realised (to the extent where I’d almost like to see what Newell could do with a Bond movie) and there is more fun and adventure than many failed summer efforts, just not enough to make this more than a passing entertainment. If only Bruckheimer had a real Sands of Time dagger, he may have been able to rewind enough to tweak this to greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: It does deliver on scale and spectacle, and thankfully escaped a fate worse than box-office death (a 3D conversion).
The Score: 6/10