JORDAN MECHNER on
'PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
May 8, 2010
Based on the enduring video game series that debuted in 1989, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a blockbuster action adventure that tells the story of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a street urchin who is adopted by the nobel king of the Persian Empire after performing a good deed as a young boy. But life in the royal family becomes complicated for Dastan as a young adult, when the political ambitions of his nefarious uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) lead to him being framed for the murder of the king.
On the run from his family, the law, and any number of mercenaries looking to claim the bounty on his head, Dastan uncovers the secrets of the Dagger of Time, a mythical artifact that contains a magical sand with the power to turn back the clock. In a frenzied bid to clear his name and thwart Nizam's plan to use the dagger to re-write history and establish himself as king, Dastan is forced into a rocky alliance with the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), an Alamutian guardian of the sand with an intense dislike and distrust of the invading Persians.
In this interview, Jordan Mechner, who created the original Prince of Persia video game and eventually pitched the story for the feature film version, talks about the process of adapting the franchise for the big screen.
MEDIA: What made you want to transform Prince of Persia into a feature film?
JORDAN: You know, Prince of Persia's a game that was really inspired by movies. Back in the '80s when I was programming the first game on the Apple II, I was watching movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the 1940 Thief of Bagdad, and that kind of action and romance. I wanted to get that spirit into the game. And to me, if Prince of Persia was going to work as a movie, it would be as that kind of movie--you know, sort of a throwback to those old-fashioned adventure films. And that's what I hope that this movie is.
Was it important to you to have a hand in developing the story, as opposed to just selling off the rights and having no creative input?
I've wanted to write screenplays and make movies since I was a kid. Even when I was creating the first Prince of Persia game in the '80s, I was also going to film school, making student films, writing screenplays. So for me, the chance to finally have a feature film come to the screen based on this game that I'd created 20, 25 years ago is absolutely great. And it was really important to me to be the one to adapt the game into a screenplay, and to be part of that process.
What was your reaction to the scale of this production, and was there a single element that you especially enjoyed?
Well, so much of the production just really blew me away. Because it's one thing to imagine it or write it, but to see what actually goes into creating a production of this scale--the attention to detail, every aspect of the production, going to Morocco to these fabulous locations...You know, the reality of it was so much more than whatever I had imagined. But having spent 20 years working with the games and trying to create this kind of running, jumping parkour action...I think the first time I saw a sequence cut together of Jake as Prince Dastan fleeing over the rooftops of the city and being chased by guards shooting arrows at him...That just brought a smile to my face, because that was the kind of action that I'd imagined creating the games. And yet it was fully realized on the screen--you know, it's just so visceral, so vivid, so much more.
Were the cast or crew members familiar with the video games prior to production?
[Director] Mike Newell said that he tried to play the game and kept falling onto the spikes. I know that Jake definitely played it as a kid, and we've talked about that. I never had the chance to sit down and play with Jake, but certainly when I got to the set and got to meet a lot of the craftspeople who had been responsible for creating the look and feel of the production, I found that many of them had played versions of the games and actually drawn on the games, in many ways beyond what was in the script--you know, the costumes, props, weapons, right down to the stunts and the parkour.
Why do you think video games often have a hard time in their transition into a film version?
In making a movie, whatever the source material, it's got to work as a movie in its own right. And a movie that's based on a game, I think, is particularly tricky because the element that makes a game successful is the game play, and that's the one element that can never transfer to film no matter how you do it, because the media are so different. So I think in making a video game movie, like any movie, it's about the story, it's about the characters, and all of the elements of filmmaking have to work on their own merit regardless of the fact that it was once a game...I think in any kind of adaptation, it's just really key to understand the medium that you're creating in, to respect the strengths and weaknesses of that medium. And in the case of film, whether it's adapted from a video game or a novel or a stage play, you have to take creative liberties in adapting it in order to make something that's going to work on its own as a movie. And I think that's the key.
How do you overcome pre-conceptions and live up to expectations from fans already familiar with the video game series?
You know, I think any time that you have something that millions of people have experienced and enjoyed in another medium, whether it's a video game or a novel, you sort of develop your own idea of the characters and the world in your imagination. And there's no way that a movie can match that, because when you cast a flesh and blood actor in a role, they're not going to match the character that you imagined because everybody imagines the character differently, in their own way. So I hope the gamers who've enjoyed Prince of Persia games will approach the Prince of Persia movie as a new experience--something, hopefully, entertaining that will transport them to another place and time and remind them of the games in a good way. I mean, for me, as a gamer, this is the kind of movie that I've loved since I was a kid. It's a great adventure story, and I think it's true to the spirit and the universe of Prince of Persia, although it doesn't follow the story of the games literally.
Will fans be able to recognize a lot of references to the video game in the movie?
Well, we really set out to make a movie that you didn't need to be a video gamer to appreciate. It's really a movie for everyone. But at the same time, for people who have played Prince of Persia games, there are a lot of moments that gamers can pick up on.
The virtual worlds of games and movies have been converging with the ongoing advancement of computer graphics. With that increasing overlap, what is the main challenge in creating a good game?
It's interesting. I mean, definitely, video games are looking more and more like movies to the point where the graphics can be almost photo-realistic, and movies are now using digital methods to create kinds of action that, before, you could see only in video games. But for me, in trying to make a video game that tells a story, it's really important to remember that it's a game that's going to be played by someone with a controller in hand, whereas a movie is a story that's watched--you don't have that interactive element. So for me, the story comes first. The demands of the medium...It's just understanding what the viewer's or the player's experience is going to be, and then using the technology to support that rather than let the technology be the cart leading the horse.
Thanks for your time.