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Reel Critic: 'Prince' is more like a pauper

June 03, 2010|By Van Novack

Some of the best films ever made have one thing in common: rich source material. When a screenplay is based on a novel, biography, stage play or historical event, it can often be quite challenging to do justice to the original material within the confines of an almost two-hour format. As the studios grasp at straws in the high-stakes world of feature films, they have increasingly come to rely on concepts that were never intended to sustain an entertainment vehicle costing hundreds of millions of dollars with a running time of 90 minutes or more.

Some immensely popular films have been based on comic books, which at least are serials that have been produced over decades, during which dozens of characters and complicated plots have been introduced. Even a few movies based on “Saturday Night Live” sketches such as “Wayne’s World” and “The Blues Brothers” have been successful. Nonetheless, films based on “SNL” material overall have a losing track record with such bombs as “Coneheads,” “It’s Pat,” “A Night at the Roxbury,” “The Ladies Man” and now “MacGruber.”

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The flimsiest premise on which a major motion picture can be based has to be a video game character. With the possible exception of the two “Lara Croft” films, video game characters have not been particularly successful movie subjects. About the only thing a popular video game can offer a filmmaker is name recognition. Video games have little or no dialogue and one-dimensional characters and require a huge leap of faith regarding the capabilities of the characters, which usually defy the laws of physics.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that Walt Disney Pictures reportedly spent more than $200 million to produce “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan. Although using video game characters essentially gave them a blank page on which to base the screenplay, the three credited writers and “Prince of Persia” game designer Jordan Mechner decided to stick to a fairly basic “sword and sorcerer” plot.

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