"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is out this Friday. There's a history in Hollywood of video game adaptations, a history that extends back almost as far as the interactive medium itself. It's a frequently spotty history, with dark blemishes on titles as popular and well-known in the game world as "Super Mario Bros" and "Street Fighter." "Prince of Persia" has a shot to rise past it all; between the strong cast, accomplished director and mega-producer presiding over it all, we're talking about a serious summer tentpole that has the potential to turn around an entire sub-genre.
I spoke at length last week with David Hayter about the unique challenges facing filmmakers when they decide to bring a video game to the big screen. In addition to being an accomplished screenwriter ("X-Men," "X2: X-Men United") and voice actor (the "Metal Gear Solid" series), Hayter is also an avid gamer. That extensive cross-media experience gives him what you might call an evolved perspective on the realities of making game adaptation.
"For me the idea of whether or not to adapt a game into a movie is, is it an interesting enough world, is it a visual enough world and does it have characters that you want to follow without being in control of them," he said. "If it’s a game I like and something I can see being a movie, then I think it should be turned into a movie. If it’s something that just has a certain amount of profit potential but they don’t get the right people to do it, [that's when] you run into trouble."
Hayter went on to draw a line between the spotty history of game adaptations and another now-popular sub-genre that in many cases struggled before it came into its own. "The history has been less than stellar in the same way that comic book adaptations were less than stellar before we really did ‘X-Men.’ The [Tim Burton] ‘Batman’ movies were fine and Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’ movies were amazing, but I think the reason the other comic book movies prior to 2000 were horrible was because the studios didn’t take the storytelling seriously."
"When we were… adapting ‘X-Men,’ the first ‘X-Men,’ [the studio] kept saying, ‘Why is it so serious? Why are these people so serious?’ It’s like, 'Well... it’s life and death, and the world hates them and [everyone is] trying to kill them, so you’d be serious too. So I think there is a huge element of studio executives seeing the value and the numbers that the video games sell in but [they] don’t really appreciate how elevated that medium has become, and how far beyond studio movies video games have become."
"If you don’t take the source material seriously, then you’re never going to adapt it well. And you’re certainly never going to adapt it to the standards of video game fans, who are pretty exacting and have come to expect a pretty serious product when they put down their money."
"What it will take is a few truly great game adaptations to come in and make the kind of money that an ‘Iron Man’ does or the ‘X-Men’ movies did. And suddenly you will be getting better quality in terms of the writing and the directors that come on board these things. I just think there’s still a subtle prejudice with them that has to be gotten around."