From Amstrad to Hollywood: How Prince of Persia hit the big screen

Game-to-film adaptations have largely proved to be blockbuster flops. So why does programmer Jordan Mechner believe this month's Prince of Persia movie will buck the trend? David Crookes finds out.









There is often a sense that Hollywood, if it really wanted, could tweak a film out of the most thinnest of stories. It only needs a semi-interesting report to hit the headlines for a few days and studios start knocking each other sideways, their elbows and cheque books flying, in a bid to snap up the film rights. A Summer hit about the life of SuBo, perhaps? You're too late – it has already been discussed.

What, then, would the film industry make of Jordan Mechner, on the face of it a humble computer programmer who, in 1989, created a game called Prince of Persia for one of Apple's earliest machines and, in doing so, made himself very rich and well known among players who instantly lauded it as a classic?

It may not sound too hot a story – one that was played out many times during those heady days - but it is certainly one of struggle. For despite Mechner's success in gaming, he wanted nothing more than to be a film-maker. Yet each time, he would be sucked back into gaming, his attempts at making it in the movies thwarted.

First of all, this led to a sequel, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, second came his blessing for Prince of Persia 3D in 1999 and third was the development of a cinematic adventure game called The Last Express. Gaming just kept calling him back.

In the midst of all of this, Mechner had enrolled at a film school where he shot Waiting for Dark, a short documentary looking at the terrible living conditions in Havana. Film-making is a tough business, however, and it still didn't lead to the opening he so craved.

Then came a phone call. It wasn't from Hollywood but from Yves Guillemott, president of the French games publishing giant, Ubisoft. He wanted to reboot Prince of Persia for a new generation of fans and he needed Mechner's agreement. He got it. But something began to brew in Mechner's mind. Here, he thought, was a golden opportunity.

“I suddenly realised that I hadn't really made the most of Prince of Persia in the 1990s,” he says. “I'd produced a game with a great backstory and we'd built on that with the sequel but that was it, to be honest.”

The new game, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, was released in 2003. A sequel followed a year later but Mechner wasn't directly involved. Instead, he was in Los Angeles, showing Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer a trailer he had created using the Sands of Time game. His time had come – he was pitching the movie of the game and, to his delight, Bruckheimer was interested. So much so, he bought the film rights.

“Sands of Time gave me a second chance to push the franchise,” explains Mechner. “I'd always had the belief that Prince of Persia could be turned into a wonderful movie. My inspiration was Indiana Jones and the idea was taken from the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That was the kind of feel I wanted and so I created a hero and I had an emphasis on adventure and exploration. It's the great stuff films are made of.”

Gaming and film have long had an uneasy relationship. On the one hand, many games try to ape the cinematic scope of a big-budget screen production. The globe trotting adventure series, Uncharted, on the PlayStation 3 is similar in style and story to Indiana Jones and David Cage's Heavy Rain has attempted to blur the game-film boundaries with an absorbing, emotional narrative-led crime drama populated by a host of believable characters.

Historically, though, game-to-film adaptations have tended to be staggering failures. With the notable exception of Tomb Raider, which has grossing $300m globally, others – from Street Fighter, Resident Evil and Super Mario Bros. to Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat and Wing Commander – are best forgotten. Prince of Persia is the latest attempt to prove the doubters wrong but no matter how film fans take to it, others will line up. Indeed, Sony is reportedly in talks with the director, David O'Russell, about a future movie adaptation of Uncharted.

Mechner understands the pitfalls. “One thing I wanted to avoid with Prince of Persia was not making a direct film of the game,” he says. “When I pitched it, I made it clear that the game and the film were distinct in many ways and that although there are many elements from Sands of Time, the story has been reconfigured. The bottom line is that films are watched and games are played. You have to produce something which takes that into account.”

In the game, the main character was known simply as the Prince. Understanding that it would be difficult to create a film in which the protagonist is never referred to by name, Mechner named him Dastan (“it was easy to keep him nameless in the game because the person playing could project themselves on to the character but you don't do that in film,” Mechner explains).

Dastan is played by Jake Gyllenhaal who spent seven months getting into peak physical shape for the role. Gemma Arterton was snapped up to become the fiesty princess, Tamina and Ben Kingsley is acting as the villainous nobleman, Nizam. The film draws its influence not just from The Sands of Time but other Prince of Persia games too and it tells the tale of street urchin, Dastan, whose life is turned around following an impressive battle which catches the eye of the king. Dastan is adopted and groomed to become the next king and, together with Tamina, he sets out to rescue the mythical ‘Sands of Time’ from Nizam.



“It's going to be a big, family friendly, spectacular summer movie,” says Mechner, who wrote the initial script which, as it often the case, has gone through some revisions since. “Those who have played the game will spot the differences. The dagger doesn't have the same kind of power as in the game where is can be used to undo mistakes. I had to limit that because if Dastan was able to just go back in time and make amends, it would remove any tension in many situations. There isn't the same emphasis on monsters either – it's not a film all about fighting.”

Now aged 45, Mechner is clearly loving the big time. He has forged a close friendship with the film's British director Mike Newell, the helmer behind Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral, among others. The pair are looking at other projects together, with Newell having admitted to being impressed with Mechner's meticulous attention to detail and enthusiasm for film.



“When I think back to how this all began, I feel a real sense of awe,” says Mechner. “I've been involved with Prince of Persia for half of my life and I never really believed it would have taken me this far. I make a living out of telling stories and I love it.”

Prince of Persia is in cinemas from May 21

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Project Manager – Permanent – Circa £40k – West Midlands

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Senior Project Manager / Team Leader (Management, Digital, Websites)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Senior ...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering