The creator of the classic video game discusses writing the screenplay for the big screen adaptation, which was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Video Game designer Jordan Mechner is best known for creating the popular video game "Prince Of Persia" in the late '80s. The game was so popular that it went on to spawn several different sequels in various formats over the past twenty years. But now Mechner can add the title of feature film screenwriter to his resume as he has recently penned the screenplay that has been adapted into the big budget adventure film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which opens in theaters on May 28th and is based on his own game. The film, which was produced by Walt Disney Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan, an orphan who is adopted by the king and raised as one of his own. When a close confidant betrays the King, Dastan must go on a quest to bring the King's betrayers to justice and protect "The Dagger Of Time," a magical weapon that has the power to reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world. We recently had a chance to speak with Jordan Mechner about the new film, creating the screenplay and the challenges of making a feature film based on a video game. Here is what he had to say:
To begin with, can you talk about adapting the video game for the big screen and what Easter Eggs might appear for hardcore fans of the game?
Jordan Mechner: 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 I think, you know, gamers can pick up on.
Is it difficult overcoming the expectations of the fans that know the game well and are coming into the film with a preconceived notion of how it is going to be?
Jordan Mechner: Well it's interesting, 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 you know in your imagination. 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 that gamers who've enjoyed "Prince Of Persia" games will approach the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie you know 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.
In your opinion, why do you think video games often have such a hard time being adapted to the big screen?
Jordan Mechner: You know in making a movie, whatever the source material is, it's got to work as a movie in its own right. 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 film making have to work on their own merit regardless of the fact that it was once a game.
Video game adapted films often get a bad wrap from film critics and Roger Ebert has even been quoted as saying that video games are not art, how do you feel about that statement and can you talk about some of the stigmas attached to this genre?
Jordan Mechner: I think video games, no matter what Roger Ebert may think are an art form in their own right, but they're an art form that you have to play. You know it's an experience, whereas movies are watched. Those two things are very different. It's a very different kind of relation between the player or the viewer and the story telling. So 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. 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. I think that's the key.
Can you talk about your motivation in bringing the game to the big screen and what made you think that it would make a great film?
Jordan Mechner: You know "Prince Of Persia" is a game that was really inspired by movies that I watched back in the '80s when I was programming the first game on the Apple 2. I was watching movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, '1940s The Thief of Bagdad and those kinds of action and romance films and I wanted to get that spirit in into the game. You know to me, if "Prince Of Persia" was going to work as a movie it would be as that kind of movie, a sort of a throwback to those old-fashioned adventure films and that's what I hope this movie is.
How important was it to you to have the chance to write the first draft of the screenplay, rather than just handing all the material over to another writer right away to adapt the film?
Jordan Mechner: Well I've wanted to write screenplays and make movies since I was a kid and even when I was creating the first "Prince Of Persia" game on the Apple II in the '80s, I was also going to film school, making student films and writing screenplays. So for me you know the chance to finally have a feature film come to the screen, based on this game that I'd created on the Apple II, twenty or twenty-five years ago, is absolutely great. It was really important to me to be the one to adapt the game into a screenplay and to be part of that process.
Do you know how many of those involved with the project were familiar with the game or had played it prior to production?
Jordan Mechner: It's interesting, you know I wrote the first draft of the screenplay and I don't believe this but 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, it's like 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, in the costumes, props, weapons, and right down to the other stunts and the action.
Because of the advances in CGI the limitations between what you can imagine and what you can create in both video games and on the screen have narrowed, can you talk about the challenges you face when you are working with computer generated elements and how the two mediums have begun to overlap?
Jordan Mechner: 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 CGI and digital methods to create kinds of action that before you could see only in video games. But for me it's like trying to make a video game that tells a story, you know it's really important to remember that it's a game that's going be played by someone with a controller in hand. Where a movie is a story that's watched, you don't have that interactive element. So for me it's like the story comes first, the demands of the medium are just understanding what the viewer's or the player's experience is going be and then using the technology to support that. Rather than letting the technology be the cart leading the horse.
What was your favorite part of shooting the film and if you had to name one element that makes the movie really standout, what would that be?
Jordan Mechner: Well you know so much of the production just really blew me away. It's one thing to you know how to imagine it or write, but then to see what actually goes into creating a production of this scale, the attention to detail of every aspect of the production. Then going to Morocco to these fabulous locations, the reality of it was so much more than whatever I had imagined. Having spent twenty years working with the games and trying to create this kind of running, jumping 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. It's just so visceral, so vivid and you know so much more.
Finally, have you be involved with any of the extras that are being created for the DVD?
Jordan Mechner: I don't know? I haven't seen the DVD but I know that some of the sketchbook sketches that I did on set in Morocco, they've asked for but I don't know you how those are going to be used.