question of the day: Will a movie based upon a videogame ever really work as a movie?

Most of us in North America won’t see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time until Thursday-midnight screenings begin — and I won’t see it till then either, because Disney is still refusing to acknowledge my existence. But the film opened last week in the U.K. to a pathetic £1.37 million, and didn’t even win the top spot: that went to the independent British film StreetDance 3D, which earned almost twice as much though it was on 50 fewer screens. And Prince’s figure was only slightly more than Robin Hood’s £1.36 million, over its second weekend. Doh.

British critics aren’t impressed with the film — it’s at 55 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with most U.K. press checking in so far. David Cox at the Guardian’s Film blog opens his review with a long diatribe against the videogame movie in general; a few choice selections (no spoilers):

Game-makers noted that while their customers were prepared to stump up more than cinemagoers, the latter were far more numerous. So, in the hope of expanding their market, they started to make games that were based on films. Unfortunately, most of these fell flat. Developers complained of deadline pressures and being forced to stick too closely to source material. Nonetheless, a deeper problem seemed to beset them. Somehow, film-based games too often became just imitations of existing products.

Nonetheless, such films continued to appear in ever greater numbers. Surely, it might be thought, one of them must eventually come good. If indeed one were going to, it ought to have been Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Mike Newell’s film enjoys the benefits of a budget of more than $130m and a raft of promising stars. It’s based on one of the most venerable and robust of all games franchises, and the creator of this iconic brand has been keeping a watchful eye on its celluloid progeny.

The characters are vacuous and the dialogue’s infantile. The drama’s crude. Because of this, the opportunity for acting doesn’t really arise, capable though the players might have proved if given the chance. It’s impossible to care about the fate of the protagonists. All of which would have been just fine – in a videogame.

Such criticisms are certainly nothing new when it comes to movies adapted from videogames, but it seems that filmmakers never hear them.

Will a movie based upon a videogame ever really work as a movie? If so, what will have to change about how these movies are created? What are the essential elements of a videogame that make it worth adapting for the screen in the first place? Is it the action? The setting? The quest? If the player is the star of a videogame, can that ever be ported over to a film… and if not, why would anyone even bother to try?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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