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“Prince of Persia” Rules Two Worlds

“Prince of Persia” Rules Two Worlds (photo)

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Movies and video games. Video games and movies. Over the last half-decade, the two have linked to each other in an awkward conceptual waltz, like something out of a junior high school mixer. As game developers and film studios twirl each other around, dreams about attaining cinema’s Aesthetic Legitimacy fill the head of the former. Aesthetic Legitimacy was granted to movies in some shadowy rite long ago and, ever since, no one ever questions whether celluloid creations are art anymore.

Often trumpeted as the future of storytelling, the video game medium pines away for and ofttimes thinks it deserves Aesthetic Legitimacy. Meanwhile, movie producers just want to rub up against video games’ Earning Potential. Feature films have found themselves beset by diminishing box-office returns and look longingly at the blockbuster numbers that games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Grand Theft Auto IV” have racked up.

Both mediums rely on visual tropes and camera work to entertain, so why shouldn’t they dance? Alas, nearly every time games and movies have tried to cut a rug, the result’s been embarrassed flailing that might be initially tantalizing but ultimately fails to turn anybody on.

Games have interactivity as their north pole, where movies operate on delivering spectacle, and there’s been much debate about why concepts that start in one medium have such rough fortunes in the other. For every excellent Chronicles of Riddick game that lets players roam those movies’ bleak sci-fi corridors, there’s been the “Doom” movie or any Uwe Boll endeavor. No formula for success really exists.

05282010_pop2.jpgSo it’s a rare thing that “Prince of Persia” arrives rather successfully on both the movie and game fronts. Disney’s unleashing “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” on multiplexes nationwide after a deafening wave of hype. At a recent screening, more than a few audience members were heard to remark how they’ve played one iteration or another of the swashbuckling action games. And, this comes after last week’s release of “Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands,” a new game clearly meant to capitalize on the film’s big-budget marketing.

The “Prince of Persia” phenomenon started with a 1989 Apple II game singlehandedly written and programmed by Jordan Mechner, then 24 years old. The ingenious game design and smooth, lifelike animation immediately captivated players. The game’s plot concerns a vizier who takes control of ancient Persia while its king is away at war and gives the realm’s princess an hour to marry him or lose her life. With an hourglass progressing in the background, the player controls a visiting prince from a faraway land who’d been locked up by the vizier and must brave deathtraps and swordsmen to rescue the princess.

05282010_pop4.jpgIn an era where the motivations of most games was simply to rack up a high score or get from one end of a room to another, the original “Prince of Persia” won accolades for even having a story. In 2003, Mechner and publisher Ubisoft rebooted the game as “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” The much more powerful technology of the PS2, Xbox and GameCube didn’t change the story-centric approach. The characters were more fleshed out, and the plot was tweaked to introduce mystical elements like the titular sands, which allowed players to rewind or freeze time. “Sands of Time” — which blossomed into a trilogy — combined an “Arabian Nights” influence with Errol Flynn acrobatics, great voicework and a narrative that unfolded itself cleverly.

The film version of “Sands of Time” doesn’t have any of the crippling self-loathing possessed by so many game-adapted movies. In adapting genre source material, it’s a honeyed trap to be slavishly faithful (see Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” as exhibit A). Instead, director Mike Newell takes a game that already had a strong voice and cleverly extrapolates its themes, world and central character.

05282010_pop5.jpgIn the games, the Prince has long been nameless, but the movie dubs him Dastan. He’s a street urchin adopted by the king, who sees the spark of greatness in the orphan. When Dastan — played by a beefed-up Jake Gyllenhaal — and his two brothers grow up, rumors of warmongering send them and an army to the land of Alamut to suss out the supposed weapons massing there.

During the film’s first big action sequence, Dastan acquires the dagger that will later let him turn back time. Betrayals lead to the King’s death, and Dastan gets blamed, whereafter he goes on the run with Tamina (Gemma Atherton), Alamut’s captured princess. As he tries to figure out who framed him, Dastan learns from Tamina that a massive elemental time machine lies beneath Alamut; his uncle Nizam — a vizier stand-in portrayed with restraint and relish by Ben Kingsley — wants control of the Sands of Time to rewrite history and make himself king. Kingsley shines as the movie’s big bad, playing the Iago-like Nizam as simmering and later spiky. The former Gandhi deserves mad props for picking up a sword and going for broke with the much younger Gyllenhaal, too.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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