Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prince of Persia, or On Going Backwards

It's not that I disagree with Roger Ebert's assertion that games will never be art; it's that I think he has such a good point, phrased in such an incendiary and definition-debating way, that oh God I'm already bored with this sentence I hate this discussion so fucking much. Anyway, Prince of Persia is a videogame in perfectly-adequate-movie form, and as such its biggest problem is that the central device - a dagger that can control the flow of time - is designed to be an ingenious toy that players can interact with, so when you take away the control pad, the result is a movie where you spend most of your time frustrated with the characters for not using the thing correctly.

Other than that, the dagger is adapted fairly faithfully from the game, in that it can turn back time and give you a one-minute do-over as long as you only ever use it for incidental things that have no effect on the actual plot. Just as the makers of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within were savvy enough to include all sorts of wack-ass magical doodads but never let the characters use them in a way that could impact the actual happenings of the movie - just like in the games, wahey! - people in Prince of Persia never think to use the magic knife to prevent a beloved character's death, or prevent their own death, or not meet up with Alfred Molina's mortifying brownface comic-relief character.

One of the most charming things about the game version of The Sands of Time is its recurring use of the motif of storytelling as the power over time itself: the game's ludological employment of the chronotropic dagger is mirrored by frequent reminders that you're playing a story, and the storyteller himself can reverse time also. The movie admirably attempts to recreate this, but while some instances work, there's much clunky unintentional narrative time-bending going on too: at one point, the script jumps back to an earlier pivotal line to make sure we know what's going on, but that line was spoken less than a minute ago. Also, the entire plot is a heavy-handed attack on scheming politicians who would invade the Middle East in search of nonexistent contraband weaponry, because apparently the script thinks it is jumping back eight years to an era when this would be timely. I hope G. Gordon Liddy is sitting down, because the Prince of Persia: Warrior Within movie is really going to tear him a new one for that thing he did in the hotel that time, and not a moment too soon!

In conclusion, I cannot tell the difference between an actor who is having a ball re-enacting the glory days of matinee-idol bravado and an indie stalwart who is visibly embarrassed to be in a movie whose central theme is expressed as "the bond between brothers is the sword that defends a kingdom," so don't ask me whether Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is any good, but it isn't.

In Which Our Hero Pushes The Boundaries.

I'm quite happy with this Gamesradar article about taboos in video games. Judging from the comments, so are many others. Maybe you will be also!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

MacGruber, or On Intentions

My favorite Saturday Night Live sketch is "The Danish Repertory Theater Presents: I Did It In My Style," an advert for a musical based on the life of Frank Sinatra made by people who had no idea what Frank Sinatra was and didn't have the budget or means to do anything about it, yet perplexingly made a musical about him anyway.

If you try to imagine MacGruber as The Danish Repertory Theater's version of a 1980s action movie - "we've seen the opening credits of one episode of MacGyver, so let's make a Cannon Picture!" - it's almost funny, but given that all the best lines have been given to the feller from laff riots like Breach and Anti-Trust, the movie appears to be working very hard to stop you from laughing. Everyone can succeed at something!

The very basic problem is that the action-comedy movie MacGruber simply is not as intentionally funny or exciting as the intentional action scenes and unintentional comedy of any given episode of MacGyver (though that's not really an apt comparison, as the picture works harder to satirize movies like Rambo and the work of Chuck Norris, but it all evens out because it's not as funny or exciting as those either); and in assuming that people will only laugh at something if it is intended as a joke, the makers of MacGruber have gravely underestimated their audience, who demonstrated their post-structuralist independence from the antiquated notion of authorial intention by seeing every other movie on release instead of MacGruber. People are smarter than you think. Particularly if you're an idiot.