Jerry Bruckheimer knows what boys want. The auteur builds PG-13 action franchises that appeal to school-age males that are sometimes responsible (Pirates of the Caribbean) and sometimes not-so-much (Transformers). His latest movie Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is based on a very successful videogame and contains all the elements that appeal to boys: glossy, stylized non-stop action and violence, a beautiful woman and very little romance.
Mixing videogames and movies give me a tremendous amount of apprehension as a parent and children’s advocate. Both movies and videogames are becoming more realistic and immersive which can be really cool but potentially damaging.
According to my teenage son, ALL of his classmates are playing every M-Rated videogame that hits the shelves of Game Stop -- games that usually involve putting weapons in the hands of the gamer who then realistically and graphically kills the avatar human being. I don’t doubt a tween or teenager can separate fantasy from reality, my concern is that by repeatedly putting a “weapon” in the hands of kids who then watch their opponent die in a bloody, explosive way, killing someone or something becomes an “option.”
Why does an abused child often become an abusive parent or husband? Experts say non-abused people won’t see violence as an option in a heated situation; those who have witnessed the physical behavior firsthand know they shouldn’t replicate abuse but in a moment of anger may act out that “option.”
How does one start cursing? Or drinking? Or having premarital sex? We see others doing it matter-of-factly in real life and in movies that show folks slipping in “bad” words, meeting at the bar for a drink, and hooking up…all without a flinch or consequence because, it seems, that’s just what people do. Kids are actively learning how to be an adult and thus absorb that cursing, drinking and hooking up are the regular activities of adults and so they too should participate.
So, now, a kid who has been playing violent videogames or watching violent movies finds himself in a heat-of-the-moment circumstance where he has a weapon. He’s been "trained" and desensitized to use it. What happens next?
I’m not a therapist and there’s been all kind of debate about the effects of violence in media on kids, but at the very least we should all be concerned about the trend of videogames becoming movies because many are on the horizon (“Bioshock,” “Mass Effect,” “Dante’s Inferno” for starters).
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is the first of this new generation of videogame films to hit theaters (Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat all hit before studios started snapping up games for adaptations and started striving for the PG-13 rating to draw in tweens and teens). The good news is that as a Disney film, it’s setting an excellent precedent where parental red flags are concerned. The violence is slick, stylized and mostly bloodless against a backdrop that looks like it was created on a computer (even if it was shot in Morocco). Except in a few instances, the constant barrage of flying arrows, knives, flames and fists result in someone being knocked down, we don’t know if it led to death or not. What will hamper the film as a piece of work helps the parents: the ridiculous dialogue and implausible script helps the viewer always stay cognitive that he’s watching a videogame-based film. In fact, it feels to the audience you’re watching someone PLAY a videogame, putting it in the context of watching the Road Runner drop an anvil on Wile E. Coyote’s head: not real, not something we would actually do.
Other than the non-graphic violence, Prince of Persia is devoid of vice: no drinking (other than a joke about wine), no drugs, no cursing, no sexuality.
Best yet, the message of the film is that a great man thinks independently and makes brave choices to make the right choices, even when pressured to do otherwise.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time may not a “good” movie, but in doing right by our sons, it’s great.