Deep underground, beneath the gilded monuments of the Holy City (Los Angeles) lie vast caverns containing immense wealth beyond your wildest dreams. The contents of this subterranean realm all belong to a single man, and with this stockpile of riches he carefully operates to consolidate his rule of Hollywood and, potentially, the world.
He’s a quiet guy called Jerry Bruckheimer, and occasionally he’ll dig deep into his precious pit of plenty and spread some of his resources to an exclusive bunch of industry figures who show reverence and loyalty.
Sometimes the slightly supernatural aura of this mysterious man excites Nicolas Cage’s eccentric side and secures his support. Sometimes (well, every time) big shiny blockbuster movies get made. Sometimes Michael Bay gets to be director. For good or really very terribly ill, Jerry uses his treasure trove and his Midas touch to move the movie business, operating as the overlord in the shadows.
It’s interesting that Bruckheimer’s hidden haul beneath Hollywood forms has inspired the plot of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Graft an established video game brand onto the premise as a smokescreen and you have an autobiographical vehicle through which you can make a clear statement to audiences: “Yes, I am the affluent all-powerful emperor of the entertainment world and you shall bow down to me and lick the popcorn off the floor in my presence. Yes, even you, Sir Ben Kingsley. You’re my bitch now…”
The superproducer doesn’t have a mystical Dagger of Time though. If he did, then he’d have already gone back to put more special-effect explosions into Casablanca and inserted some bikinis in an epic western that is later retitled The Good, The MegaBad and the Sexy. Michael Bay comes back from the future with a few Transformers robots to direct that one, though after encountering his innocent one-year-old self he has a crisis of conscience and comprehension. The whole affair ends in a death wish and a suicide trip with a drink-driving Optimus Prime.
Anyway, I digress. What is especially notable about the Prince Of Persia film is that it’s not really been seen as a motion picture adaptation of a much-loved computer game in its own right, but rather as ‘The Next Pirates Of The Caribbean‘ in the media.
The inability to talk about the movie without mentioning its swashbuckling buccaneer forebear strikes me as odd, as does the whole idea that everything has to be the next something. While the bean counters scrabbled around for ‘The Next Avatar’ and ‘The Next Twilight’, destiny and Jerry Bruckheimer declared Prince Of Persia to be the next Pirates Of The Caribbean.
Admittedly, the two series are similar in that they are historically-set fantasy adventure capers with the Walt Disney logo stamped on the titles. Pirates Of The Caribbean has lots of leaping around exotic locations, a spirited upper class heroine and Edward Scissorhands proving himself as an unexpectedly excellent action lead. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time has lots of leaping around exotic locations, a spirited upper class heroine and Donnie Darko proving himself as an unexpectedly excellent action lead. There the similarities sort of end. One is closer to Treasure Island and the other is closer to Arabian Nights.
Altogether, it’s not fair, for Prince Dastan is saddled with all the pressure and expectation that comes with ‘The Next Pirates of the Caribbean’ tag when he’s trying to carve his own niche. All these cinemagoers are rolling up to see Jake Gyllenhaal and Jemma Arterton wrestling in the shadow of Cap’n Jack Sparrow when it’d be better if Prince Of Persia was just enjoyed as a blockbuster in its own right – a cinematic take on a videogame legacy with the requisite kinetic action and astounding visuals to viscerally assault summer cinema audiences.
Normally I’d blame Michael Bay, but it’s probably not wise to provoke someone who’s got a hulking inebriated Autobot at his back. Instead, I blame Jerry Bruckheimer for looking at the box office figures for the Pirates Of The Caribbean saga and responding “Again! Again!” like a hyperactive toddler stuck in an episode of Teletubbies.
Damn you, Bruckheimer. Damn you and your market-driven approach to movie production that undermines all notions of creating an artistic work that captures the essence of an old-school platform-gaming legend. Over in the pixel realms, there’s a tricksy acrobat swordsman furious that his big cinematic debut has been tainted by the P-word. He wanted to be a star of the big-screen. Instead, the hype about Prince Of Persia being ‘The Next Pirates Of The Caribbean’ has stained his celluloid fantasies.
In truth, ‘The Next Pirates Of The Caribbean’ is Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (a.k.a. Pirates Of The Caribbean IV or Pirates Of The Caribbean: We’re At Our Wits’ End) due next year. So far we know that Cap’n Jack and Barbarossa are back and that joining them are Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane as Blackbeard (that’s McShane as the notorious high seas terror, though Cruz would look just beautiful with a beard).
What we don’t know is whether Mick Jagger will make a cameo appearance and whether the events of the second and third film will be explained. Whilst watching the sequels my face turned into a physical echo the permanently puzzled expression worn by Johnny Depp’s iconic antihero. Confusing? It’s easier to fight off the kraken with a pair of chopsticks than explain the plot, sub-plot and red herrings of At World’s End.
Bruckheimer’s burning desire to build ‘The Next Pirates Of The Caribbean’ on an old computer game should have drawn upon something with a slight whiff of rum and buccaneer body odour. In my opinion, the Monkey Island series is the perfect material to obliterate the notion that videogame-based movies are always going to be awful.
An immersive comic world of inept buccaneers, voodoo, spitting competitions and Indiana Jones references sounds sweet to me. With brilliant dialogue (“you fight like a dairy farmer…” “How appropriate, you fight like a cow.”) and great characters like Guybrush Threepwood, the ghost pirate LeChuck and Murray the talking skull, it’d be a box-office-conquering phenomenon.
There’s your pirate franchise, Jerry. Next time you emerge from your cave of wonders feeling generous, consider Monkey Island and please don’t call Michael Bay. Also, please ensure that Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is an artwork of immense beauty. Put a beard on Penélope Cruz.
James’ previous column can be found here.