Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Review


Moderately entertaining, by video-game movie standards

Most movies based on video games seem to fall into two categories: suck and ultra suck. The problem stems from extracting the gameplay and story elements from a video game and recombining them in the frame of a motion picture. Often is the case that action takes precedence to the narrative. Not helping the situation are the uninspired and the what-the-heck-were-they-thinking casting decisions. Video game siren Lara Croft has a voluptuous figure, gee let’s see if Angelina Jolie is available. Street Fighter villain M. Bison needs to be played with gravitas? How about Raul Julia?

After history was made with the Pirates of the Caribbean films – and by history I mean Walt Disney Pictures’ first PG-13 release – uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has switched his attention from theme park attractions to the video game series Prince of Persia. A series that includes multiple releases and two different trilogies, as well as being playable on a number of different gaming consoles, the movie takes its cue from the 2003 game The Sands of Time.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Prince of Persia is trying too hard to be Pirates of Persia. Only this is the Middle East where water is hard to come by, let alone be plentiful enough for a sea-going vessel. The opening sequence bears striking resemblance to another film in Disney’s vault, Aladdin, with protagonist Dastan alluding authorities with nimble footwork and climbing skills that would make Spider-Man jealous. The movie has a lot of that: fast-paced action and lots of running; yet rarely do you see a character winded or break a sweat. This really is a video game.

In constant movement, the action makes the viewer forget about the little hiccups in the plot (ahem, logic), which is fine if all you want to achieve is something that is entertaining, instead of something that is entertaining and purposeful. As for the “Sands of Time,” it’s a mystical dagger that allows the holder to do their best Cher impersonation when turning back time. Yep, the dagger is a time-traveling device; and it comes in handy when we want to replay a sequence and make sure things end with a super-duper happy ending. It also allows the filmmakers to cheat when the situation allows it.

In ancient Persia, King Sharman (Ronald Pickup) reigns supreme. Alongside him are his brother, Nizam (Ben Kinglsey); his eldest son and heir to the throne, Tus (Richard Coyle); his second son, Garsiv (Tony Kebbell); and the street orphan he adopted, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). After the Persian army successfully invades a neighboring holy city and captures the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, glowing as if she had been using bronzing agents since childbirth), the king arrives, soured about Tus’s actions. Soon after Sharman is murdered and the courageous orphan-cum-adoptive son is made the culprit. Dastan flees with Tamina (and the dagger) and sets a course to prove his innocence, reveal the true killer and make sure the Sands of Time doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Prince of Persia is well made by director Mike Newell, whose filmography is varied with films like Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral. But it was probably his direction over he fantasy gargantuan Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that made him a prime candidate to oversee a project that ultimately tries too hard to be the next swashbuckling franchise from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Jake Gyllenhaal is a good actor, but his Dastan character is never perplexed by insurmountable odds or a new set of challenges. At least Indiana Jones had a phobia of snakes. Dastan, it would appear, is the poster child of the No Fear clothing brand.

Prince of Persia is not like Pirates or Indiana Jones; it’s more like The Mummy with Gyllenhaal and Arterton filling the shoes of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The chemistry they share is comparable and the dialogue is just as terrible. Everyone seems to be playing his or her character in a straight-laced manner, when they should be scared out of their wits. Needs to be more of a “Time-shifting dagger! This is heavy!” instead of being able to explain the situation with relative ease. The only one having any fun is Alfred Molina, hamming up his scenes as a desert baron who spends two days a week holding ostrich races and trying to avoid paying taxes whenever he can. (Hopefully, he wasn’t reincarnated in the age of “no new taxes.”) Ben Kingsley breaks no new territory with his character Nizam, but he does wear tacky eyeliner. That’s new.

Popcorn entertainment through and through, Prince of Persia is never boring, but it’s not as exciting as it should be. As a video-game-turned-movie Persia may be the first that’s easy to revisit and not feel totally ashamed for watching – after all Mike Newell is a better craftsman than Uwe Boll or Paul W.S. Anderson. It’s the narrative shortfalls that will have you grinding your teeth, wishing that somebody would hand you a controller so that you can have a turn.

Director: Mike Newell
Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhall, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell

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