(Long Island, N.Y.) Hmm…another video-game movie, and one based on a game that I’ve actually played and enjoyed! Prince of Persia is an ongoing gaming franchise started way back in 1989 that chronicles the adventures of a Persian Prince as he negotiates obstacles with his
agility and enemies with his sword. It started out as a two-dimensional side-scrolling series and, as technology advanced, eventually evolved into 3D, with elements of the French physical art Parkour incorporated into its game-play to take advantage of the expanded perspective three dimensions could provide.
Prince of Persia’s Arabian theme, unique puzzle-like level design, and likeable, charming protagonist helped the games stand out from the generic franchises crowding the shelves at Gamestop and gave the series
a rather sizable following. And of course, if something has a big following, eventually someone will make a movie based on it. Disney has done as such and the result is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. But the question remains: is it any good?
The plot of the film draws heavily from the 2003 entry in the videogame series, The Sands of Time (in fact, it even shares the same subtitle). It involves a young man named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is adopted by the King of Persia for being brave…or something. Dastan grows up into a mighty warrior hero, leading the King’s forces into successful battles, but this status does little for his esteemed reputation when he is framed for his father’s sudden assassination. Dastan goes on the lam with a beautiful princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton), and together the two try to stop the evil machinations of the real culprit behind the King’s death- a nobleman named Nizam (Ben Kingsley), who possesses a powerful weapon called the “Dagger of Time.” This dagger, whose hilt contains the magical “Sands of Time,” has the ability to rewind time for short periods so that its wielder can change the past. In the video-game you could use this novel ability to dodge attacks or recover from a mistaken plunge into a
bottomless pit or a bed of spikes, but in the hands of Nizam the Dagger of Time’s powers can also be used for more sinister, destructive purposes as well. Dastan must clear his name and stop Nizam before he uses the Dagger of Time to…I don’t know, maybe play the stock market or something. That’s what I’d do with it.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a solid but not mind-blowing entry into the summer action/adventure movie market. It actually reminds me a lot of the recent ho-hum Clash of The Titans remake (co-star Gemma Arterton was in that one, too), although PoP does have a wee bit more charisma than the completely wooden, soulless characters that populated CotT. But still, Prince of Persia is yet another example of a movie that tries to win you over you with over-the-top stunts and excessive computer graphics (which, considering the film’s insane 200 million budget, aren’t nearly as impressive as they
should be) instead of well-rounded and developed personalities for its leads. Hollywood keeps forgetting that, in the race to create the next biggest and best CG effect, it’s the characters the people walking out of the theater take home with them, not all the stuff that explodes or shoots missiles. Don’t get me wrong- there’s some witty banter between Dastan and Tamina going on here and there to try and round out their relationship and establish who/what they are, but it’s rather sparse. But hey, it’s something, at least.
As far as the actors go, Prince of Persia is getting some flack for the all-too-common
Hollywood practice of “White Washing” its films. That is, movie studios don’t think America wants to see anything other than buff white dudes in leading roles. Now, Jake Gyllenhaal is many things- a talented actor, being one of them- but he is in no way, shape or
form Persian. Not even close…and, come to think of it, neither is Gemma Arterton. Or Ben Kingsley. And while we’re on the subject of White Washing, even the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan-directed “The Last Airbender,” based on a hit Japanese Anime series about a boy with elemental powers, has cast a white kid when it should be an Asian. Another example is the 2008 film “21,”
which was based on the real-life story of Asian American card players but cast with mostly whites instead. Is ethnic diversity in leading roles such a bad thing? This is an unfortunate practice that Hollywood needs to start addressing seriously, but you know them…they probably never will.
But, mis-casting aside, the acting when judged on its own is decent, although much of the cast seem to be phoning in their roles. I mean, no one really seems to be taking things seriously or really trying to immerse themselves into their characters. Could it be because of the stigma associated with this being a video-game movie? Who knows? Also, I’m getting a bit
tired of period movies like this that are littered with modern English lingo and phrases. I’m not saying Prince of Persia should have been in Arabic with subtitles, but at least make some effort to talk sort of like you’re in the time period you’re supposed to be in, okay (or, at least, how we’d expect them to sound)? However, now that those gripes are out of the way, I should point out that Gyllenhaal and Arterton do get on well together and Kingsley is a solid bad guy.
The action scenes are well-shot and well-choreographed, and the Parkour-inspired play-style of the video-game is translated well into the live-action stunts. The film is rather fast-paced and contains some impressive sword fights, and the story that drives the plot, while not amazing or anything, is…well, okay, it’s a bore, but it does keep things moving, and that’s all we can ask out of a 200 million dollar movie. After all, only pennies of that sum went to fashioning a compelling script.
Overall, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fairly good yet extremely generic action flick, but not a bad way to spend $10 or so. So, if you’re looking for a new movie to watch this weekend and are finding yourself having to choose between Prince of Persia and the instant death that is Sex And The City 2, I think the choice is clear. Unless you like the unending pain of four over-the-hill women desperately trying to prove that they’re still “sexy,” that is.