Silver Screen Reflections – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all movies based on video-games are crap. With that in mind let’s look at Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which is based on a…video-game…oh well never mind.

Prince of Persia (I’m not repeating that name all the time) tells the story of  Dastan, an orphan from the slums of an ancient Persian city that is adopted by the king and made a prince. But that’s only the start of the story for this movie focuses on his adventures once he becomes a man and ventures into the world. Accompanying his brothers on a journey of conquest the Persian princes attack and conquer the holy city of Alamut, in the false belief that the citizens within are manufacturing weapons for their enemies (see the parallel to any recent conflict yet?). Instead the city holds a greater power, a mythical danger within whose hilt lies sands with the power to reverse time itself. It is this dagger that Dastan, and his new companion Princess Tamina, must run and fight for in order to  save the world from those who would use its power for foul means.

Straight off the bat plaudits go to Jake Gyllenhaal, for who big budget action is a new string to the bow. And he’s really rather good at. Equally at home in the thick of the action or in the more “serious” sequences in between, he’s performance is calm and collected with more than a hint of Han Solo about it. It’s that brash, self-confidence that makes his Dastan so engaging and the whole movie benefits, and revolves around it. The only other actor to come close is Alfred Molina as an impish, affable, snake-oil seller with a penchant for ostrich racing. He adds a welcome touch of comic relief and an enigmatic screen presence. Coming off less well is Ben Kingsley, whose evil uncle Nazim is a caricature of all scheming, devious bad-guys for movies of old. Kingsley portrays the cunning well but there’s just no depth or sense of why he’s doing what he is. Gemma Arterton adds glamour, but as in Clash of the Titans there’s not a lot going on behind the pretty face. She has a sass and spunkiness that’s appealing but you’re as liable to want to hit her as kiss her. Everybody else is just along for the ride. This really is a one man show.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell is a very safe pair of hands for Disney who I’m sure would love to see this become a Pirates type franchise. The direction is steady, the camera-work spot on and the visuals suitably old-fashioned. Honestly though this is one of those movies that could have actually benefited from 3D (Avatar 3D, not that Clash of the Titans muck), as the action sequences would suit the extra dimension. Speaking of the action scenes this is as close as any movie has come to emulating a video-game, with chunks lifted straight from the game and expanded for the big-screen. It is in these sequences that the movie finds a real heart and impetus, proving that maybe just maybe this game adaptation thing might just work. unfortunately there’s simply not enough use of the time-travel possibilities of the dagger, being limited as it is to three brief sequences and one longer scene. The story too lets the side down though as the Iraq war analogy is unnecessary and the dialogue is trite of the highest order. The effects largely offset this, particularly the cityscapes which are gorgeous works of CGI. The production design and costumes are of the highest calibre too. The Harry Gregson-Williams’ score keeps the pace nicely and never distracts the viewer from the action on screen, although there is a dreadful Alanis Morisette song over the closing titles.

The thing about this movie is how much like other movies it is, but not necessarily in a bad way. There’s a moment near the start, when a young Dastan is fleeing for his life from the King’s forces across roofs and through the market, that is literally only a “street-rat” away from being a live action Aladdin. The later parkour rooftop dashes are reminiscent of Jason Bourne, and even a hallway scene that’s almost a historical Matrix, with bullet-time being backdated to flying-knife-time. The influences are all here, most particularly that other big Jerry Bruckheimer adventure Pirates of the Caribbean. Oh there is a magnitude of flaws, ranging from the narrated opening with the hideously clichéd destiny speech, that awful WMD/invasion of Iraq analogy, right through to the climatic battle which features a destructive sand/building slide that is so completely stupid and ridiculous looking as to border on parody. The thing is, none of this take from the overall enjoyment of the film. Even if the running time is a tad long, and the characters are drawn with a roller, there’s enough here to leave you smiling and that captures the very essence of what a summer adventure film should be.

In short, go, relax, enjoy and don’t over think it.