Review: Prince of Persia-The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time | Mike Newell, 2010

It seems that videogames and movies were two mediums that weren’t made to work with each other. Movie-based videogames tend to be lacking, although there have been some exceptions. The same cannot be said for videogame-based movies. Every one of these movies, from Mario Bros. and Tomb Raider to Resident Evil and the many Uwe Boll directed movies have been met with disdain by critics and the fans of the games (not so much by audiences, which is why there have been four Residen Evil movies).

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was supposed to be different. It was based on a videogame with a very cinematic story and it had been pitched by the creator of the game, it had mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney, the people who managed to make a franchise out of a theme park ride, behind it, and respected filmmaker Mike Newell at the helm. So, it was going to be a production of a videogame movie unlike any that had been seen before. But then the casting was announced, footage was seen, and doubts arose. In the end, it turned out to indeed be the best videogame movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s not quite the great movie that people expected when it was announced.

The movie follows Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal, some stuntmen, and a ton of CGI), an orphan who was adopted by the king of Persia when he was a young boy. The movie opens with him and his brothers attacking a holy city because they were supposedly providing weapons to their enemies. So, with the help of Dastan, they break through the city. During the attack, Dastan kills a man who was carrying a pretty dagger. Later, when they are interviewing the princess of the city Tamina (Gemma Arterton), she sees that Dastan has the dagger, and takes an interest in him. Later, the king is murdered, and Dastan is framed, so he must now prove his innocence. He later discovers that the dagger actually makes time turn back, and sees that as his ticket to prove his innocence, but there are greater forces at work. First off, there were no weapons and his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), is the man behind it all, as he only wants the precious minerals that lie beneath the city (real subtle, folks) to use the dagger to turn back time so he can become king, because, well, the brothers of the king always have issues.

If you read the synopsis that I just gave you and think that I skipped a lot of detail, I really didn’t. When watching the movie, one moment you are in a place during the day, and then you have an action scene, then one more day has gone by, and it feels like it didn’t. The character look the same although they have been traveling through the dessert, Gyllenhaal always has a perfect beard, Arterton never messes up her hair and has perfect make-up, etc. It’s these details, the poor and predictable way that the story was written, and the shallow characters that make the movie nearly fail completely, only because it tends to be distracting.

Among the most distracting things are actually the performances. Gyllenhaal was miscast. He does a horrible English accent (in a movie like this, there is no point for any of the actors to have a certain accent), and simply does not look like an action star with a ridiculous hairstyle. Kingsley is over-the-top, not in a good way. The best in show were Alfred Molina as a purposely over-the-top character who suddenly shows up to say he hates taxes and to be used as a distraction later, and Gemma Arterton, who actually puts some effort into her work. But yeah, don’t watch this movie if you want a performance-driven film

It would be easy to blame Newell for this, but the truth is that he delivered what he was supposed to: a piece of well crafted summer popcorn film. He knew that people wanted a CGI-filled movie with some good action, and is what he did. Also, he filled his production team with some of the best people in their fields, and it shows. The editing is actually kind of amazing, the costumes and the sets are gorgeous, the score fits perfectly, and the visual effects, while sometimes clunky, are very good.

So, I had fun with Prince of Persia. It’s not a great movie, and it’s not going to usher a new wave of acclaimed videogame movies, but it was a nice way to kill a Sunday afternoon.

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