Mike Newell's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
"Prince of Persia" is the latest video game to get adapted into a motion picture. I learn from the always-resourceful Wikipedia that the video game series started back in 1989 and has had more than a dozen games. I have never played a single entry in the series, but that shouldn't stop me from enjoying the film, right? A good video game adaptation should be able to stand on its own without knowledge of the workings of the game or its story.
The film's story involves the king of the Persian empire, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who has two sons, Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle). One day, the king is in the marketplace and sees a young orphan named Dastan nearly get run over by a guard's horse. The guard chases after the boy, who jumps across rooftops in a valiant effort to escape. However, the guard catches him and is about to execute him when the king makes him stop. The king has been intrigued by the boy and adopts him into his family as his son.
Years later, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) has grown up and become a warrior alongside his brothers. The king's brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), claims that a caravan was seized containing weapons for Persia's enemies while it was leaving a holy city. Against the king's orders, they attack the city and take it over. As a present, Dastan gives the king a robe, given to him by one of his brothers. This robe turns out to be quite hazardous to the king's health. Having been framed for murder, Dastan must flee along with the city's princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton), taking with them a magical dagger that has the power to turn back time.
The thing that most people will remember after watching this film is seeing Gyllenhaal running all over the place, for it feels as though a good majority of the movie is made up of those scenes, and strangely enough, that was the extent of my knowledge of the games. Aside from getting to watch Gyllenhaal run, jump, and fly through the air, there are numerous other action sequences that take up another good quarter of the film.
Most of these are entertaining enough, but after awhile, the action begins to wear thin and you begin to wonder where the story is. There are times when the film seems to take a break from its hyper-kinetic action sequences to sit down and expand a little on the story. This is something it does in little pieces at a time.
Dastan learns more about the dagger as he travels around with Tamina. She explains to him that the holy city is actually the keeper of the dagger that is able to turn back time an entire minute using the "Sands of Time." After a failed meeting with Nizam, Dastan discovers that he's the real villain, but the odd part is, he simply assumes what Nizam's plan is. This plan makes sense, but is never confirmed or denied. Lucky for him, his assumptions are correct.
Near the end, there are some larger action sequences involving a lot more CGI. By this point though, you'll probably be awaiting the inevitable final battle that must take place. The numerous battles before this have to be capped off with that one last clash of swords. This last showdown does turn out to be rather short. Better that, I suppose, than to drag it out like many of the others.
The performances here aren't particularly deep, but the characters themselves aren't really developed that much. We know pretty much all we need to know about them in a few words. Gyllenhaal, when not running about, mutters a few lines of profound-sounding dialogue about how he must save the world. Kingsley simply gets mad when he has to, but ends up keeping quiet for most of the film.
The best performance of the lot comes from Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar, a "businessman" that our heroes meet in the desert who runs a racetrack where ostriches are raced. Molina puts the most effort into his performance and gives it a lot of energy, something that is missing from all the other performances in the film.
"Prince of Persia" certainly has some entertainment value but it suffers in the story department because it continually tries to fill the film with too much action. Whether or not it's a fair adaptation of the game, I can't tell you, but as a standalone movie, it seems as though the filmmakers were more concerned with special effects rather than with telling an engaging story. 2.5/4 stars.
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