The UnPopular Opinion: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
There are two types of video game adaptations out there: the failures and the hits. To date, we have primarily had failures as adapting console and arcade games has proven difficult for some reason. Whether it be SUPER MARIO BROS, RESIDENT EVIL, MORTAL KOMBAT, or the countless others made over the last thirty years, they all seem to be unable to straddle the line between cheese and quality entertainment. While movies like MORTAL KOMBAT and RESIDENT EVIL gain a cult following, there is no doubt that their middling budgets betray the scope needed to make them truly great. With Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy attached to adaptations of ASSASSIN'S CREED and SPLINTER CELL respectively, the time may soon be at hand for the great video game movie.
But, venturing back a few years to 2010, there was a big budget video game adaptation from Jerry Bruckheimer and the folks at Disney that became the highest grossing film based on a console game and it never wanted to be a great movie, just a damn fun one. Mike Newell's PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME follows the same formula as Gore Verbinski's successful PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise and gives us a fun roller coaster ride of a movie. From impressive special effects to sexy movie stars, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is a grossly overlooked popcorn movie that is a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Jake and Gemma, horsing around.
Movies like PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME can often be overlooked because of the caliber of the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself a high caliber actor as have Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley. But, as both Kingsley and Molina have proven, they are not above having fun on screen. I mean, we are talking about Doctor Octopus and The Mandarin. Gyllenhaal, with his turns in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, DONNIE DARKO, and this year's PRISONERS, has never been an action star. While rumored as a replacement for Tobey Maguire in SPIDER-MAN 2, he has never been the matinee idol type actor. His British accent and bared chest in PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME may have caught some off guard, but he takes to the role and delivers.
Before we get too far into this, let me say that PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is dumb. I don't mean STREET FIGHTER levels of dumb, but it is in the same wheelhouse as Stephen Sommers' THE MUMMY or Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS. You are never supposed to walk out of PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME thinking that you just saw the revolution in action cinema. Mike Newell, using some tricks picked up directing HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, delivers the beats needed for this time of movie while also incorporating a tricky time travel plot device that would have sunk a lesser movie.
The scene where Nizam reveals that he is really just a hired actor is a bold and unexpected move.
The time travel element of PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is also what elevates the movie above the other video game adaptations out there. Films based on games have struggled to incorporate what made the source material so good since interactive games tend to not translate to the narrative nature of a film on a screen. But, the dagger and the Sandglass at the center of the struggle between Gyllenhaal's Prince Dastan and Kingsley's Nizam is both a cool visual trick and an innovative way to draw the viewer into the movie. Video games have become such cinematic experiences themselves that it may almost seem pointless to adapt them, but PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME effectively honors the source game while being an experience all it's own. Even Dastan's parkour-like way of traversing the cityscapes in the game and previous versions going all the way back to the 1989 original.
But, while PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME honors the video game that inspired it, the movie makes sure to not venture too far away from the formula that makes action movies work. Like I said at the outset, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN serves as the template for this movie as well. What Gore Verbinski achieved with that Johnny Depp adventure flick was to balance humor with a dark plot without taking it too far away from a teen-safe format. Newell embraces the Bruckheimer-ness needed to make the movie work but never strays over the line. Gemma Arterton's Princess Tamina is a sexy cliche right out of the Keira Knightley playbook while Gyllenhall's Dastan is equal parts Jack Sparrow and Will Turner. Gyllenhaal may not have the same swagger as Johnny Depp's iconic pirate but he says the goofy dialogue with aplomb and a big ass smile on his face. Everyone here knows exactly what movie they are in and are loving every minute of it.
Not the face I would make if I was walking behind that outfit, but that is just me.
While I enjoyed the pulp fiction that made JOHN CARTER work, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME would never display itself as even in the same ballpark as STAR WARS or AVATAR. JOHN CARTER took it's source material as an important artifact in literary history. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME knows it is based on a video game and sets out to make a great video game movie. It succeeds. Jerry Bruckheimer's sensibility as a producer mixed with Mike Newell's balance of character based directing style gives us a movie with everything larger than life, from bad guys to good, men and women, and even the set-pieces.
Ben Kingsley wears guyliner, Jake Gyllenhaal shows off his body, Gemma Arterton shows off hers, and Alfred Molina plays the best kind of crazy person. None of this is anything we haven't seen before and yet the familiarity of it all means you can jump right into the movie without skipping a beat. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is the rare example of a movie that exists within the confines of genre and should be enjoyed for what it is. Critics be damned, check out the movie and I bet you will have a lot of fun.