Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Disney // PG-13 // May 28, 2010
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 26, 2010
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Though I've played "Prince of Persia" in a few of its many incarnations, I wouldn't consider myself a fan of the series. I definitely can appreciate its qualities as an above-average game-playing experience, but I don't think I ever thought, "Boy, instead of taking part in these adventures, I'd rather watch them unfold on a screen in front of me as I sit back and wonder why a story set in Persia sounds far more British than Middle Eastern." But apparently someone thought that way, because now we have a big-screen adaptation of Jordan Mechner's well-regarded video-game franchise. Fortunately, you needn't know a bit about the games, as most of that's been thrown out the window anyway.

Only a small vestige of the overall story remains as our hero the Prince, here named Dastan (and portrayed by a buff, long-haired Jake Gyllenhaal), with the companionship of a beautiful Princess (Gemma Arterton) attempts to stop the villain (eternal baddie Ben Kingsley) from taking over the world via the Dagger of Time, an enchanted blade that can reverse time. Woven into all of this is a trio of royal brothers, an orphaned street urchin, a traitor, a rag-tag band of thugs, an army of assassins, more freerunning than you could yell "Parkour!" at, and a bellyful of laughs. If the idea of taking a relatively simple genre concept from an interactive pastime and stuffing it full of various odds-and-ends sounds familiar, it should, because Prince of Persia shares much in common with Pirates of the Carribean, a fellow production by Jerry Bruckheimer. If only the end result was nearly as entertaining as Pirates.

Part of the problem is the story itself, a melding of five writers' work, including Mechner himself, which features quite a few questionable plot points that accept convenience over logic. The action moves in fits and starts, swapping large set pieces for intimate moments or romantic-comedy-style squabbles, before moving on to comic relief (often provided by Alfred Molina and his gang of ne're do wells, who would fit well in a Monty Python film), but the connective tissue to keep things flowing is missing. In comparing it to video games, you get load screens between levels that break things up in a natural way for the medium. There are no load screens in movies, and that makes for awkward transitions. It got to the point where the tone of scenes got confusing because of it, and a moment that I am somewhat certain was intended to be either heroic and/or meaningful was met with hearty laughs.

The laughs, of which there are many, including one toward the end that got a far better reaction than might have been expected, are far too frequent for a movie that seems to want to be an action film (rather than the action-comedy that Indiana Jones perfected.) At least, you'd think so, with such a massive body count, frenetic chase scenes and some of the baddest bad-guys seen in theaters recently. Like the story, the action is uneven, and might have worked better if director Mike Newell, who with the exception of Harry Potter makes mostly small comedies and dramas, hadn't succumbed to Gladiator/Transformer syndrome, where the camera gets so close to the action that you have no idea what's actually happening. Unfortunately, when he does pull back, in a spectacular scene of landslides and destruction, the scene is dominated by CGI and devolves into chaos.

What does work in the film are Arterton, who provides some gorgeous eye candy, the Dagger of Time effect (at least the first few times), one surround-sound effect that stands among the best I've ever heard, and the beautiful vistas of sand and cities (though one sweeping view of a city from behind Dastan looks lifted directly from the game Assassin's Creed II.) The rest could possibly work well in films where their appearances make sense, rather than this hodge-podge of genres.



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