Monday, May 31, 2010

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time **
Directed by:
Mike Newell.
Written By: Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard based on the video game by Jordan Mechner.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Dastan), Gemma Arterton (Tamina), Ben Kingsley (Nizam), Alfred Molina (Sheik Amar), Steve Toussaint (Seso), Toby Kebbell (Garsiv), Richard Coyle (Tus), Ronald Pickup (King Sharaman), Reece Ritchie (Bis), Gísli Örn Garðarsson (Hassansin Leader).

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a movie that is impossible to take seriously on any level. I suspect the filmmakers understand that, and decided to simply try and make an entertaining thrill ride of a movie for two hours. Yet, the movie cannot sustain that. The characters are all cardboard cutouts completely defined by their roles. When movies like this work, like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Pirates of the Caribbean, they do so because the action is good, the special effects great, and we care about the characters. All that is really missing from this movie is that third one.

The Persian empire pretty much controls the world. Ruled by a benevolent king (Ronald Pickup), they have power, but do not really feel the need to exercise it because they do not have to. The King has two sons, and has adopted a third when he sees a young boy at the market display incredible bravery. 15 years later, the King is growing old, and looking to pass on his empire to the oldest son Tus (Richard Coyle). Everyone has adopted Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the adopted son, as part of the family. Everyone except the King are returning from one battle when they receive intelligence that the city of Alamut is supplying weapons to the enemy. The decision falls upon Tus as to whether they should invade. Dastan argues against it, but their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) convinces Tus to invade. They do, and although Dastan was against it, he becomes the battle’s hero. When the King arrives, her is furious, but tries to make the best of the situation. That is until he is murdered, and Dastan is blamed. Dastan goes on the run with the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) of Alamut, who is interested in a dagger that Dastan has won in the battle. She explains its magical powers, and they two form an uneasy partnership so that Dastan can clear his name, and Tamina can regain her Kingdom and people.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a talented actor, but an action hero he isn’t. He is even less convincing as a Persian. Someone needs to tell Hollywood that making white actors get a tan and covering them in oil doesn’t make them look Arab. And why everyone is speaking with a British accent, I don’t have the slightest clue. Having said that, Gyllenhaal does what he can in a bad situation – which isn’t much. He tries to be clever and funny, but he is let down by the screenplay which doesn’t give him anything interesting to say. For the second time this year (following Clash of the Titans), Gemma Arterton looks gorgeous in her period dress, and is given nothing to really do except look gorgeous. She does that well, but if she has any acting talent, I have yet to see it. Ben Kingsley is given a thankless role as the bad guy – and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that as he lurks in to the background shadows so much in this movie that you know he’s up to no good well before it actually becomes clear. The only one in the movie who is really good is Alfred Molina, as a lowlife criminal. He seems to understand the ridiculousness of the plot, and simply dives in headlong, and ends up stealing every scene he is in. I particularly love the pride he shows in his ostriches, and the pain he feels when he only has one left. Had everyone followed his lead, the movie may have been more entertaining.

As gamers know, Prince of Persia is based on a popular video game series. I have never played the game – most of my gaming these days is playing hockey games – but I have no doubt that as a video game, this probably worked fine. You don’t need stories that make sense, or characters to care about, in a video game. The main purpose is to hack and slash your way through hundreds of enemies. That would probably be entertaining to play – but to watch, it becomes a little dull after a while.

Director Mike Newell started off with character based movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco before getting into these special effects laden action films. He made what is probably the best Harry Potter movie – the fourth one The Goblet of Fire. In Prince of Persia he handles the action and the special effects well, but he is undone by the screenplay. When the characters are not the least bit interesting, all the special effects in the world cannot make a movie entertaining.

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