People about to watch Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will have two reasons to walk into the theatre with trepidation. Some may ask why the titular Prince doesn’t look very Persian; those who have played the Prince of Persia video games will wonder whether this is another disastrous game-to-film adaptation that will discredit both media forms. These worries can mostly be put to rest. Whatever keeps the film, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pushing Tin) from being a masterpiece has very little to do with its video game origins.
The Sands of Time’s plot keeps a surprising amount of the eponymous 2003 game’s plot. Credit for that can probably go to Jordan Mechner, who created the first Prince of Persia game back in 1989 and penned the original screenplay for the film. Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a pauper boy in the opening scene, whose acts of mercy and ridiculous parkour impress the king enough to adopt him. Fast-forward some years, and Dastan, along with his brothers (also princes), assault and capture the city Alamut. Earlier they found evidence that it was selling weapons to an enemy power. It just happens that Dastan has found the Dagger of Time amongst Alamut’s spoils: a gaudy blade that carries a small amount of the Sands of Time in its hilt. Pressing the ruby “button” on the handle releases the sands, rewinding time for a few precious seconds.
Later we realize that the evidence (a crate full of swords) was planted by the king’s brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley), as part of a plan to wrest control of the Persian Empire from King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) and his nephews. Kingsley mostly mails in a performance that relies more on his eye shadow than convincing delivery of lines to get across how evil he is. Rolling with the typical Hamlet betrayal set-up, he frames Dastan for patricide-regicide. Nizam needs the Dagger to pull off a convoluted time-travel plot to gain control of the throne. Thankfully all the wafer-thin plot devices are used more to press the action scenes along than be anything didactic, as the Prince escapes in order to take the scenic vacation-with-all-the-king’s-men-after-him necessary for such a summer action film.
Gemma Arterton plays the pretty but wooden Princess Tamina of Alamut. As the guardian of the Dagger of Time, she’s clearly none too pleased with her home’s usurpers. She becomes equally annoyed as Dastan’s companion and foil for most of their adventures amongst the breathtaking Moroccan backdrop chosen the portray Persia. Unfortunately, the catty banter between the two fails to approach the chemistry that Princess Farah and Yuri Lowenthal’s Prince had back in the Sands of Time video game. Alfred Molina stands out as a foolish merchant and underground ostrich race dealer, putting most other performances to shame with pomp not unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean series.
The most ridiculous parts of the film actually surpass most everything you’ll find in the PoP video games. The worst offenders are the “Hassassins,” knock-offs of the black riders from The Lord of the Rings armed with such ludicrous tools as wrist gauntlets that fire crossbow bolts. One goon wields spear-tipped whips that (I can only assume) reference The Dark Prince from 2005’s PoP: The Two Thrones game. Without the context, though, they’re over-the-top and completely out of place.
The multiple action scenes and chases are loud and typical Bruckheimer fare, though credit has to be given to portraying Dastan as the acrobatic rogue, leaping from rooftop to rooftop to the frustration of his pursuers. The Dagger’s time-rewind ability makes death less momentous than in other scenarios, but at the same time it makes some characters less reluctant in the face of their demises—a fascinating trade-off. All of the rooftop running, ostrich races and opulent settings come together as a serviceable summer action flick, occasionally sacrificing characterization and pacing to squeeze in another noisy set-piece
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