Truth and Movies

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Review by Matt Bochenski @MattLWLies

Directed by

Mike Newell

Starring

Ben Kingsley Gemma Arterton Jake Gyllenhaal

Anticipation.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is the king of the blockbuster. Can he get the summer off to a good start?

Enjoyment.

This is more Cutthroat Island than Pirates of the Caribbean.

In Retrospect.

Yet another example of the criminal recidivism of the American blockbuster. When will they learn? When will we?

The problem in this empty cinema of spectacle is that there are hardly any arresting images or memorable moments.

This is an exciting time for video games. As they grow into their role as a globally relevant cultural powerhouse, their influence is beginning to extend in all directions. The likes of Neill Blomkamp, Matthew Vaughn and Edgar Wright are harbingers of a new and distinct video game aesthetic at work in the film industry, as the first generation of console kids begins to find its voice. Meanwhile, games developers absorb the lessons of narrative and character learned at the feet of filmmakers.

None of which is evident in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an old-fashioned adaptation of the action-adventure game that fails to capture either the dramatic excitement of cinema or the visceral fun of gaming.

Buffed up beefcake Jake Gyllenhaal plays the eponymous Prince, a former street rat taken in by the royal family. Grown into manhood, Dastan may be an uncouth brawler but his no-nonsense manner and keen mind has also seen him become the King’s favourite. Dastan’s relationship with his half-brothers (played by Toby Kebbel and Richard Coyle) is sincerely felt, but the family dynamic is destroyed when Dastan is framed for his father’s murder.

Forced on the run with a spoiled princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the guardian of a sacred dagger, Dastan is pitched into a world of vast supernatural forces and given the power to control time itself. The pair must return to Tamina’s holy city and stop the real murderer from destroying the world.

The problems with Prince of Persia come thick and fast. Anybody who has seen The Lion King or Aladdin will instantly recognise the real culprit when introduced to Ben Kingsley’s uncle Nizam, and will spend the rest of the film wondering why the supposedly smart Dastan takes so long to figure it out.

As expected in this kind of blockbuster, the characters are thinly drawn and reductively anachronistic, designed to appeal to American teenagers and thus sure to irritate everybody else with their arrogant wisecracking and smug banter. In this respect, the film is far closer in attitude to Sands of Time sequel The Warrior Within, which redesigned the character to make him less like an agile Arab ninja, and more like a spoiled Western brat.

But the real problem in this empty cinema of spectacle is that there are hardly any arresting images or memorable moments. The time-bending special effects are second rate, and despite a few nods to gamers, the parkour-heavy action sequences offer little in the way of innovation, before devolving into an all-CG showdown that might have been fun if it came with a controller and the option to decide the outcome for yourself. Alas, convergence hasn’t quite got that far yet.

Jake Gyllenhaal does everything asked of him in a physically demanding role, but he simply doesn’t have the material to work with to create a lasting impression – Dastan is no Jack Sparrow.

Elsewhere, Alfred Molina is lumbered with a faintly racist stereotype as an untrustworthy Arab businessman, there to distract parents with jokes about tax dodging. Gemma Arterton is made to look rather plain in a series of ungainly close-ups. And Ben Kingsley follows the Anthony Hopkins route of giving the same line-reading in every film no matter what the script calls for.

Perhaps most disappointing is that Mike Newell previously directed the best of the Harry Potter movies – the one with the cleanest narrative and clearest sense of the demands of cinematic storytelling. But he’s dropped a giant dud here. Four credited scriptwriters speaks to the problems inherent in a project of this size – Newell has simply found himself outmatched by material that lacks a coherent vision or spark of inspiration.

No doubt children will enjoy it. It’s loud, brash, relatively fleet of foot and light on romance. But it sets the bar desperately low for the summer blockbusters to follow. It isn’t good enough. We need to demand more.

Published 28 May 2010

Tags: Ben Kingsley Gemma Arterton Jake Gyllenhaal

Anticipation.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is the king of the blockbuster. Can he get the summer off to a good start?

Enjoyment.

This is more Cutthroat Island than Pirates of the Caribbean.

In Retrospect.

Yet another example of the criminal recidivism of the American blockbuster. When will they learn? When will we?

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