Reviewed by Marc Glassman
The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Mike Newell, director
Jose Alberto Villa Garcia, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, script
Jerry Bruckheimer, producer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince Dastan), Gemma Arterton (Princess Tamina), Ben Kingsley (Nizam), Alfred Molina (Sheik Amar)
Do you remember when films were based on books by major writers like Hemingway or Tolstoy or great genre specialists like Raymond Chandler or Philip K. Dick? That was so 20th century. Now, movies are based on video games (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Pokemon) and amusement park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean). Blame it all on the emergence of CGI: now f/x don’t make random exciting appearances in films: they are the films.
Talk to a guy in his early twenties about Prince of Persia and you’ll see a wistful look in his eyes. A huge hit in the past decade, the video game went through many iterations, gradually becoming quite sophisticated with relatively complex storylines.
It was the premise that seems to have endeared Prince of Persia to millions raised on Aladdin and The Lion King. Place a tale filled with action and romance in the mysterious East. Add a hero, a heroine, several villains and many opportunities for adventure. Stir in the cool looking f/x. Make everything vaguely exotic and mystical. Try and get your teenaged boy down for dinner two hours later.
So The Prince of Persia comes armed with its own cred. Lighten up, dude. Not everything is The Brothers Karamazov. Jake Gyllenhaal, who seems to have lightened up a bit himself, plays Dastan, the titular prince. A street urchin like Aladdin, he has been adopted by the royal family because he’s a “natural aristocrat” and adventurer. (Try writing that on your next job application.)
It’s the Sixth Century, a time before those darned Muslims messed things up by making the Middle East monotheistic and pious. Dastan and his brothers Tus and Garsiv attack the sacred city of Alamut because their uncle Nazim claims that they’re hiding weapons that could threaten their empire. Cue major battle scene. The losing Princess Tamina insists that there are no weapons—and reacts angrily to the suggestion that she marry Tus in order to bring peace between the royal Empire and Alamut.
Hmm…are you thinking about the Weapons of Mass Destruction, the ones Bush’s soldiers couldn’t find in Iraq? Even Disney can be kinda political in 2010.
Before you can shout “glaring plot device,” the King is dead and Dastan is (incorrectly, natch) accused of killing him. Immediately, he’s off and running, with Princess Tamina by his side.
From that point on, the film falls into the familiar Disney (and video game) pattern. Put a handsome hero and gorgeous heroine together with a common problem to conquer and allow them time to spar as if they’re in a rom-com. Punctuate every potentially romantic scene with a violent outburst from a series of oily villains. (That plot point is from the 19th century of course). Add a magical element: a dagger that can turn back “the sands of time.”
The Prince of Persia only takes time off from its narrative formula for a nice digression with Alfred Molina as a scoundrel named Sheik Amar. A funny, talkative hedonist, the Sheik takes our hero and heroine to an ostrich race (the film’s best scene) and fights on their side during a perilous showdown in the mountains.
The Prince of Persia does move to a fantastic conclusion that will satisfy a huge audience. Sir Ben Kingsley is fine as the villainous Nazim and Gemma Arterton seems to have won male hearts at the screening I attended.
Will the film be a big hit? How do you spell “awesome summer blockbuster?”