3 June 2010

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
2010, 116mins, 12
Director: Mike Newell
Writer (s): Doug Miro, Boaz Yakin, Carlo Bernard, Jordan Mechner
Cast includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Ronald Pickup, Richard Coyle
UK Release Date: 21st May 2010

Based on a 2003 videogame of the same name, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is another attempt from producer Jerry Bruckheimer to capture “Pirates of the Caribbean” style magic in a bottle. However in comparison to the first entry in that seafaring saga, “Sands of Time” feels like a decidedly less impressive summer gamble. The director and cast seem like stable hands within which to place a prospective franchise, but the screenplay here is too thin and overdrawn to allow the film any true semblance of success. Adding to the adaptation’s woes are its hollow CGI filled set pieces, rendering the picture nothing but a mega budgeted videogame in its own right; albeit this time the viewer can’t hold a controller. Obviously this isn’t a desirable tone for a filmic experience to be radiating.

After becoming a hero during a raid on a neighbouring city, Prince Dastan (an affable Jake Gyllenhaal) comes into possession of a mystical dagger that allows the bearer to move a few moments backward in time. However upon returning home to Persia, Dastan is framed for the murder of his regal father (Ronald Pickup), and is forced to flee Persia with the dagger’s guardian Princess Tamina (a stunningly beautiful Gemma Arterton)in tow. The pair finds themselves pursued across the desert landscapes by a selection of expertly trained Persian assassins, all the while trying to find a method of keeping the dagger safe and clearing Dastan’s tarnished name.

“Sands of Time” looks adequately epic, director Mike Newell having put his extensive $200 million budget to good use from a cinematographer’s perspective. The movie has a rich and sundrenched glow, which coupled with the authentic set design and detailed shot construction at least allow the experience to work on a visual level. Technically this is a triumphant motion picture, the digital effects are believable (if rarely welcome) and some of the acrobatic action is commendably athletic and fairly impressive. Most of the stunt work in “Sands of Time” is top tier stuff, ranking up there with recent gems like the exuberant free-running found in 2006’s “Casino Royale”. However these moments of leaping and bounding soon become overshadowed by excessive CGI and uninspired spectacle, Newell becoming infatuated with his digital toys and newfound capacity to let the game’s overbearing imagery run amok.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a fine choice as a blockbusting action hero. The actor buffs up and brings respectable charisma to the floor, firing up a sparkling chemistry with the luscious Gemma Arterton in the process. Much like she did in “Clash of the Titans” Arterton has to sell chunks of heavy-handed exposition, but here she’s also free to explore her strong willed heroine arc a little more thoroughly. Alfred Molina also pops up in a role designed purely for comic relief and the advertisement of Ostriches, proving that the problems which plague “Sands of Time” aren’t down to casting. The only real disappointment is Ben Kingsley, the British veteran putting in a flavourless shift as a potential villain.

Most of the action feels insultingly like watching somebody else play a computer game. Leaving the physical work aside; “Sands of Time” struggles to make its mark as a fluidly exciting popcorn film. The movie becomes obsessed with moments of dull CGI overuse, and most of the combat sequences are generically staged and frantically over directed. The cuts are irritatingly rapid and the camera itself is rarely static, it’s not quite Michael Bay levels of hyperkinetic chaos; but “Sands of Time” isn’t far off. The film only slows down to display large swathes of exotic landscape or occasional sneaky shots of Arterton’s cleavage; otherwise it’s just too manic for its own good. Most tellingly of all though, the set pieces are intensely forgettable and lack the creativity or dynamism that all the best blockbusters offer.

The screenplay is a brainless and linear affair, stretched to an unreasonable 116 minutes. The dialogue is fairly poor, albeit that’s to be expected from something sourced out of a videogame. Harder to overlook is the lobotomized and unnaturally simplistic chase narrative, which in a bid to disguise its one dimensional structure is peppered with oodles of convoluted mythology. “Sands of Time” feels like a point and click adventure that drags audiences from one part of a map to another, simply so that a new task can be set and a new objective will need to be obtained. This form of storytelling is perfectly good in the realms of cyber adventuring, but on a cinema screen it gets wearisome fast, and it certainly doesn’t warrant a lavish two hour runtime.

“Sands of Time” isn’t anything better than a mediocre puff piece, well dressed and with some undoubtedly talented folks floating about, but lacking in quality execution or fulfilling plotting. Fans of the pixel laden source might find it acceptable (I really wouldn’t know, I’ve only played it once), but filmgoers seeking hearty thrills or rewarding questing had best look elsewhere. Maybe a sequel could improve matters, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this prince being henceforth banished from cinema screens forever.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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