2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of my favorite video games ever. The nearly twelve hours start-to-finish I played in its brisk, inventive, and action-packed world remain a highlight even eight years after I booted the game up in my PS2. So it only stands that I had high hopes for Disney’s movie adaptation of Prince of Persia, directed by one of the guys who helmed a Harry Potter movie and backed by Jerry Bruckheimer, action movie mainstay and the guy behind Pirates of the Caribbean. Better yet, the creator of the original 1989 PC game, one Jordan Mechner, was being tapped to help write the film’s script. I even bought into Jake “Brokeback Mountain” Gyllenhaal as the buff titular Prince. What could go wrong?
The first half-hour tried to answer that question with “everything”. The cinematography was sub-par, the characters were devoid of life, and the blatant mentions of “weapons of war” and “taxes at the expense of the small businessman” were laughably inserted to check off the “modern-day commentary” box without the proper pretense. What was in truth a decent script was ruined by actors and producers who thought they were being epic and edgy, but ended up merely cheesy. Everything about the craftsmanship lacked the potential of its setting and source material.
Speaking of source material, I found several glaring issues with the film. Why did they only use the magic time-shifting dagger– which gave the film its entire premise– three times throughout the whole film? In the game, the Prince finds the dagger after raiding a fortress and delving into the sacred depths. In the movie, he just takes it from a random soldier. The film even disappointed material not its own. Early scenes where the Prince performed his fancy parkour moves in the city had me thinking I was watching a live-action Aladdin, shot for shot.
Yet, somewhere along the line, I stopped trying to make Prince of Persia live up to being a decent movie worthy of the game and started to sit back and absorb it in all of its summer movie nonsense-bathed glory. By that point, the crazy action sequences didn’t seem so bad and the story started to flow like the sands themselves. This can probably be attributed to the strong cast, from Gyllenhall as Prince Dastan to the Princess (renamed Tamina), played by Brit Gemma Arterton, and supporting characters played by Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley (doing his hundredth cunning mystery man role). That’s not to say the movie didn’t meander or try to use sweeping CG landscapes to make up for average camerawork. During the climactic battle where the dagger is pierced into the source of the sands, I could only think of how it represented the budget leaking out through all the computer generated wizardry surrounding the two figures.
Still, as much flack as I give the film, I acknowledge that it was entertaining. The few nods to the games had me smiling, and the stunt sequences were top-notch. It most certainly does not rescue video-game-based films from mediocrity, and it is a far cry from being Disney’s next Pirates franchise, but I don’t regret the two hours. The film should have unfolded with half the seriousness it thought itself to have and producers should have taken advantage of the rich content of its source material beyond the log line, but being a sweltering action flick plopped into a sweltering summer can work towards a film sometimes.
One last word of advice, Mr. Bruckheimer: just because the game allows you to slow time as well as rewind it, that does not give you license to criminally overuse those slow-motion, Matrix-esque action sequences. Sure it may look cool the first three times, but by the time the 35th use of the technique appears, it’s insufferable.
If I only had a time-bending blade of my own, I could lower my expectations as the lights dimmed and the curtains pulled back. As a fan of the games, I hated it. As a moviegoer it was alright. But erase the experience? That would be ignoble.
Blu-ray special features include deleted scenes, a featurette on the making of the film, and some cool interactive features which unlock secrets in over 40 different segments of the film.
Official Site: http://adisney.go.com/disneypictures/princeofpersia/
Review By: Mark Ziemer