Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time review.

When I first heard that the Prince of Persia franchise was being adapted for the big screen, I have to say I was curious. I fondly remembered the old pixelated 1989 classic that had filled many hours and led to some quite frustrated outbursts. So I was naturally interested in seeing whether the movie would tap into this nostalgia. Well the short answer is no.

Of course being a modern film - with backing from Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer no less – it’s a big swashbuckling adventure piece, much in the same vein as Pirate of the Caribbean or Aladdin. You get the same big action scenes and some flashy camera work, but less in the way of interesting plot.

The story follows Destan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an orphan who was adopted by the King of Persia after showing courage in capital city’s market place. Years later Destan, who is now a Prince, leads an attack to a city that is believed to be producing weapons. However, evil is afoot as the King is murdered and Destan is blamed. As a result he is forced to team-up with Princess Tamina (Gemma Areton), the deposed ruler of the fallen city he conquered, to clear his name. On the way he encounters the secret of the mysterious Dagger of Time (which allows the holder to travel short distances back in time), and his quest to clear his name turns into a race against time to save the world from destruction from an evil lurking in the background.

So there you have it, it’s a by the numbers good vs. evil battle, with a bit of comic relief (including a performance by the excellent Alfred Molina) and an odd-couple dynamic between the Princess and Destan. In fact it seems the princess’s emotional range is limited to cold sarcasm or whiney sanctimony. I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of Areton, it’s just that the character was written to be one dimensional. Also she does tend to go on and on about how peaceful her kingdom was before the Persians came blundering in; accusing her of making the Middle Ages equivalent to WMDs. But she does it so much that by the end you’d think she was Princess of the bloody Lollipop Kingdom, where there are rivers of chocolate and happy children of all different colours and creeds playing nicely together with dimpled joy.

And there is the biggest problem with the film, that there are too many parallels with the Iraq war. Realistically, this must be aimed at the parents of the kids going to see Prince of Persia, as they are more likely to be captivated by the back-flipping action and the special effects. I can’t really see them going there for political context, nor do I think many of their memories will be long enough to understand such a comparison. So for the unfortunate adults who have been brought along you feel like you are being repeatedly told off for letting the Iraq war happen. My initial reaction was: “my bad. Sorry. Now I’m going to stare at the floor for a while looking guilty”. Then I remember wait, I opposed the Iraq war. Why am I being ticked off for something I didn’t do?

Political whinging aside, there are other problems with the film. One thing that bugged me in particular, was the fact that everyone spoke in an English accent; mainly because I thought this was meant to be set in the middle-east. Surely they could have had one or two foreign sounding accents, you know just for atmosphere. Otherwise it feels like you’re finding out for the first time that the British Empire in fact originated in Ancient Persia.

The film’s protagonist Destan is basically your archetypal diamond-in-the-rough-made-good with a pure heart and kickass moves, and who seems to spend most of the film showing that Incompetent Guards 4 U is still doing a roaring trade in heavily guarded fortresses. However he fails to notice an obvious villain standing next to him.

*Spoilers follow*

I am of course talking about Ben Kingsley’s performance as Destan’s adoptive uncle Nizam, who secretly has his eyes on the throne of Persia. Now, I know this point is meant to be a significant twist in the film. However, look at the obvious signs! It’s The Hood for God’s sake! Then again without that the plot would be rather linier.

*Spoilers end*

The villain makes heavy use of several mysterious assassin characters called Hashshashin. Now at first, I was a bit stumped by this, thinking: “Hang on ninjas in the Middle East? You’re having a laugh!” However, this part is actually historically accurate to a point. The downside of these guys is that one of them seems to overuse snakes as their weapons. By the third or fourth time I saw the snake charmer hashsahshin use one of his slithering friends, I was tempted to scream: “I’ve had enough of these muthafuckin’ snakes in this muthafuckin’ movie.” It felt that they were just there to show off some impressive CGI effects, and they can certainly stick a job done stamp on that. Sometimes though, it would be nice if you replaced some of that visual wankery with a bit more character development.

Now I’ve been quite critical about this movie, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible. To be fair to it, it’s a rather good example of a video game movie. The plot isn’t so poor its cringe worthy, and the characters are bearable for the most part. Also aside from being scolded a lot for causing the Iraq war the humour isn’t too bad for older viewers, and you can at least justify spending a night out seeing Prince of Persia at the cinema. The thing is though; it’s just not that special. It makes a good one off viewing, but after that you’ll quickly forget about it.


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