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May 30, 2010


Movie Review – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)


Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a big budget Arabian Nights-style adventure produced by Disney. The once-upon-a-time setting is a mythical ancient Persia. The hero is Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), adopted youngest son of the wise and noble king. Dastan is devoted to his father, who took Dastan in off the streets as a boy, and to his two older brothers. When he is framed for regicide, Dastan must uncover the truth behind the murder and the Persian invasion of the holy city of Alamut if he is to save himself and his family. His only ally is the city’s beautiful princess-priestess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the guardian of a secret magical device that allows the holder to turn back time.

The film is based on a popular video game. This reviewer does not play video games and can’t comment on the film’s fidelity to its source. However, in a more general sense, the source is plain to see. The plot is constructed like a video game. Once past the initial set-up, the film moves Dastan through a series of stages, or levels, where he is called upon to fight his way through to the next. Each stage has its own distinct setting: a marketplace; an oasis; a mountain shrine; the gated entrance to a walled city; underground caverns. While he can always rely on his wits and innate fighting ability, he also picks up specific weapons, or makes use of the specific topography, at each stage. Although Tamina is often present and Dastan fights alongside allies in some of the stages, the camera shows little of others’ parts in the action. The tight focus on Dastan gives the film the feel of a single-player game.

The film’s kinship to a video game is further reinforced by the game-over/re-set function of the “sands of time.” Characters push the button several times (literally- the device is a dagger activated by pushing a button on the hilt), and from early on it must surely be obvious to the youngest child that the story is building to a major climactic re-set. Visually the film intermittently looks like a video game, as in the image (excerpted for the trailer) of Dastan coolly handling his twin swords before a backdrop of frame-filling flames, or blue-screen created near-crimson desert vistas.

The video game-like visuals are striking, but also stand out partly for the negative reason that the film overall is visually uninteresting. Mike Newell’s direction makes disappointingly little of either the “ah, the mysterious Orient!” sets or the real desert landscapes of Morocco. An exception is the costumes. The costume designers were clearly having fun with their assignment, even if their director and cinematographer were not.

Prince of Persia is very definitely action-oriented. The action is pleasingly old-fashioned in its happy non-realism- think old Erroll Flynn and Burt Lancaster actioners- and pleasingly new-fashioned in the heavy incorporation of free-running. Gyllenhaal is bulked up for the part (and looks very, very good in it), but more pertinently demonstrates a wholly unexpected degree of athleticism, clearly performing much of the stunt work himself. In addition, the film offers a good dose of romance as Dastan and Tamina bicker in familiar rom-com/road movie fashion on their way to bonding in common cause and acknowledging their feelings.

There is a point at which calculated to please passes into calculation, and the filmmaking behind Prince of Persia passes that point. The script is scrupulously careful to include something for every demographic. The dialogue has little wit and the exchanges between Dastan and Tamina are unnecessarily juvenile. The pacing is practically metronomic: there will be no lingering! The film plays it very, very safe, stifling any spark of spontaneity and leaving too little room for heart.

On the other hand, there’s really no reason why America shouldn’t make Disney happy and take its children- and encourage its teenagers of driving age- to see Prince of Persia. It’s not a bad film, it has likable elements, and it’s all ages appropriate. There’s (designedly) a little something for everyone. The hero is sympathetic and genuinely admirable and the story is built around sound moral lessons: observe the dictates of your own conscience; stand up for what’s right; make necessary sacrifices for the greater good; love and trust in your family.

2 1/2 stars


Prince of Persia aspires to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean. Read the Commentary Track review of the third film in that franchise here.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nir Shalev
    May 31 2010

    Two questions: is it, finally the first good movie based on a video game? And where’s Ben Kingsley in your review? He’s a major part of the game/film, as the antagonist and whom mysteriously shares less screen time than Arterton…


  2. Helen
    May 31 2010

    It’s an okay movie based on a video game, and no firsts to be had there. But how can you say there are no good video game movies? Have you no respect for Mortal Kombat? MORTAL KOMBAAAAT!!! I can hear the refrain playing through my mind even now….

    Kingsley actually has a big supporting part as the villain, but it isn’t interesting so I didn’t feel like talking about it. The writing and performance are both pretty flat. Alfred Molina is much more fun as a (faux) desert brigand with an amusing anti-tax shtick. The writing feels a little desperate for laughs with his character, but some of his dialogue _is_ funny and Molina brings some welcome energy to the picture.

  3. Nir Shalev
    May 31 2010

    Yeah I heard about Molina and the ostrich. And I know and believe that Mortal Kombat is the ONLY good video game adaptation but I feel that I may be alone. People out there LOVE the Resident Evil movies; I think the first one sucked and that they kept getting a lot worse as they went along. But Mortal Kombat definitely is up there.
    I remember seeing it theatres and when Scorpion and Sub-Zero entered the frame for the first time, the entire audience announced them through an awed whisper. It was epic and still has great fights.

    Do you recommend Prince of Persia as a rental? ;O)

  4. Aaron Ploof
    May 31 2010

    I definitely reccomend the game as a rental. I haven’t seend the movie…

    Silent Hill is a good video game rental movie, though.

  5. Helen
    May 31 2010

    I detested Resident Evil. The second one was an improvement just because the main supporting cast members were so much better than in the first film, but it’s still completely pointless and non-entertaining. I gave up on the franchise at that point.

    I kid a little with my “MORTAL KOMBAAAAT!!!” bit, but truthfully I do really like the movie. Stellar action and some of the staging is really great. My favorite set-piece is the forest sequence. I haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theater but I still remember it really well, which is a high compliment considering how long ago that was!

    Prince of Persia is a good movie to take the kids to and people who like the game should see it too. For everyone else it’s a harmless way to spend a couple of hours, so I guess that makes it a rental. ^_^

  6. Helen
    May 31 2010

    I haven’t seen Silent Hill. What did you think of Final Fantasy?

  7. Nir Shalev
    May 31 2010

    Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within is a gorgeous looking film. It has nothing to do with any of the FF games, except the title and is sci-fi, which to me sucks because I prefer the Fantasy genre.
    Then there’s Final Fantasy: Advent Children which sucks because it’s a sort of sequel to FFVII (the game) and seeing that I disliked it and hadn’t played it in over a decade I had no idea what was happening in the movie. The action was weird and the plot was, well crap.

    Unless someone decides to go the proper root and directly adapt an FF game using the game’s actual story (I recommend 4 and 6), we won’t have a good adaptation FOR A LONG WHILE.

    And Silent Hill (the movie) angered me. I have played the first few games but the movie was, for lack of better words, annoying and wrongfully depressing. I didn’t even like character design (no, not even Pyramid Head).

  8. Aaron Ploof
    Jun 1 2010

    I thought Silent Hill captured the style and tone of the second game (though I’d love to see and adaptation of that, because it’d be amazing), and is one of the better game to movie adaptations. As for RE, I liked the first for a popcorn flick, but afterwards they all went downhill.

    I did enjoy FF:Spirits Within, despite the fact that it was not based on any of the games. It was sombre and carried a unique tone. It also had a wonderful soundtrack, and some of the best animation back then.

    Final Fantasy Advent Children was pointless.

  9. Jun 26 2010

    I personally thought this film was very good, Its easy to assume these kinds of movies will be garbage as other game to movie ideas have been disasters. I gave this a try mainly because of Ben Kingsley. I’m glad I did. The dialogue is fairly flat but the characters are superb the acting is pretty good Ben is awesome as per usual. And persia and its surroundings look superb. It also comes with a good plot! Well worth a watch! 7/10

  10. Helen
    Jun 27 2010

    Thanks for the comment! People do tend to dismiss video game movies out of hand, but there are some enjoyable ones and besides, good movies have been made from flimsier sources (such as, famously, theme park rides).