Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Details: (M), 111 mins , In Cinemas 27 May 2010, United States, English
Synopsis: Set in medieval Persia, the story of an adventurous prince who teams up with a rival princess to stop an angry ruler from unleashing a sandstorm that could destroy the world. Which is why after the prince was tricked by a dying Vizier to unleash the Sands of Time that turns out to destroy a kingdom and transforms its populace into ferocious demons. In his effort to save his own kingdom and redeem his fatal mistake, it's up to the prince and the princess to return the sands to the hourglass by using the Dagger of Time, which also gives him a limited control over the flow of time.
An anti-climactic swashbuckler.
Remember the ‘free-run’ action scene in the 2006 Casino Royale? That’s where Bond pursued an elastically limbed baddie through a construction site. Or what about the similar full-tilt chase across the roof tops in the last Bourne film? These were expert cinema action sequences; brilliantly attenuated and carefully choreographed. Part of what they were about was the idea that Bourne and Bond were prepared to improvise; these guys could use their immediate environment to catch the bad guy instead of relying on a gadget or a gun.
There’s a long ‘free-run’ sequence in this mega budget fantasy too and in a way it sums up why the whole movie seems so tired and lifeless. Not because its bad action exactly. As directed by English filmmaker Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) it’s athletic, inventive and even humorous (in the way, say the Indiana Jones films use wit to take the nastiness out of their violent gags). Still, the scene, in which the movies hero, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), has to jump and leap and swing about over roofs and streets, seems so ‘seen before’ its hardly any fun at all. In other words the ‘free-run’ scene seems an obligatory bit of business these days in action movies; it's like the movie's producers Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer were keen to make sure to use all the fashionable action beats. Prince of Persia seems less like a movie designed to tell a certain story but a laundry list of in-vogue visual licks.
Based on the videogame created by Mechner, the story is messy, and complicated and that’s probably why the action so frequently grinds to a halt so characters can take the time to explain what’s going on. Basically it’s a wronged-hero chase plot. The stakes are huge; if the super villain, Nizam, played with a kind of campy-glee by Ben Kingsley, gets his way, it means nothing less than the end of the world.
Set in ancient Persia, which looks like Lawrence of Arabia crossed with a Christmas pageant designed by Baz Luhrman, most of the action revolves around Dastan, the adopted son of a murdered king and his attempts to clear his name. In the great tradition of B movies there’s a subplot of contemporary ‘relevance’. Apparently, the baddies here have invaded a peaceful kingdom on a false pretence (Iraq, anyone?) Instead of pursuing the political implications of this, the movie uses it as a short hand for ‘true Evil’. Since it’s a fantasy much of the film's energy lies in the mystical possibilities of the plot; Dastan teams with a beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) to beat Nizam. She holds in her possession a dagger that can turn back time. Press the tip of the knife and there’s lots of noise, swirling sand and some very expensive digital effects; sadly the dramatic effect is a little anti-climactic.
Actually Prince of Persia isn’t as flat out terrible as a large portion of Bruckheimer’s back catalogue. After the popcorn-with-irony humour of the Pirates franchise, Prince seems deliberately old-fashioned. But that isn’t so bad; what is dull and deflating is that it's quaint, earnest charms are so old-school Disney. The possibilities of trying to integrate a video game into dramatic narrative don't really figure here until the end, but even that seems too little, too late.
Not surprisingly the climax plays a trick with time; but even that seems like a quote from something like the '78 Superman, rather than a bold narrative move, a technique to alter our sense of story. It's a kids movie with a grown up budget and no sense of itself.
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