Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Directed by Mike Newell
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer doesn't quite capture lightning in the same bottle of rum that made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies rollicking good fun, but Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an enjoyable adventure that earns a modest recommendation.
Yeah, it's based on a video game and the storyline is pretty silly, but Prince of Persia hits its mark by providing some good summer movie fun.
The heroic lead, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal, Zodiac), was merely a street urchin before King Sharaman took to his willful ways and adopted him as one of his own. With no interest in taking over the king's throne, Dastan grows up and becomes the playful son, the one too busy scuffling in the streets to concern himself with things like marriage and stuff.
Dastan gets his opportunity to shine as a leader when the king's army sets out to invade Alamut, a holy city accused of selling weapons to an enemy. Snicker at the thought that centuries upon centuries later, similar raids in the area would continue to be played out, surrounded by equal amounts of intrigue and deception.
As it turns out, what the holy city of Alamut really holds is a mystical dagger. Release the magical sand contained in the dagger's hilt to travel back in time, in one minute intervals. Yes, oh yes, he who holds the dagger holds a phenomenal power to change—and rule—the world!
With that kind of prize on the line, it's no surprise the heroic Dastan no sooner celebrates victory at Alamut than faces charges of killing the very king who adopted him. Proving his innocence and keeping the dagger out of the wrong hands lead Dastan to his destiny.
Taking a cue from the first Pirates movie, which added the subtitle The Curse of the Black Pearl shortly before release, when positive buzz made the prospects of a new franchise launch almost inevitable, Bruckheimer has taken the same tack and tacked on The Sands of Time as a subtitle to this first—and most likely not last—Prince of Persia cinematic adventure.
Royalty on the lam
Photo: Walt Disney Productions
The key to the treasure trove of success that was (and will continue to be) the Pirates series was Johnny Depp as the lead character, Jack Sparrow. Given such a clever, witty, unique character, the fact that the movie was based on a theme park ride became irrelevant. In a similar fashion, although not as resoundingly, Gyllenhaal knows this is all in good fun and he's crafted a character that calls to mind Douglas Fairbanks' Thief of Baghdad. Sure, it's based on a video game, but it works within its own goofy rules.
Also providing more than several winks and nudges is Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark). As a government-loathing, tax-hating entrepreneur who manages things like ostrich races, Sheikh Amar adds enough comic relief to keep things light, which isn't to say things get particularly dark, aside from the mean Hassansins, who use all sorts of black magic, serpents, and sharp objects to kill their prey.
Adding more than enough eye candy to an already gorgeous production, Gemma Arterton turns into a surprisingly strong female lead as a princess on the lam with Prince Dastan. She's dazzlingly beautiful, but there's something about her approach here, and even more so in the recent remake of Clash of the Titans, in which she acts as if she's playing a blind person. She often seems to wear a blank, far-off stare, one that confuses determination with blindness.
Prince of Persia compares favorably to the other major video game-based film franchises, Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. While that's somewhat faint praise in regard to the former (even with an always alluring Milla Jovovich), the latter was overly maligned and Angelina Jolie's take on Lara Croft went underappreciated.
In the case of Persia, the movie's opening raid on Alamut shines as one of the movie's best action set pieces and successfully sets the tone for what follows, evoking video game sensibilities while also paying homage to the swashbucklers of yore. It's packed with Parkour stunt work, clever use of archery, loads of over-the-top action, and nifty Fairbanks-eque overtones.
At least in terms of action, Prince of Persia proves itself more entertaining than Robin Hood, which steered clear of retracing Errol Flynn's antics. But there's room for both takes on classic genres, particularly in what looks to be a less than historic summer movie season.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.