Saturday, September 17, 2011

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Generally, when a non-movie media become popular some Einstein in Hollywood thinks there needs to be a movie based off of it. These have varying degrees of success. Movies based on books usually do okay; comic books tend to be hit or miss; and TV show movies tend to be pretty bad. They have yet to make a good movie based on a video game, with the worst probably being the Super Mario Bros. movie (1993). Disney had some success with making Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl(2003) which was based on the Disneyland attraction. Evidently, Disney thought that with the success thatPirates of the Caribbean brought them, a similar production based on a long running video game series would be good idea.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) is set in a romanticized ancient Persia. In the prologue, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) adopts an orphaned street urchin, Dastan, to rear along with his other sons. King Sharaman thought Dastan was worthy of becoming nobility because Dastan defended another boy who was being beaten and then escaped by running around on rooftops. Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) grows to become a reputed warrior and prince. After receiving information that the Holy City of Alamut is supplying weapons to the enemies of Persia, Dastan’s adoptive brothers Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle) prepare to attack the city. While attacking the city, Dastan comes into possession of a strange dagger. King Sharaman stops the attack and arranged for the marriage of Tus to Alamut’s princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton). Dastan is later framed for the mysterious murder of King Sharaman. Dastan escapes with Princess Tamina who tells him about the dagger’s power to send its wielder back in time by a few seconds. Dastan and Tamina set out to discover who is behind the false rumors about Alamut, the murder of King Sharaman, who is after the time-altering dagger and why.
Similar to Pirates of the CaribbeanPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time is full of silly characters, over the top action scenes, and special effects. The only Prince of Persia game I’ve ever played was in 1989 on an Apple II computer. The storyline there wasn’t any more complicated than that of Super Mario Bros. game in 1985: save the princess. Other Prince of Persia games have been released, but I don’t know how the movie compares, as I have never played the more recent ones.
Dastan is a painfully generic hero character. He’s inherently good and incorruptible; he isn’t challenged by moral dilemmas, he just does the right thing because he’s good. This makes him very uninteresting. He’s also a carbon copy of every Persian hero to ever grace the silver screen; Disney’sAladdin (1992) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940) come to mind. He’s really not any different at the end of the movie than he is at the beginning. He’s just boring.
Tamina drove me nuts! There’s hardly a single line that she speaks to Dastan that isn’t somehow insulting, demeaning, or challenging of his capabilities or competence. She was bratty, untrusting of anyone, and would stab Dastan in the back at her earliest convenience. Why on earth were they in love by the end of the movie!? I would have tied her to a cactus half way through the movie and left her for dead. The romantic interest between Dastan and Tamina had no basis or logic behind it. The meager romance was included for the sake of having romantic scenes in the movie. Towards the climax of the movie Dastan has Tamina by the arm over a cliff, keeping her from falling to her death. I actually shouted at Dastan to just let go and put her out of his misery. She is pretty, but I’d like to think there should be more requirements to being a princess than just being pretty. Tamina is one of the worst damsels in distresses I’ve ever seen.
The action scenes were rather confusing. A lot of the movie was filmed in front of a green screen. The backgrounds occasionally didn’t match up with the movements of the camera very well, which gave the viewer a vague sense of space. On top of this the camera was often doing close shots of the actors fighting. This gave you a good sense that something was happening, but not a good sense of what was happening. Yes they are fighting, but what is it they are doing and who is winning? I felt like I should be on the edge of my seat, but I wasn’t sure why since I couldn’t tell what was actually going on.
At one point, Dastan is sinking in huge sinkhole of sand. I’m not really sure how he got there and it certainly doesn’t show how he got out. One moment he’s in the sinkhole, the next moment he’s on this cascading waterfall of sand tumbling down towards a cliff. It doesn’t show Dastan falling through the sinkhole and onto the sand-waterfall; it doesn’t show him escaping the sinkhole only to fall again into the sand-waterfall. This is more an issue of bad editing than confusing action scenes.
Not only were the characters uninteresting and shallow, but I wasn’t really sure what they were fighting for. Sure, keep the Dagger of Time away from the evil Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), but what happens if he gets it? They could just reset time they way they want it. No one has a risk of dying; they just go back in time a few seconds and prevent the death. They do this several times in the movie. So, if you can just correct anything with the dagger, who cares of Nazim becomes King of the Persian Empire? Who cares if anyone dies? It can just be corrected.
Disney seemed to be trying to make another swashbuckler action movie with Prince of Persia, but the movie just ended up being really underdeveloped and shoddily done. If you look at it in the context of being a very simple fairy tale with some over the top action scenes, it becomes slightly more palatable. The movie is also such light viewing that you could put it on as background noise while cleaning the house, catch glimpses once in a while, and still not miss anything. It’s a pretty clean movie, too. It would be alright for a family movie night with kids, but really there are much better movies you can watch as a family.

1 comment:

  1. Here is comment that the reader could not post properly and emailed to me instead.

    OK, so I think that you missed the point. The fun.

    We all know that the post Civil War era in the Western United States was little more than meager survival and interminable boredom. Yet, we pretend that there was a wondrous Wild West full of heroes and colorful villains. We live that self deception through John Wayne and Clint Eastwood forever alive in film cannisters. The West that we wish had happened.

    We all know that the modern slum dweller would be appalled by the life led by royalty in the Dark Ages. Yet, we pretend that there were fair maidens that need to be rescued from dragons by knights in shining armor, glittering castles, and wise kings. We even re-inact the fantasy at Renaissance Festivals, ignoring all possible historical facts. Like Middle Earth, it is the history that we wish had happened.

    Likewise, there is a mysterious world of the Orient, where 1001 Arabian Nights and Aladdin and genies of all sort wait to be freed from lamps. Opulent palaces, wacky kings, innocent princesses, scallywag street boys turned hero all live there. By the way, if any king had watched any of those movies, would he ever actually want a Grand Vizier?

    Well, this movie is just another trip into that Orient that never happened. We love the nice twists to the old story and laugh at both the surprise and the predictable.

    These movies are the modern, vicarious camp fire stories, a tradition that was ancient when the Greeks borrowed the stories from their ancients and sent Jason and his Argonauts of an a decades long adventure.

    Lighten up, kick back, after all, it's just a show.