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Lunch » Tags » Fantasy » Reviews » Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) » User review

A Fun Desert Romp, But It's No 'Pirates'

  • May 29, 2010

Let me be honest. The only real reason I wanted to see Prince of Persia was to see Gemma Arterton in a role with more screen time than her character “Io” in this year’s Clash of the Titans. To my surprise, PoP: The Sands of Time actually had some depth to it… something I wasn’t expecting going into the movie. It should be mentioned that Persia had quite the uphill battle considering its roots in the videogame genre. Historically, videogame movies haven’t exactly garnered the best feedback. Haunting flashbacks of Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider and Kristin Kreuk in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li come to immediate memory. Has Jerry Bruckheimer & his Disney-backed studio learned the valuable lesson that it takes more than sexy actresses turned videogame vixens to create a successful videogame-based film? Perhaps, but I can safely say that with Prince of Persia hitting the silver screen this weekend, the niche genre as a whole is on the right track.

The movie starts off with a fairly risk-free origin story, one that takes no longer than a couple of minutes to become acquainted with Dastan’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) humble beginnings in the rough and tough streets of ancient Persia. The story then quickly jumps 15 years ahead to Dastan as a young adult prince in the company of his two royally bred brothers and uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), brother to the current king of Persia. Viewers are expected to accept the fact that skipping 15 years of character development is harmless to the story’s progression when in fact it may have been the one decision that broke the camel’s back—desert pun intended—for the entire first quarter of the movie. It would have been easier to sympathize with and root for Gyllenhaal’s Dastan had the plot not questionably avoided what seems to be integral points of character growth between his two brothers (the true blood heirs to the throne of Persia), himself, and their scheming uncle Nizam (who wants the kingship for himself). Instead, we’re flash-forwarded to a moment in time just before the epic invasion of the Holy City of Alamut when all the aforementioned family members are discussing battle strategies amongst their trustworthy selves.

Two problems gleam upon the shiny surface of this sword: one is the sketchy assumption that Prince Dastan’s two brothers are completely okay with the fact that their street rat brother has acquired an equal level of royal admiration and military authority to them, and have been for 15 transparent years; two is the mysterious absence of any sort of explanation as to why Alamut is being invaded—the presumption of the presence of illegal weapons doesn’t quite make the convincing cut, and we’re left scrambling to figure out just who the good guys and bad guys are between the two Persian parties. What results is a messy, albeit entertaining, battle sequence in which heroes and enemies accidentally overlap (both visually as well as plotwise) due to the rushed storytelling in the film’s opening sequence. Still, looming undertones of modern-day Iraqi invasion references and potholed plot pacing aside, the movie does manage to provide large doses of Parkour-packed action scenes with no foreseeable shortages of clanging sabers and whizzing arrows in sight. It’s classic popcorn-devouring, high-budget blockbuster goodness peppered with minute traces of humor and charm. What’s not to like, right?

The action sequences in particular are a creative joy to watch, but sometimes they feel a bit too fast-paced for their own good, especially in the beginning of the film. You see what’s happening but the movie speeds through the action with a shaky-cam dynamism not unlike the fight and car chase scenes in a Bourne-esque Paul Greengrass flick. While this heightens the sense of excitement, this particular style of shot tends to lose detail in the process and your mind is left to fill in the gaps with your own imagination rather than seeing every motion pan out on screen in front of you. Perhaps the only exceptions are the Parkour scenes, which are a sheer joy to watch as Prince Dastan effortlessly traverses his environment utilizing every ledge and obstacle to his advantage. I’m not the biggest fan of the jitter camera technique (I like to see every bit of action that plays out in an action movie, but that’s personal preference), but I’ll tolerate it in movies that make up for it with visual exhilaration. Fortunately for me, Persia does not disappoint in that respect either. The entire feature is a beautiful display of exotic desert scenery mixed with elaborate character costumes which are undoubtedly a direct result of the movie’s sky-high budget. Sweeping panoramas of a fantastical ancient Persia widen your eyes in wonderment, if only for a few brief seconds before you’re snapped out of the trance via awkwardly glitchy spots of slow-motion that resemble television soap opera flashbacks. Strange.

And then there’s the humor. PoP: The Sands of Time desperately wants to be as witty and charming as any one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but falls just short of the ledge. There are moments of tongue-in-cheek comedic timing between Dastan and Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) but they never really hit the mark. That’s not to say the writing is off, but you never really buy into the funniness of Gyllenhaal’s character like you do, say, Orlando Bloom’s “Will Turner” in Bruckheimer’s other period adventure. The same shouldn’t be said of Alfred Molina’s character, Sheikh Amar, however. His comedic presence is welcomed with open arms as soon as he appears in the movie, and there’s no awkward timing to his humor to suggest that Molina is anything short of Prince of Persia’s own Johnny “Jack Sparrow” Depp. Gyllenhaal and Arterton could take a few lessons from Sheikh Amar’s witty delivery, but then again, Molina’s comedic success probably has something to do with the fact that his role was precisely written to be comic relief and nothing more.

That Persia slows into its own comfortable pace midway into the movie is its saving grace. As soon as director Mike Newell hits the brakes a bit and focuses on steady story-telling rather than getting swept away by ambitions of saga-fueling grandeur, the film finally starts to get good. Its best moments are those that take a slight detour from the main tale: the peculiar Ostrich racing scene, any and all of the palpitating Parkour bits, or the countless situations in which Dastan and Tamina seem to unwillingly avoid their first kiss (to pass that off as romantic chemistry would be a fool's errand; unfortunately, it's M.I.A.). These movie gems combined with Alfred Molina’s charming representation of Sheikh Amar help Persia float along until its epic videogame finale. This is what we waited for, to experience moments that feel like they were stolen straight out of a videogame, situations where your skin crawls as you struggle with Prince Dastan to keep footing atop a flowing sea of sand and rubble. At last it all feels as epic as the trailer suggested, and for a brief moment at the film’s end we are introduced to an adventure that should have tornadoed through like this from the get-go. Had PoP: The Sands of Time not waited till it was too little too late, maybe it would have garnered a higher score. That said, it will sit comfortably in action/adventure mediocrity, but not without its fifteen seconds in the spotlight. For that quarter of a minute, Prince of Persia shines as a movie that will be enjoyed by fans and families for as long as air-conditioned theaters provide refuge from the summer season’s arid heat.

Nizam, Dastan & Tamina, Hooded prince.

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June 08, 2010
Thank you! I've gotten mixed reviews from family members on this and had resolved to see it anyway for the eye-candy factor alone. I'm glad that it's got a little more going for it as well. Definitely will see it while its still in theaters.
June 30, 2010
You're welcome; I'm glad my review helped you out in the decision-making process! ;P Did you end up catching it? If so, what did you think... Was I on or off mark?
May 29, 2010
wow! Nicely said and well-written review, Kenneth. I am impressed, I have very similar things to say about the film in my own review . (click on the blue text to see it) and we have rated it the same. This wasn't bad and more decent than other video game adaptations as you've said. I will spotlight this in tomorrow's newsletter. Way to make your debut in the community!
May 29, 2010
Thanks, William! I wanted to wait till after I wrote my review to read yours, just so I wouldn't be too influenced. I'm kind of excited to see how our reviews relate in similarity now, so I'll be clicking through. Anyway, thanks for the spotlight; I really appreciate it man! Here's to more movie reviews... *cheers*
June 02, 2010
Glad you're enjoying your stay. Oh, I will be featuring this review tomorrow in the community's homepage (I try to update them everyday) because it had now disappeared from view in the community homepage feed of new reviews.
June 03, 2010
I saw the feature, thanks for that man! ;D
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Quick Tip by . November 24, 2010
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About the reviewer
Kenneth Arias Azurin ()
Ranked #248
I'm a UCI graduate in my late-twenties working as a marketing ninjaneer while I search for what I believe to be my calling in the advertising business. I aspire to be the best ad copywriter there … more
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About this movie


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.
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Director: Mike Newell
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: May 28th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: September 14, 2010
Runtime: 116 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films
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