May 31, 2010

[Movies] Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)Video game movies have a history for being, well, really bad. I mean seriously - we started on a really bad foot with movies like Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon (and it pains me to even mention them) and the more recent films haven't been all that better. I don't know why precisely this is the case - you think that given how much effort goes into some of the stories behind these games would translate easily into something on screen. But it just doesn't and we geeks end up suffering through these things.

Yes, no matter how bad the movie is, we still make the effort to watch it at least once.

With luck, the general advances in the video game market will lead to more robust stories there and thus less work for the filmmakers in order to translate it. With even greater fortune, we'll reach a point when they'll get so lazy that they'll give up trying to overly innovate at all and follow the games more. Until that ridiculous day, we'll have to deal with the status quo, which means Hollywood versions of video game stories with a less than desirable end result. But we get by, yes?

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a movie somehow based on the more recent Prince of Persia games. It borrows concepts from the video game of the same name but it clearly didn't adapt the original story.

In the movie, we are drawn to follow the story of Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). He and his brothers Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) are set to invade the holy city of Alamut given allegations of selling weapons to Perian enemies as presented by the king's brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley). The attack is largely successful due to Dastan's unique tactics and in the invasion the Prince gets his hands on a beautiful dagger.

But this is no ordinary dagger - it is the Dagger of Time with the power to send the bearer back in time for at most a minute while remaining aware of the shift. It turns out that this was the true reason for the invasion and Dastan is left trying to figure out what to do with the artifact after he is blamed for the assassination of his father. He finds himself paired with Prince Tamina (Gemma Arterton) in his exile and the two make for an unusual pairing for the rest of the movie.

The movie was entertaining as a whole - not amazingly so, but still decently fun. If we look at it as a movie on its own merits and not based on a video game, then it just might work. However it is tied to a rather iconic gaming franchise that spans more than two decades and thus we need to pay heed for now.

The Prince of Persia games are most memorable because of (1) the need to puzzle through traps and other cerebral challenges, (2) the element of magic throughout the games and (3) the physical prowess of the Prince to get through the various stages of the game. The movie certainly managed to demonstrate item three to some degree of satisfaction and I'm very happy with the new parkour-upgraded version of Jake Gyllenhaal. However the prevelance of traps was notably absent and the only magic in the movie was really just the dagger. Don't tell me the "Hassansins" were overly magical since apart from the snake charmer, they were just skilled warriors. Besides, how hard could it have been to make Ben Kingsley an evil vizier instead?

And don't complain that Ben Kingsley as a villain is spoilery. Oh please, this is practically a movie trope already. He couldn't even have a happier role in the Thunderbirds movie a few years back. Not that this is the only trope in the movie - it certainly had more than its fair share of odd comic relief characters, inappropriate moments to kiss the girl and so on and so on.

The story was at times confusing and more often than not shallow. The fight scenes were decently entertaining but clearly the director wasn't quite sure how to capture the action in a manner optimal enough to showcase the scene. The acting was also odd - I never for a moment believed that the three brothers had grown up together such that they had some semblance of camaraderie between the three of them.

Jake Gyllenhaal ShirtlessJake Gyllenhaal really worked for me as the Prince, and I don't just say this since he looks really good shirtless right now. He certainly captured the character well enough and in general his interpretation of the role was the best he could do given how it was written. But yes, I do get to be shallow and be happy that (1) he had one decently gratuitous shirtless scene (and wrestling with another man no less!), (2) he was delightfully charming in trying to banter with the princess and he certainly pushed his expressiveness. Oh Jake.

What did make things stranger for me and my partner was the need to have the major characters all speak with predominantly British-style accents. I'm not turning this into one of those arguments about this being set in ancient Persia and thus the accents need to match. It's a more fundamental complaint about how the accents sort of mangled the names and some of the lines of the movie and thus it really distracted more than helped. There should have been an easier way of handling things in this regard.

Overall, the movie was decent by most standards but actually pretty great compared to many other video game movies. It will certainly entertain you on a boring day and it's of the general quality of movies that we tend to associate with the summer set. But this is not necessarily of the upper echelon of such movies, make no mistake. Whether or not this will become a full trilogy as Disney obviously hopes for is yet to be seen. If they insist, well, then the cast needs to work on generating a more relaxed and natural camaraderie between them.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a decent enough movie to get you through a boring weekend but not exactly something for the die hard gamer fanboy. It gets 3 fun moments of Jake's shirt hanging WAY open out of a possible 5.

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