Dastan suddenly realizes that he left his effective armor at home!
POP:TSOT takes the basic setup from its video game brethren, but, apart from that, this is a more or less original story. Dastan, a Persian prince, leads the charge on the holy city of Alamut, hoping to find a cache of weapons that the city is suspected of harboring. (How's that for a subtle Iraq war reference?) Whilst ransacking the place, he comes across a pretty swank looking dagger, that, unbeknownst to him, has the ability to turn back time. Soon, he is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and is forced to go on the run with the dagger. Much to his dismay, he must drag along the Princess of Alamut, Tamina, as she is wise to the intricacies of the dagger and the mystical Sands of Time. As Dastan attempts to uncover the conspiracy behind his set up, he must contend with a conniving entrepreneur, his ever persistent brother, a pack of deadly Hassansins, and constant bitchiness on the part of Tamina. Oh, to be royalty! It's a significantly deeper plot then that of the game, which just saw the prince running around a palace, killing sand monsters, but it's not very compelling for a summer blockbuster. It is enough to keep you interested, even though it is extremely easy to tell who the main villain is, essentially removing any suspense from the first half leading up to the reveal. The ending is also a bit of a cop out, but it's in keeping with the ending of the game, more or less, so, that's not a huge gripe. All in all, it's not great, but certainly not putrid.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan. It's a pretty lame performance. There's really nothing special about it. Sure, he gets to jump around a lot and do some cool stuff with a sword, but, he doesn't bring much in the way of charm or wit to the role. It's obvious that Bruckheimer and Co. are attempting to make the same kind of family oriented blockbuster that Pirates of the Caribbean was, with Dastan occupying more or less the same role as Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately, Gyllenhaal has neither the comic timing or the coolness of Johnny Depp to fill the shoes of that eccentric rapscallion! It's not a bad performance, just nothing special. Gemma Arterton plays Tamina. Initially, I thought Arterton would just do the same thing we always see her do, that is, annoy the hell out of us. But, she actually surprised me in this, bringing a welcome ferocity to her role that she has never utilized before. She easily overpowers Gyllenhaal in their scenes, and seems much more comfortable with the verbal sparring that they take part in. Ben Kingsley plays Nizam, Dastan's uncle. He does a nice job handling the campiness of his role, making it entertaining while, at the same time, sinister. After his absurd overacting in Bloodrayne, I thought he would avoid video game properties like the plague, but this role suits him nicely. The real scene stealer, however, is Alfred Molina as the leader of a bunch of ostrich racing merchant-bandits. Molina has a rollicking good time spewing conspiracy theories left and right, bemoaning the suicidal tendencies of his ostriches, and being a general pain in Dastan's royal ass. He's the comic relief, but he runs away with every scene he is in. There are some minor supporting performances that are cool, but not worth talking about. You'll know when you see them.
The Prince takes a quick moment to ogle the twins!
Director Mike Newell, who may know as the one who officially started the decline of the Harry Potter films, is more then capable of making an exciting movie. An interesting one? Not so much! The action scenes are really good, making great use of Dastan's parkour abilities and some pretty nifty special effects. There is a lot of it too, which is good thing, because when Molina is not on screen, and swords aren't being used, then the movie just dies. I blame the script. Every actor here is capable of doing a bang up job, but, if the material isn't good, well, then there's not much they can do, is there? Like I said before, the studio is obviously hoping for this to blow up into another mega-franchise a la Pirates, but the script and performances are nowhere near up to the task of doing so. But, you know what? That's alright! Just because it's not going to be the next huge hit doesn't mean it's not fun, and, don't get me wrong, this film is a lot of fun! The action is very well done, and constantly changing, so that Dastan never does the same thing twice, or, if he does, he does it in a much cooler way. The main drawing point, however, that will get all the nerds out there away from their World of Warcraft, is that Prince of Persia is the first, legitimately good adaptation of a video game to be released, well, ever! I chalk it up to a smart production team, talented stars, and, I hate to say it, budget! This is easily the most expensive film in this sub-genre, and the polish shows. I know it seems shallow, comparing the quality of the film to the amount of money thrown at it, but, when the material is based on something as campy as a video game not made by R*, the money sure helps! I don't expect this to become a regular thing. One exception is not enough to break the cycle. Upcoming films based on games, like Gears of War, the fourth Resident Evil, Bioshock, Dead Space, Halo (if it ever gets off the ground), Uncharted, and Warcraft, will all, most likely, suck. Except for Mass Effect! I refuse to believe that a game that awesome with a story that deep will suck. It cannot suck! If it does, I will lose faith in all that is good and righteous in the world! Well, not really, but I'll be disappointed!
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is nothing to write home about. It won't change your life, and it won't change the movies. What it will do is provide a good, two hours worth of solid action, thrills, and generally good performances, that is marred by a weak script! It is far and away the best video-game adaptation ever, and, even though that is, quite possibly, the faintest praise to be bestowed on a film, it's still a glorious achievement! POP will do just fine in holding you over as you wait anxiously for the next BIG movie of the season to come out. It's not spectacular, but, it has defied the expectations, and does not suck! I think we can all live with that! B