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Sand Gets In Your Eyes
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (DVD)
Member Name: Puggers
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (DVD)
Advantages: Visually stunning, entertaining, fast-paced action.
Disadvantages: So-so plot, so-so leads, a little repetitive.
There's nothing that breeds low expectations like a video-game-to-film conversion.
Indeed, naming your favourite such movie is generally something akin to discussing your preferred fascist dictator; they're all pretty bad. As such, to say Prince of Persia exceeds its modest expectations isn't saying an awful lot - it's a pretty average film, but there's plenty to like about this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced sand-and-swords romp.
With the Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure movies under his belt, Bruckheimer has a good record of enjoyable nonsense, and he and director Mike Newell make most of the right calls to start off with here. The film takes the essential premise of The Sands of Time, a critically-acclaimed 2003 release - that is, a wisecracking pauper-come-prince who battles all manner of villains for a dagger with the power to reverse the flow of time and the hand of a fair princess - but takes the finer points of the story on a flight of its own. In this spin on the canon, Prince Darstan (Jake Gyllenhaal; aka the Prince of Persia) is part of his father's conquering army who ransack the grand city of Alamut and loot its treasures - amongst them the aforementioned dagger and princess (a sultry, rapidly costume-changing Gemma Arterton).
When the Prince's dad (so, the King then ...) is murdered in what seems a rather unlikely way, Darstan finds himself fingered as the prime suspect. Reluctant to face the music and dance, however, he flees with princess in tow and embarks on a journey to clear his name and unravel the mysteries of the Sands of Time which flow through the much-sought-after dagger.
Discarding the game's plot is a bold, probably wise move - after all, even the most story-driven games tend to be rather more linear and repetitive than a film necessitates - and yet, it's odd that those behind this adaptation have replaced the existing story with one which feels every bit as much like a computer game. After an impressive opening few sequences which set the tone for the film's elaborate, opulent and exhilarating sense of visual flair, the new plot boils down to a series of combat-based set-pieces that do little for character and - although they're fun to watch - do become rather repetitive. Fans of the games (that's my hand going up) will be pleased to see a host of the Prince's reknowned acrobatic moves duplicated on-screen, but it's a shame that the film probably does less with character development than its console-based predecessor did (the game managed to generate a laudably in-depth and believable relationship between prince and princess, but the well-judged banter is largely replaced with cliché and slapstick here - it kind of works, but it feels like a rehash of the main male-female relationships from Pirates or National Treasure).
Casting's suitably Hollywood here - the film is firmly aligned with the version of history where everyone, everywhere in the world, was white and English-speaking; unless they were evil, in which case they were Slavic, or evil and deranged, in which case they were German. Such predictable quibbles aside, the cast are pretty well chosen, though - Gyllenhaal was an initially strange choice for the role, but pumped-up and long-haired, he fits the part physically and does plenty enough with his character portrayal to satisfy. Gemma Arterton's barely stretched with her spunky temptress role, but she does it well - Ben Kingsley as the creepy Vizier turns in a similarly undemanding but enjoyable performance, while Toby Kebell (who should be best remembered for his stunning performance in Dead Man's Shoes) rounds off the British contingent as one of the Prince's brothers.
Visually, the film's certainly a triumph. The games have always made the most of their exotic locales - right back to the 1993 sequel, ahead of its time in its redolent backdrops - and Sands of Time is not shy in showing off the considerable resources at its disposal, creating a Persian wonderland, full of sky-high minarets and Arabic citadels, fortresses, gardens and deserts. With the game's original creator Jordan Mechner on board as a writer, the film manages to replicate much of the feel of its predecessors, and although there's no need to have played the games to be able to enjoy what is in all honesty a pretty straightforward actioner, there are some nice homages fans will appreciate. Shot on location in Morocco, the film fuses reality and its copious helpings of computer manipulation well, and the result is a beguiling, involving experience that ticks all the right boxes for expectant lovers of the genre.
That's essentially what The Sands of Time is - for good and bad; a genre-flick that does a lot of things well, but brings no great surprises or innovations to the screen and probably relies too greatly on its visual wonders to overcome an uninspired plot (which feels like a wasted opportunity, given they tore up the original story to produce something more cinematic). The leads are solid, the script routine, but the action's worth watching and the time-rewinding scenes are fun to watch - even if they're rather under-used, and you get the feeling the filmmakers felt bound to include the gimmick, but didn't quite know what to do with it. Again, a shame, as time-control and issues of causality and whatnot are a big part of the game series - albeit more so in the second and third instalments, so perhaps we'll see more of this if the film spawns a sequel.
I've probably over-emphasised the links between the games and film. For me, they're apparent and relevant, but I suspect the majority of the movie's audience are coming to the cinema without any preconceptions, expecting only a fun, thrilling, possibly slightly tongue-in-cheek romp in the sand. Ultimately, then, the film delivers. This is no Pirates of the Caribbean; Gyllenhaal lacks the charisma to drive a film in the same way Johnny Depp can, and Arterton's character is a bit too conventional and familiar to linger long in the memory. However, this is a safe bet for an evening's entertaining, undemanding viewing, and one hopes any forthcoming follow-ups can iron out some of the kinks.
Summary: One of the better game-to-film conversions.