Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


  • Released Internationally on 19/05/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/05/10

Preview (Published 01/05/10 in VIDA magazine)

In a nutshell

Before Facebook, before Google, before we even had internet access, there was Prince of Persia. Released back in 1989, and incredibly simple by today’s standards, it was one of the computer games that defined the 90s, and I for one clearly remember my long afternoons jumping over spikes and sword fighting with the fat guy in level six. Since a famous brand is often all it takes to make a film nowadays, it has been developed into one of this summer’s big action films.

Why we’re hyped

I’m usually the first to argue that computer games rarely provide good source material for films of substance, as recent years have clearly shown. What makes me hopeful in this case is a mix of factors. Firstly, an adoptive prince wielding a fancy sword in the dust-laden streets and rooftops of Persia sounds more cinematic than, say, hitmen or bio-hazardous creatures. Secondly, the various editions of the game developed over the past twenty years have provided numerous plot opportunities, many of which have been considered when formulating this script. Thirdly, the film is a project by the Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer powerhouses. If they could make the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy based on a theme park ride, this should be easy.

Who’s in it?

Taking on his first proper starring action-role, Jake Gyllenhaal will be donning the fancy outfits as the hero in question. One of the most talented actors of his generation, he has shown great versatility in films such as Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead and the recent Brothers. I hope he was lured by a promising script, rather than just by a big cheque and the chance to show some biceps. The great Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Elegy, Shutter Island) will be epitomizing all the evil, while Alfred Molina (Frida, An Education) will be the hero’s mentor. Adding some grace to all the sweaty machismo is the lovely Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) as the princess. The man behind the camera is the Brit Mike Newell, best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral and the fourth Harry Potter film.


Review (18/05/10)

Life is now

I vaguely remember some sort of plot going on in the background when I used to play Prince of Persia on my 16-colour monitor. A few lines of back-story which I had hastily skipped through at the beginning, and a pixellated princess waiting for me at the end. But I paid little notice. All I was concerned about was the next jump, the obstacles in my path, and the sword-wielding assassin I knew was waiting in the next screen. I lived in the moment, and it was great.

Plot for sale

Unfortunately, this seems to have been the attitude adopted for the film version. The flimsiest of plots, laughable even by computer-game fantasy standards, is hovering in the background as an excuse for our heroic prince to jump deftly from rooftop to rooftop. When the prince was under the control of my battered keyboard, it was thrilling and addictive. But watching it unfold from a spectator point of view, it loses novelty fast.

One jump ahead

Mind you, the numerous rooftop sequences are nicely done. Bathed in the dusty sunlight of Morocco (standing in for ancient Persian Empire), Dastan jumps, clambers, twists and turns his way through the bustling city centres, like a live-action Aladdin on steroids. Incorporating elements of parkour (a recently developed obstacle-avoiding discipline), the filmmakers have obviously put great effort into the action scenes, and I'm sure they'll elicit a few nostalgic smiles from fans of the game.


Once those smiles fade, however, it's back to the awkward dialogue, the embarrassing attempts to keep a straight face whilst spouting pseudo-mythical nonsense, and the overall feeling of predictability which runs through each duel, each chase, each encounter. For a film which uses turning back time and destiny as a plot device, it's quite ironic that the sequence of events is so inevitable.

Saving face

Possibly the only person who acquits himself honourably is Alfred Molina, who manages to imbibe his Sheik scoundrel with humour and affability. Gyllenhaal looks sincere enough, but his faint smiles and laughing eyes make it seem as if he was in on the joke, and realised he shouldn't take his character too seriously. Gemma Arterton fails miserably, however, in what seems to be a direct sequel to her character from Clash of the Titans. Standing proud and stiff (and admittedly looking quite sizzling), she sounds horribly misplaced amongst all the Persians. It takes more than a spray-on tan to make a English girl the ‘Princess of Alamut’. The less said about Ben Kingsley's motivations as the villain, the better.

In the end

I admitted to having high hopes for this one, but they have gone the way of the Persian Empire. The rooftop chases are thrilling, but that's about it. This is one of the huge films of this summer, but in this case it’s a huge disappointment.




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