Sunday, May 30, 2010
Game Mode: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Impossibly acrobatic Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the former street urchin who is adopted by the king. Luscious-lipped Tamina (Gemma Arterton), guardian of the magic time-warping dagger. The magic time-warping dagger – the worst prop since the crystal skull in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – with its cheesy glass handle, magic sand, and jeweled button you press to reverse time. The evil Jafar, I mean the so-bald-you-know-he’s-bad Nazim (Ben Kingsley), who wants to turn back time so he can be king. These are some of the characters involved in a conflict over said magic dagger in Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Now, I’m good for any mindless adventure that transports me to another place and time, but this adaptation of the popular video game never goes beyond video game mode. It’s an endless blur of superhero leaps and bounds and a constant flash of swordplay that never constitute any distinctively memorable action scene. One scene with potential involves the duel between the knife-throwing expert, Seso (Steve Toussaint) and a spike-shooting Hassansin, but even that scene, with all its flying projectiles, feels like merely a higher level in a game.
The lackluster acting and minimal characterization also keep Prince of Persia in game mode. Gyllenhaal as Dastan reveals a glimmer of Errol Flynn dash, but for the most part he just smirks wryly at the next impossible predicament and makes big goo-goo eyes at Tasmina, whose tanned skin, huge eyes, and voluptuous upper lip are the most interesting details in the movie. Frustratingly, the movie never explains why Dastan can leap so high! Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell and Richard Coyle blandly play Dastan’s bland brothers, and Ronald Pickup is whiny as King Sharaman. Alfred Molina injects character and elicits some laughs as the garrulous Sheik Amar, a conniving, opportunistic entrepreneur who runs an ostrich-racing racket. But at the point at which Dastan remarks that Amar talks too much, I was feeling the same way.
CGI renders vast Persian cities, but there’s neither majesty nor whimsy to them, and the Moroccan locations employed are mostly bleak terrain with lots of sand – it’s a very sandy movie. In a few scenes, Moroccan ksars provide real atmosphere, but the mise-en-scéne comes off as half-hearted and unimaginative, as routinely superficial as some Disneyland ride settings. CGI also depicts what the credits bill as “sand time” – kind of cool, but the scene involving the effectively chilling sand vipers happens too fast to enjoy. In the end, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the sandy thing works. I thought it was supposed to cause an apocalypse. How is that supposed to make Nazim king?
Prince of Persia borrows heavily from Disney’s own Alladin, as well as from just about every Errol Flynn adventure, but it never achieves the joy, exuberance, and memorable action of one of those classics. I just felt like the time I made the rare purchase of a PC game: The Fellowship of the Ring, and I could never get out of the first level. I wandered around Hobbiton for hours and hours. (I much later read that the game was defective.) And that’s the defect here. We get the repetitious action, the CGI, the leaping heroes, but we never get liberated to a cinematic level of escapist adventure that takes you away to another place and time where delightfully memorable things can happen.