More noise than signal

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

There has traditionally been a very handy shorthand for judging the quality of any film based on a video game. Essentially, if it exists, it will be dreadful. History proves this to be true, albeit with varying degrees of dreadful from about as dreadful as is possible (Street Fighter, Super Mario Brothers) to only a kinda dreadful (the relatively recent Max Payne). Prince of Persia threatens to shatter this cosy worldview by being pretty decent, for the most part.

Based somewhat loosely on the well regarded PoP: Sands of Time game from 2003, Jake Gyllenhaal steps into the curled sandals of Dastan, first taken into the royal family after being discovered as a brave, acrobatic young street urchin and raised as a brother to two already extant Princes by blood. Things get interesting when the Persian nation attacks a holy city under suspicion of supplying arms to their enemies. Dastan plays an integral and suitably acrobatic part in securing the city of Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), but he’s almost immediately suspected of assassinating the King. Oh Noes!

The rest of the film follows him trying to clear his name, work out which of his family members is responsible and also the secrets of the dagger that Tamina is desperate to protect, which as players of the game or watchers of the trailer will know allows the wielder to tun back time. This, as is the way of these things, develops into Dastan being the only man who’s in a position to save the world from an ultimate evil, and so on, and so forth.

I’m not saying it’s predictable who’s going to turn out be the bad guy, but Ben Kingsley’s in this film.

At least director Mike Newell and the writing team take care to do something that almost never happens in video game translations, that being to take a look at what made the game interesting and focus on that. In this case, the flippy-floppy acrobatics are suitably impressive, and the basic good nature of the central character and his awkward but charming relationship cum love interest with Tamina take centre stage and work just as well here as they did in the game. It was nice in the game to play as a character that wasn’t a boastful, self-aggrandising, arrogant, bombastic twazzock, and it’s just as rewarding watching him here.

The one ‘meh’ aspect of the game unfortunately carries over as well. The combat mechanics in the game weren’t the most fun, and felt like filler between the challenging platforming, and the fight scenes in the film are… well, hardly bad, but far from jaw dropping, especially when married to CG that again isn’t noticeably lacking but does little to stand out from the crowd.

The acting from all concerned is well above average, Gyllenhaal and Arterton proving likable and special mention must be made of Alfred Molina’s superb supporting comic relief role. After all, it’s difficult to hate a character that puts an ostrich on suicide watch. The dialogue is enjoyably banter-ific, and frequently pretty amusing.

The plastering of the ‘from the producers of Pirates of the Caribbean‘ legends on the posters is for once pretty apt, as it shares the same defining characteristic of the first film in that series, at least. Namely, it’s quite a lot of fun to watch, but it’s not going to be something that’s going to go in any time capsules of cinematic classics. This is a perfectly adequate big budget action-y spectacular-y tentpole-y type of thing, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for it might even send you home happier that Iron Man 2 did. It’s resolutely sitting in rather than trying to change the cinematic landscape, but there’s room for that in the world.

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