Movie Review: Prince of Persia – Sands of Time

E: Why I am so embarrassed to say it?

So, fine, I won’t apologize for it.

I liked this movie.  I liked Prince of Persia!

Sure, it’s made from a video game I’ve never played.  Sure, it’s been slaughtered in the press. But you want to know what?  It’s fun. It’s got everything you need in a summer movie – action, adventure, an exotic setting, romance – and it supplies it with skill and panache.  Will it win Oscars?  Heck no.  Should that stop you from having a great time?  Not one bit.

Were the effects on the level of Avatar or Lord of the Rings?  Certainly not.  I think they may have aspired to make the film look as good as a really good video game.  Which, you know, is still pretty decent.  There are 3 or 4 fabulous Eastern cities.  From a distance, none has the solidity of Minas Tirith, but as Dastan leaps from rooftop to rooftop, the action works.  Your heart races with him. Is it the equal of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Not even close.  But it stays pretty true to the spirit of the films that inspired that classic.  Also?  No profanity, no gore, no sex.  Lots of running and swordplay and sand and snakes.  Lots of almost kisses. There are pretty costumes and a fair bit of bad hair.  And yeah, I liked it.

The film tells the story of Prince Dastan (a street child adopted by the great king of Persia) as he and his brothers attack the holy city of Alamut, is falsely accused of a crime, and flees bearing a mystical treasure that can save his life but also destroy the world.  Dastan’s a bit of a grungy, independent thinker, but he retains that loyalty and purity of heart which caught the king’s attention when he saved a friend from calamity in the marketplace as a child.  He now leads a company of irregulars into places where traditional soldiers could never fit.  He’s clever, extremely acrobatic, and talented at getting out of a jam.  He’s got good instincts.   And soulful eyes.  And a British accent.

His company on the lam is, of course, the Alamutian princess (and Guardian priestess) Tamina, who is of course sassy, smart and sexy.  I’m not sure if it’s the training given to British accented Brit actress Gemma Arterton (lately seen in Clash of the Titans, and also as Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and as Elizabeth Bennett in Lost in Austen), but she’s at times a skilled warrior and at times awkward and uncertain, screaming “Dast-AAAAAAAN!” in exactly the same tone at every given opportunity.  A love story for the ages?  Eh, not exactly, though it’s certainly good enough.  Swoonworthy?  Now that’s a different story, because Jake Gyllenhaal in come on mode?  That I can get behind.

Rounding out the cast we have some unaccented British actors like Couplings‘ Richard Coyle (first Jack Davenport in Pirates of the Carribean and now this?) as Prince Tus, and Toby Kebbell as Prince Garsiv.  The Persian royal family is completed by a prayerful Ronald Pickup (I know, awesome name, right?) as King Shasaman and Sir Ben Kingsley as Uncle Nazim. Along the way Dastan runs into the entertainingly outsized Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar (recognizable as Alfred Molina because only Alfred Molina would go so over the top) and stately warrior Seso (played by Stephen Touissant).   There’s Reece Ritchie, last seen as Ray Singh in The Lovely Bones, playing Dastan’s childhood friend and fellow irregular.  And yeah, they’re all British, every single one. Seriously, I don’t understand that bit.  No Persians were harmed in the making of this movie!  Or cast in it!  You have a largely British cast, and it’s the American who speaks with the most British accent?  And most of the Brits don’t?  Still, it was enough to make me titter, but not to distract.  And however they sound, they swash and buckle and race ostriches pretty darn well.

Every review I’ve read gives away the villain, which is a shame because the movie takes its time on that score.  Perhaps this is clear to fans of the game, but since I wouldn’t have known otherwise, I won’t spoil you.  Suffice to say that dastardly plots abound – not to mention a freaky assassin group – and Dastan has to work overtime to foil them, to save his kingdom, his family and his girl.

I honestly rolled my eyes a bit when I heard that Mike Newell would be directing – he who presided over the butchery that was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – but instead I was pleasantly surprised.  The pace was sprightly – not bruising, but smooth. You felt like you got a full story, instead of a collection of set pieces.   Or I did, anyway.  And to judge from the way the rowdy, heckling teenage boys in the theater actually shut up during the film, I wasn’t the only one.

It was just fun, that’s all.  I can pick it apart – the biggest flaw is that the movie sets out certain rules and then violates them – and yet, that doesn’t stop me from liking it one bit.  Sure, it was only fun.  There was no deeper meaning.  It’s a popcorn movie (which, have you ever thought how goofy that name is?  I mean yes, it’s light as popcorn, but it’s not like you wouldn’t eat popcorn during a screening of The English Patient).  But it was a lot of fun, and I’m not going to apologize for going along for the ride.

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5 comments on “Movie Review: Prince of Persia – Sands of Time

  1. Carissa says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. I had such a good time at the theater, and while I may not watch the movie again, I completely enjoyed it the first time!

  2. Stephen says:

    As a long-time Coupling fan, this review made me laugh: http://throwingthings.blogspot.com/2010/05/you-can-stop-helping-now-jeff-there-is.html

    This sounds like one of those movies from which I won’t expect much, and consequently will enjoy all the more. (See also: Transformers.)

    • E says:

      That’s a fun post! I particularly like the discussion that follows it. Some friends and I played that game recently (in response to the whole “can we accept gay actors in straight roles” ridiculousness). Some actors are so firmly associated with their tv characters that you just can’t see them any other way.

      I actually hated Transformers, mostly because I liked the original cartoons a lot, I thought the effects were awful, and because Shia LeBeouf was a whiny little brat.

  3. […] get to see a single successful auditioner.  We have Persians (hey, where were you when they cast Prince of Persia?), injuries, addicts, mobsters’ daughters, mimes, and something called a Scooter Rocket.  […]

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