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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie poster

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Movie Review

Action, Adventure
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina
Released by: Walt Disney Pictures

In Short: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in what is perhaps the best game-to-film adaptation to date; nevertheless this sloppy, mediocre fantasy adventure has little else going for it.

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Game-to-Film Genre Gets Another Miss

To say expectations for films adapted from video games are low would be an understatement. In fact, they rank somewhere below adaptations of ‘70s TV shows, and on par with movies based on newspaper comic strips. With these, viewers—and critics—are usually impressed if the result is more than a painful failure. This puts "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" at something of an advantage. When "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is probably the highest the bar has been set, audiences are predisposed to walk away thinking "this was better than I expected." It’s one of the few areas in which "Prince of Persia" actually does well. For despite being perhaps the best game-to-film adaptation to date, this mediocre fantasy adventure has little to offer.

The film’s plot is loosely based on the eponymous 2003 video game, in which a scruffy, acrobatic aristocrat discovers a dagger capable of turning back moments in time. He must use it to save the world with the aid of a feisty princess from a rival kingdom. Aside from some familial strife and a few supporting characters, little else worth mentioning has been added for the film.
As the titular prince, a buff Jake Gyllenhaal’s trickiest feat seems to be maintaining a British accent for two hours, but he’s charming enough to come out unscathed. Gemma Arterton is likewise passable as the archetypically haughty Tamina, though between this film and her role in the boorish "Clash of the Titans" remake, her range looks rather shallow. As the prince’s traitorous uncle Nizam, Ben Kingsley shows up to cash his paycheck, while Alfred Molina gives a more skilled performance as a garish bandit sheik that likes to race ostriches and bitch about taxes.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If there’s one thing the film should have done right, it’s the action sequences. The game itself was a highly engaging exercise in free-running acrobatics, and with the urban sport of parkour enjoying heightened cultural popularity at the moment, "Prince of Persia" could have capitalized with some truly nail-biting shots of its hero traversing exotic architecture.

Unfortunately, what was probably some impressive work by numerous stuntmen is undercut by inconsistent cinematography and erratic editing; so that the few moments of engaging action don’t burst into life so much as clumsily stumble. In fact, "Prince of Persia"'s sloppiness seems to extend to every production department. There’s a decided lack of subtly or artfulness in the mishmash of costumes, CGI and gilded set dressings, giving it an air of cinematic Nouveau Riche. It’s hardly a crime for a film of its genre, but "Prince"'s elements seem to conspire against one another to prevent any part from shining.

Aside from accusations of a whitewashed cast (though Persians are generally considered Caucasian), it can at least be said that "Prince of Persia" isn’t the racist spectacle many had feared. But while it’s probably true that the film isn’t as bad as we expected, perhaps that’s a pity.  It could have been a spectacular failure. Instead this "Prince" settles for mediocrity.


Reviewed by Matt Kane

(Updated 05/28/10 CT)

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