Friday 21 May 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time review

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (12A, 116 mins)
Director: Mike Newell
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The list of movies adapted from video games is not an impressive one. For some reason no one has yet discovered the alchemy of making a video game work on the big screen and the results have ranged from the dull and mediocre (Tomb Raider or Resident Evil) to the downright catastrophic (anything touched by the hand of Uwe Boll).

Faced with the challenge of filming the popular platform adventure Prince of Persia, uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer seeks to the recreate the success of his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring it to the screen in as spectacular a fashion as possible.

So while the results were always going to be slick and professional, the fear was how the writing team would be able to come up with a compelling story to match the gorgeous production levels. It’s certainly sweeping and epic, with beautifully realised cities and palaces, but the tale of hero Dastan is an underwhelming one.

Taken in and adopted by the Persian king as a young orphan, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) has grown into a great warrior fighting alongside his two brothers as the Persian kingdom grows. But when he’s framed for the murder of his father, he must go on the run with a rival princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton) to clear his name.

The first strike against Prince of Persia is that Dastan is a bit of non-character, an underwritten vessel who provides us with no idea what he actually wants or needs. Tamina is clearly the stronger character and Arterton outdoes Gyllenhaal at most turns during their prickly relationship.

They spend most of the movie bickering over a mystical dagger, the Sands of Time, which has the power to reverse time. If you’re unlucky enough to have seen Nicolas Cage in the hilariously bad Next, you’ll know that with great time-meddling power comes great ridiculousness, and thus the scene is set for an action showdown that zips backwards and forwards, with certain parties keen to get their hands on the dagger for treacherous purposes.

Nods to the game are fun, with Dastan leaping from wall to wall like a good ‘un, but even then the sequence of run, jump, climb, punch quickly becomes familiar. More than that, the scenes are edited into the ground, taking any grace or precision out of them. See Quantum of Solace for an example of how a free running style can be integrated fluidly into the action and look authentic at the same time.

And yet it’s not dull and it’s not stupid, but it’s also not much more than passable fun that’s just a little uninspired.

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