Movie Review: “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010)
By Mig Windows
Do you like loud noises? Do you like glittery special effects? Did you like Pirates of the Caribbean, but felt it ought to have had taken place in the Middle-East? Do you like ostriches?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then this is the movie for you! If you are a fan of the video game, however, you might notice a definite lack of sand monsters. There are no sand monsters present in the film whatsoever. The filmmakers didn’t even throw one in for kicks as a reference. Instead, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Persian prince battles a lot of soldiers, guards, snake-wielding Hassansins and various family members in a series of mildly amusing swashbuckling, parkour, and Tarzanesque rope-swinging.
The plot follows Dastan (Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of the King of Persia, who seems to not really do much as Prince besides hanging out in the streets practicing backflips with his buddies. His uncle, the obviously-evil Nizam (Sir Ben “What am I Doing Here?” Kingsley), announces that a neighboring country contains weapons of mass destruction. Dastan’s brothers, Tus and Garsiv (Richard Coyle and Toby Kebbell) go to attack, and the uninvited Dastan decides to gate-crash the invasion. Succeeding, the princes take the kingdom’s defiant princess, Tamina (Gemma “Keira Knightley Wasn’t Available” Arterton) as a prize, and Dastan loots a cool-looking golden dagger. Their victory is short-lived, however, when their father, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) is poisoned by an unfortunate wardrobe choice.
Despite the fact that he’s innocent, Dastan is blamed for the King’s murder and flees with the help of Tamina. It turns out that the dagger he grabbed earlier is actually –surprise! – a mystical McGuffin that not only emits swooshing golden CGI sand, but also can turn back time by one minute – in super-cool slow motion! The two embark upon an adventure across the desert, traveling from one ill-planned goal to the next, all while quarreling in an effort to establish chemistry. Eventually they meet up with illegal-ostrich-racing comical relief Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) and his knife-throwing buddy Seso (Steve Tossaint), who are pretty much the Jay and Silent Bob of Ancient Persia. Not to be outhammed, evil Nazim seeks the help of the Hassansins, who use snakes, black robes, supernatural powers and overall creepiness to track down and attempt to dispatch Dastan & co. It all boils down to an Indiana Jones-inspired temple crashing party, with plenty of messages about true callings and destiny thrown in for good measure.
For what it was, it was actually a halfway decent popcorn movie. Don’t expect a lot of originality or deep messages that you haven’t seen or heard elsewhere, particularly in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which were produced by a few of the same folks. The pacing moves along just quickly enough to keep boredom at bay but is not too fast-paced to follow. The cast does a fine job, and Gyllenhaal seemed surprisingly comfortable in the swashbuckler’s role for someone who has mainly appeared in dramas and dark comedies. Still, the filmmakers easily could have made a semi-historical Middle Eastern zombie movie, which potentially could have been great. Or terrible. We’ll never know.
If I had that magical dagger, though, I might have turned back time to save myself some money and wait for the film to come out on DVD or Blu-ray, where the blaring and repetitive soundtrack can be lowered to a less headache-inducing volume.