Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mahmoud Ahma-Gyllenhaal-ejad

This is what I’m talking about: a game-based film with reputable actors, engaging action, decent dialogue, good-looking CG (if any), and Uwe Boll nowhere near it.  Thanks to Mike Newell and Jerry Bruckheimer, the next filmmakers who adapt a game to film may try a little bit harder.

I’ve never been one for game-to-film (nor book-to-film, for that matter) adaptations.  I believe that games are games for a reason, and as a writer, that books are written text for a reason.  But since nothing I say will stop these money-magnet films from being made, no matter the quality, I keep going out to see the ones that pique my interest (I’m looking at you, The King of Fighters).  Jake Gyllenhaal mentioned in an interview earlier this year that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time would change the way people looked at game-to-film movies, i.e. they would now be looked at as real films instead of kitschy novelty acts.  This film does that, albeit still giving you what you’d expect from a film of the genre: lots of battles, CG-assisted parkour, muscly heroes, etc.

The cast is a good place to start.  I realized this film was going to be something different when an early scene featured Ben Kingsley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Toby Kebbell in the same room.  Kingsley, a veteran, gives the rest of the (much younger) cast plenty of breathing space until his pivotal scenes (which start about halfway through the movie).  Gyllenhaal plays Prince Dastan (yup, he’s got a name now) as a likable Aladdin-like troublemaker who is always undermining his family but manages to stay on the side of the audience.  Kebbell, best-known as druggie rockstar Johnny Quid in Guy Ritchie’s excellent RocknRolla, has his first meaty role in a while here, playing Dastan’s older brother and head of the Persian army, Garsiv.  The film also features the lovely Gemma Arteron, who is really coming into her own as an actress but also making a habit of being in blockbuster fantasy reimaginings (see Clash of the Titans – or better yet, don’t – she plays a good role in that film but her screen time is stomped out by Sam Worthington’s “boring hero” act).  Arteron plays Princess Tamina, a ruler with some knowledge of pagan magic.  Alfred Molina also appears in an amusing role as an oddball who races ostriches (“every tuesday and thursday”).

The film is a surprisingly fair (and fictional) portrayal of the people who are now Iranians (unlike the embarrassing 300, a myspace/macho man film which depicts the Persians as deformed creatures of pure malice).  I can’t ignore the fact that the Persians are all played by white actors with English accents, but I’ll take what I can get from Hollywood these days.  The film could have used more ethnic characters in Persian roles, but it’s nearly enough that the Persian government isn’t portrayed as morally corrupt or otherwise reprehensible.  The search for Alamut’s “secret weapons” and the absence thereof is largely an allegory to U.S.’s search for “weapons of mass destruction,” which we won by simply having them not exist…I digress.  Thankfully, in the film, not too much focus is spent on this.

The on-location sets are great and the art direction is excellent, despite the fact that the costumes are made more from the standpoint of “cool art direction” and not from real-life source material.

The story is your standard popcorn fare: orphan gets mixed up in something big, ends up in a battle, touches a magical macguffin, gets framed for something and goes on the run with a beauty who can’t stand him.  The actors, however, make this plot very easy to swallow despite how many times you’ve seen it, and the plot takes interesting turns especially near the end.  If you haven’t seen the trailers and promos, it’s not immediately obvious that Kingsley will turn out to be the villain (although he wouldn’t be in a film without a large role), and there are even some other interesting bad guys in the form of the Hassansins (or Hashshashins- from which the word “assassin” is thought to originate), based on the historical group of Muslims who split from the Fatimid Empire.  Their use of throwing darts and poisons is only myth, but it serves the nature of this film well, and helps take the responsibility of action scenes that will impress teenagers away from the 66-year-old Kingsley.

As far as the source material, the film isn’t based on a specific story from one of the games, but it takes reference material from each of the biggest titles and throws them in for fun (and you don’t have to be familiar with it at all to get the full enjoyment).  The parkour and climbing scenes mimic what we love best about the Prince series; the swordfight with a guy who looks peculiarly like the guy you fight at the end of the original game; the Sands of Time themselves; and the relationship dynamics of Dastan/Tamina echo the newer game (the Xbox 360 version, not the movie tie-in).


In closing, this is a fun film if you just want action and stock dialogue, but is also engaging enough for the film buff (or if you don’t like that term, which I’m starting not to as much because I’m realizing I don’t know all of its contexts, we’ll say “serious filmgoer” or “cinema veteran”).  The acting is solid, the actors seem like they want to be there (unlike many films of this type), the use of “magic” has appropriate focus and doesn’t ruin everything, and even the vaguely-explained plot twist at the end (which almost cheats, but you can judge) provides a satisfying experience.  Perhaps if they make a sequel, we’ll get actual ethnic characters?  Oy, let’s not get too progressive now.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010); written Boaz Makin and Doug Miro; directed by Mike Newell; starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arteron, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.