At The Picture Show
Clash of the Persians
Or: How to dumb down an already simplistic tale
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Walt Disney Studios
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, based on the video-game
series created by Jordan Mechner
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina,
Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell and Steve Toussaint
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 56 minutes
Opened May 28, 2010
(out of four)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a movie that wants its audience to be dumb.
It wants its seats filled with people who can't figure things out and desperately
need re-iteration. That is the movie's business model.
To wit: The entire film is about preserving the safety of a mystical dagger and
keeping it out of the hands of the Bad Guys. Yet somehow our main character
feels the need, in the middle of a battle scene, to superfluously shout, "Protect the
dagger!" As if that wasn't the entire point of the action scene in the first place.
(After that moment, I couldn't help but think
hypothetically of other similarly unnecessary moments - a football game during
which the coach barks out the order, "Throw the ball and score a touchdown!"; a
battle scene in which the general screams, "Kill the other guys and don't shoot any
of your own men!"; a game show in which an audience member demands, "Guess
the correct answer!!")
At one crucial point in the film, one character explains (and I'm paraphrasing),
"I'll have to sacrifice myself to the gods." To which the other character
mournfully responds, "But . . . you'll die!"
I'm sorry, but that one deserves a round of applause. For all the apparent 4-year-olds in the audience who don't understand what "sacrifice myself" means, the
filmmakers have made it easier for you. Bravo.
For everyone else, that moment serves as a reminder of the level of disregard in
which the film holds us. If it wanted us to enjoy ourselves, it would stop dumbing
everything down and just get on with it.
It's no secret that video-game adaptations don't have
much of a track record. I've never seen a good one. It was my hope that, if a real
director were on board, that trend might change. Mike Newell is certainly a real
director, with Donnie Brasco, Best Picture nominee Four Weddings and a Funeral
and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to his credit. He has a decidedly erratic
filmography, but he's not just some hack. (I mean, the world of video-game
adaptations is littered with the likes of Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson.)
Unfortunately, Newell isn't able to translate the source material into anything
beyond a movie that very much resembles a video game. Princess Tamina
(Gemma Arterton) is the female lead and romantic interest, yet all her dialogue
sounds like the voiceover instructions for any number of video games. Pick up this
weapon and you will be able to do this, push this button and you can do that, go
through this passage and it will take you here or there . . . etc, etc.
Instead of providing expository details, Tamina is supposed to be generating some
heat with our hero, Dastan (the very Persian-looking Jake Gyllenhaal), but their
lack of sexual tension is the least of the film's worries. The biggest problem is it
simply can't escape its origins. The movie behaves like a video game. If I didn't
know what it was based on beforehand, I imagine I'd guess rather quickly.
Consider the sequence where one character gets his hands on the dagger and -
instead of putting it in a secret place that would be difficult for his foes to discover
- places it in an easy-to-find room where it is prominently displayed, with just one
assassin there to protect it. Which is exactly what would happen in a video game -
find the secret key to the room, fight off a villain, grab the item, advance to the
next level - and not at all what should happen in a movie.
Even the basic hook about the dagger seems more
like a gaming loophole than a plot detail. The idea is, the "sands of time" are
inside the dagger's handle. Push the button on the handle and you turn back time
by, I don't know, half a minute or so - so you can undo a mistake, fix a wrong,
what have you. For those scoring at home, yes, that is basically the exact same
concept as the hilarious "Omega 13" from Galaxy Quest - only that was used as a
satirical comment more than anything else. In the case of Prince of Persia, that
simple gimmick is transformed (with a sense of dire seriousness) into That Which
Holds The Fate Of The World In Its Hands.
And the big secret the film tries to hold - Which character is secretly pulling all
these evil strings? - is telegraphed so transparently that there's virtually no other
Prince of Persia is attempting to be part The Mummy, part Indiana Jones, with a
bit of Iraq War commentary thrown in for good measure. All of that sounds like it
could be fun, if only the creative forces behind it didn't go out of their way to
appeal to a lower IQ.
Read more by Chris Bellamy