Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2010

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 possibility.

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

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