Monday, October 4, 2010

I Don't Like Sand...

Oh, how I wish I had the Sands of Time right now. Their ability to turn back time might be beneficial so that I never have to watch this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced piece of pap, the video-game inspired Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and spend my time that I had taken watching this film doing something vastly more productive, like mime. Lacking such mystical artifacts, however, means I can only send this warning out across the web, hoping to stop any as foolish as I from falling into this film's snares.

Kingley's knighting was not as exciting as you might think
I rented this on DVD because, frankly, there wasn't anything else interesting available at the time. While I had low expectations concerning this title anyway I thought that there was no way I could be disappointed with what I saw. Besides, I was a huge fan of the Prince of Persia series of games from which this was based. The games are amazing, pitting the player as a nameless prince who discovers a magical time-reversing dagger that he can use to fix mistakes or avoid getting flattened by the evil powers he unwittingly helps unleash over the course of the game. It also featured amazing platforming puzzles, featuring risky jumps, wall-running and pole-swinging that figured to appear prominently in the film. It's a very fun series of games, and it would have to be a much more superior film than it looked like to match up accordingly.

There's a lot of jumping... shame there wasn't more
It doesn't. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had a lot of red flags up against it. Despite being set at the height of the Persian Empire, every major character in the film is not only white, but speaks with a noticeable British accent. It's a pseudo-violent film produced by family-friendly Disney Studios. Most damningly, it is produced by Bruckheimer, for whom even his best films have big weaknesses, and rarely survive translation to sequels if successful. Nobody doubts Bruckheimer's ability to blow stuff up, it's just that every film he does nowadays ONLY knows how to do that. Big actors like Johnny Depp can't always save his pieces from the trash heap (and Depp couldn't save the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels at all), but he does instill just enough big name prowess and a little but of humor to get by. This would explain his once-kinship with Michael Bay, as the duo knew how to get people into the theaters. Regardless, such a big film - and one based on video game, no less - is right up my alley, and it would be truly be against my nature to at least give it a look.

Dastan and Tamina get in a quick wet t-shirt contest
The film opens with a silly narrative opening, explaining to the audience exactly who the Persians where and the history of the royal family, starting off by insulting the intelligence of the audience while telling us something we didn't need to immediately know. We learn that the King of the Persian Empire (Ronald Pickup, the worst name for an actor I've ever heard) has had a strong rule, two strong sons, and a brother (Ben Kingsley) who is his closest adviser. He adopted an orphan from the streets after witnessing bravery in him of some sort (I'm a little hazy on how it was so brave, but whatever), who grew up as his third son, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). The kingdom is ruled under a mantle of brotherhood above all else, but that's really only a cheap plot point. The fact of the matter is, we didn't NEED all this info up front. If it had been leaked a little bit at a time to the audience over the course of the film, it would have been much more effective to the storytelling aspects of the film. Instead, we get an insulting intro.

The tension in this film is about what you can garner from this photo
After the King's first son leads an invasion of the city of Alamut, which is suspected of selling weapons to the Empire's enemies, Dastan manages to get his hands on a beautiful dagger by chance, only to later find out that this dagger was the sole reason for the invasion of the city. Soon, after being framed for his father's murder, Dastan mus go on the run with Alamut's ruler, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and try to find out who really murdered the king and to what end. It's almost laughably cliche, the plot put together for this film. Oh, a traitor, you say? Shocking! There's not a single surprising thing about this film, unless you count the fact that it for a millisecond fakes you into thinking someone else is the evil character here when everyone and their dog knows it's Ben Kingsley.

Uhm, yeah, that'll work
The film does have some good points, most notably the special effects. With some of the bigger CGI-laden scenes such as the time-traveling aspect or even one early scene with Dastan atop a pillar high above the city of Alamut, the background graphics practically scream green screen. However, the sweeping desert scenes are quite pretty, and some of the fight scenes are pretty well executed. The violence is largely bloodless, thanks to papa Disney holding the reigns. The best parts might be those decidedly low-tech, as Dastan has the natural ability, from his young life as an orphan, to climb, jump and maneuver quickly to any point to avoid capture. It's a major aspect of the games, and that the movie gives it attention at all is at least a sign that director Mike Newell was paying attention to his assistant's notes (The assistant is the one who actually played the game to give Newell all the important info he should know when he was brought in to direct, what a professional).

As a demented Jessica Rabbit clone might say: "A Maaaayn!"
The acting here is pretty bad. I won't go into the racist casting put in here, and a bulked up Gyllenhaal and the beautiful Arterton are actually not a bad pairing here, if not terribly exciting. They have good charisma together, and when they have scenes with one another, they really do have a connection between them. Gyllenhaal gets a chance to display a charm I've never seen him really put on, and Arterton has a husky voice made for these types of roles, which unfortunately doesn't mean much if she can't branch out into new character types. Most of the rest of the cast however is a mishmash of uninspired and overrated talents, many of whom have done better work elsewhere. The best of the worst is a nearly unrecognizable Alfred Molina as a desert Sheik who excels at mincing words like a used car salesman. Kingsley once again seems to have a painful disregard for the projects he signs on, as there's little in this role of the King's evil brother that needs his Oscar-winning pedigree. Steve Toussaint would have had an interesting character if it couldn't simply be boiled down to "black sidekick". Gisli Om Garoarsson is simply campy and ineffectual as the leader of a secret assassin order, called the Hassansins. I guess it's apparently taken from the real-life Hashshanshin, or Nizari Ismailis as is their true name, assassins operating at that time. Why for the film they use this similar but made up name instead of what the real name was (or why not simply "assassin"?) may not be known. Best not to dwell on it.

Being comfortable with your body is key
There wasn't really any point during this film that I was actually excited. Take away the special effects and what you're left with is a story that doesn't have too many unique elements to it (and is told poorly, to boot), plot holes you can clear in a hang glider, uninspired and uninteresting characters and the shallowest of efforts by the production team. To say I didn't like Prince of Persia would be an understatement. Perhaps the story of the game doesn't translate well to a non-interactive medium like film, but that's fine by me. I'll just pop my copy into the PS2 and enjoy myself for a spell. I've got to get Jake's pecs out of my head, after all.


steve said...

Two questions:

1) Do you have to know anything about the video game to watch the movie? Sounds like 'no,' but I'm wondering ...

2) you're not saying Gyllenhaal tries to do a British accent in this movie, are you? If so, ye gods ...

Gianni said...

No, even if you haven't played the game and don't immediately recognize what the dagger is when you see it, it's painstakingly explained to you as if you were a slack-jawed moron. And yes, while it's not as pronounced as those of his costars who are ACTUALLY from the U.K., he does put on a slight accent.

elmo said...

Meh... I knew it wouldn't have gore. But I'll remember this summer for The Last Air-Bender and Clash of the Titans, far as action goes.

Opinioness of the World said...

Speaking of Gyllenhaal's accent, I remember Ben Kingsley on GMA or the Today Show discussing in detail how his accent was BRILLIANT and how it conveyed that he was of a particular class...hilarious.