Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina,
Toby Kebbel, Richard Coyle
The Sands of Time
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by David Medsker
he most annoying trend in Hollywood at the moment is the one where, in an attempt to justify the latest classic film property reboot or theme park ride adaptation, the filmmakers give the story a Byzantine plot that requires copious amounts of exposition and a compass, when in fact a much simpler story will do just fine. Add “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” to the list of offenders. And yet, for as needlessly complicated, illogical and downright ridiculous as the movie is, it’s also oddly entertaining. It might seem a strange choice for a director like Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Donnie Brasco”), but in the end he coaxed better performances out of his cast than a Rob Cohen or McG would have.
The CliffsNotes version of the story is as follows: set in sixth-century Persia, Jake Gyllanhaal is Dastan, a former street orphan plucked from squalor and adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) for a defiant act of courage he displayed as a boy. The king receives information that nearby Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is stockpiling advanced weaponry, and they launch an attack on her kingdom. The clever Dastan finds a back way into the kingdom, and steals a pretty dagger for his troubles. Tamina tells him that dagger is sacred and must not fall into the wrong hands. Dastan blows her off, until he accidentally discovers for himself that it is the Dagger of Time, capable of turning back time in small increments. By this time, the king has been assassinated, with Dastan framed for the murder. Dastan teams up with Tamina to restore the dagger to its rightful place before those who may wish to manipulate time to their benefit inadvertently launch the apocalypse. But to do so, they must elude the dark lord of the hassasins and his elite group of well-armed hit men.
Those who jokingly refer to this movie as “Pirates of the Middle East” are not far off. There is a lengthy detour into the Valley of the Slaves which ultimately serves one purpose: introduce us to slimy sheik Amar (Alfred Molina, who proceeds to steal every scene he’s in) and his knife-throwing sidekick. It’s not unlike the cannibal island sequence in “Dead Man’s Chest,” and while the ostrich race that takes place during this segment is funny, it contains far too much padding. Dastan also cheats death much like one Captain Jack Sparrow, though that owes as much to the game’s parkour-riffing origins as anything else. Never mind that parkour didn’t exist for another 1,400 years after this movie takes place. It existed in 2003 when the game was made, and that’s all that matters. This is no place for history buffs.
However, there are some things that simply cannot be excused, namely the “gotcha” ending, which does not hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Arterton is also lacking, but Gyllenhaal makes for a better action hero than expected. Molina appeared to be working from a different script than everyone else, as his lines are twice as good as everyone else’s. Ben Kingsley, who plays Dastan’s uncle Nizam, is, well, Kingsley, while his two brothers are nondescript, though kudos to Toby Kebbel for moving up the Hollywood food chain after his work in “RocknRolla.”
Movies like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” work with today’s audiences, and it’s admittedly good for a laugh and a nifty backflip here and there, but it spends a lot more time baffling with bullshit than it does dazzling with brilliance. Memo to studio execs: ‘most entertainment’ and ‘most entertaining’ are two completely different things. Give us more of the latter next time, if you please.
Three-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
There is a veritable boatload of behind-the-scenes footage on the Blu-ray for "Prince of Persia." The catch is that they are scattered throughout the movie in tiny pieces. Viewers can press Enter whenever the Dagger of Time appears on screen, and the movie will cut away to a short clip (usually one or two minutes) about set design, costumes, stunts, the location, and even one clip where the local animal wrangler picks up a viper by the tail (yikes). It is possible to watch the clips without watching the entire movie (if you choose to do both, prepare for it to take well over three hours), but you still have to navigate a menu of 20 (!) chapters, each with anywhere from one to three clips, in order to do it. The only other bonus feature is a deleted scene involving severed heads. The DVD, ironically, has the more digestible bonus feature, a 16-minute featurette on the making of the movie that blends the best bits from those mini-clips on the Blu-ray into one feature. That one's the way to go, if you're not a hi-def purist.