Prince of Persia Review

Prince of Persia Poster - copyright Walt Disney PicturesOriginally, I was going to review Killers this week, but it was so relentlessly mediocre compared to Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, that I changed my mind.

I’m kind of a contrarian when it comes to movies that are based on video games. General opinion (at least according to Rotten Tomatoes) holds that the announcement of a new video game movie should be met with scorn at best and lynch mobs at worst. I prefer to take each film on its own merits regardless of its source material, and I’ve found myself quite liking a number of them: Wing Commander, both Tomb Raider films, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, to name a few. Prince of Persia takes a place near the top of that list.

The premise goes something like this:

An adopted Persian prince is framed for the King’s murder and must go on the run with a conquered princess to stop evil forces from stealing his captured time-reversing dagger and using it to rule the world.

My review for it goes something like this:

Perhaps my openness to video game movies comes from the fact that only rarely have I actually played the video game the movie is supposed to be based on. Generally the harder filmmakers try to adhere to source material in another medium the less it works as a movie, but from some of the complaints I’ve heard about various adaptations, to-the-letter adherence is the only thing acceptable to true fans of the original, who tend to reject film adaptations no matter how good they are taken out of context.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire cover - copyright Giles Greenfield

Who cares if it’s 630 pages? Cut nothing! Vive la Potter!!!

So with that in mind I should probably mention that I’ve actually played the Prince of Persia games, both Sands of Time and the newer one for the XBOX 360. Granted I only played one for about three minutes and never finished the other, but I came away with was this: the core essentials for the Prince of Persia series are parkour-like jumping around, Middle Eastern locations, a main character who is ostensibly a Persian prince, and a get-out-of-jail free mechanism for when you die. That’s it. That’s all you need, and that’s all that Prince of Persia: Sands of Time carries over. The rest they let the screenwriters (who know how to make a functioning non-interactive story work) take care of.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time game box cover copyright Ubisoft

Oops, and the gratuitous shirtlessness. I forgot that. It’s essential.

The story, written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard, isn’t what I’d describe as complex or even noteworthy. The beginning seems like of like an Iraq war metaphor: “hey, let’s invade this city because they have weapons and they’re not supposed to” but they quickly drop that in favor of an “on the run from the law and trying to stop the world from ending” plotline. They attempt to throw in a few plot twists of the “oh no, we’ve been betrayed” variety but even the densest moviegoer will see them coming, especially when said backstabbing character is the evilest looking bastard the makeup department has ever turned out.

evil uncle Nizam from the Prince of Persia - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

He looks like the live action version of Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin

Where the writing really shines is in the tone. The writers presumably know all this flying around off rooftops and magical daggers will just seem irredeemably goofy if they try to play it dark, so they wisely decide not to take themselves too seriously, which is what I was hoping for from Clash of the Titans but didn’t receive. The entire thing is tongue-in-cheek in the same way that the Pirates of the Caribbean was.

Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

Specifically the part where Jack Sparrow rides his sinking ship to the accompaniment of serious music

The result is at times cliched, occasionally smarmy, but entirely fun. It doesn’t seem to be doing all that well at the box office, though, and I blame that on a bad trailer. It wouldn’t be the first movie hobbled by a bad trailer (Stealth comes to mind) and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The trailer fails to capture to irreverent tone or even hint at the humor built into the dialogue. It’s all “ooh sand, swords, bloodshed, mystical items” and makes it look like every other fantasy movie ever made, except lamer because they’re LYING. Jake Gyllenhaal is so not Persian.

Dastan from Prince of Persia shirtless - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

Not Persian, but definitely shirtless, which is more important anyway.

So Jake Gyllenhaal is not Persian, but it’s okay, because nobody is. All of the characters (all supposedly Persian) are white. Their names are all from the “this is what Americans think Arabic names sound like” (aka Disney’s Aladdin) school, except for Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Dastan, which sounds British. This is okay because he’s adopted. In fact, there’s a lot of British in this movie. Nearly all of the characters are Brits with upper class accents. This is, in turn, okay because the Prince of Persia series was invented by an American named Jordan Mechner. So to fit in with the rest of the cast, fake Persian Jake Gyllenhaal has a fake British accent. It’s all rather hilarious. I mean, the British did control Egypt for a long time… but not back THEN!

Persia: 500 B.C.

So the entire thing has an undercurrent of humor, but the overt humor (i.e. jokes) is the purview of the comic relief character: Sheik Amar (played by Alfred Molina). He’s got kind of a fat, cowardly, moneygrubbing thing going on (not unlike the Ferengi from Star Trek) which isn’t that original, but he does have ostriches, one of which has a sock over it’s head, for which he gets several million bonus points for outright hilarity. It was so awesome I drew a picture of it in my notebook. I’ve reproduced it for you here:

an ostrich with a sock on its head

But by far the coolest part of the movie (and the most important thing to carry over from the video game) is the parkour-like leaping off rooftops, swinging around on conveniently located horizontal broomsticks, and flipping during swordfights like they’re battling a Jedi. The writers are smart enough to plug one of these scenes (featuring an adorable 12-year-old Dastan) into the very beginning of the movie, and to sprinkle them into the rest of the plot, because it is awesome.

Dastan escaping from Prince of Persia - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

I want to try it soooo bad… but I’d totally break every bone in my body

So fake Persian fake accented Dastan is framed for murder and goes on the run with princess Tamina (played by Gemma Arterton), whose city he just helped to annihilate and whose magic dagger he just stole. Dastan kills a bunch of his own guards (yeah, lookin’ real innocent there, genius) and escapes the city. Then they have the clever idea of riding out into the desert and disguising themselves as hobos to hide from Dastan’s adopted Royal family, which is sound in theory…

Dastan and Tamina on Royal horse from Prince of Persica - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

But utterly useless if you forget to take the sparkly Royal blanket off your horse!

Once evil Nizam realizes ordinary palace guards are not going to cut it against the greatest warrior in the kingdom (and the only one with a master’s degree in French military obstacle avoidance techniques) he visits his secret evil Hassassin assassins (who are all conveniently showing off in the courtyard when he arrives like they were tipped off to the fact that they were getting a job interview) and sends them after his fake nephew.

assassin leader from Prince of Persia - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

Their leader is this guy who looks like Casey Affleck but isn’t

Needless to say Dastan’s fake uncles are much less fond of him than his fake brothers, who contrary to cliched hero backstory rules, accepted him right away and never made him clean their armor or fight lions for their amusement. Also needless to say, Dastan/Tamina’s dagger must be pretty damn special if the bad guys are going to this much trouble to get it. And it is. It’s like a magical “do-over” button (to avoid ass-f****** the plot progression, it only rewinds 1 minute 3 times before it runs out).

Dastan going back in time from Prince of Persia - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

Otherwise we’d spend the entire film watching Dastan bounce back and forth through time like an indecisive yo-yo

Tamina and Dastan both want to keep the dagger away from his evil uncle so they’re stuck with each other and forced to co-operate. They, of course, hate each other at first and then fall in love, for it is the rule that no two persons of the opposite sex can co-star in a film without falling in love.

Tamina and Dastan from Prince of Persia - copyright Walt Disney Pictures

Hey, I just realized we’re alone in here. Hold still so I can stare deeply into your eyes.

In a lot of movies this the writers just expect the audience to take this as-read, so they just have the two characters insult each other for nearly the entire movie, except at the end when they declare undying love and then kiss. Thankfully, Prince of Persia eases them into it a bit more, as you can see from this love graph:

love graph for Prince of Persia

As for the ending, this is a Disney movie, so of course it’s cute and perfect. In fact, most of my complaints fall under the “it’s too cutsey” heading, but none of them are enough to downgrade this movie from the level of awesome fun for most of the family (please don’t bring babies or children under 10). It’s definitely worth $10, and probably worth another $20 for the DVD. That’s how much I enjoyed it. So go see it already. You need to have more fun.

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4 Responses to Prince of Persia Review

  • Pingback: Knight and Day Review |()

  • anonomous
    Commented:  26 August 2010 at 12:21()

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    Katrina Nicholson
    Commented:  27 August 2010 at 16:04()

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