Given their rather poor track record, I would guess that saying Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is a pretty good film adaptation of a video game would be damning it with the faintest of praise. I suppose I could say that it is a perfectly adequate summer movie if your criteria is to have something to point your eyeballs at for two hours while you munch your popcorn. That may not be much better, but while entertaining in the moment, Prince Of Persia is a trifle that evaporates with the end credits, leaving one with the feeling that the have just spent some time watching something vaguely movie-ish without being able to recall many salient details.
Things start out promisingly enough. A voiced-over prologue fills in the background of 8-year-old street urchin Dastan, who, after apparently spontaneously inventing parkour, captures the eye of the Persian Kingdom’s kindly ruler Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who adopts him, taking him to the palace to be raised alongside his own two sons. Fifteen years later and Dastan has grown up in to a buff Jake Gyllenhaal. The three brothers are riding out at the head of the Persian army, when word arrives that the normally peaceful city of Alamut is secretly making weapons for Persia’s enemies. The King’s brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) presses for an attack on the city and Dastan’s brothers agree.
It is here where the movie is at its best, as Dastan and the ragtag group of soldiers under his command disobey orders and storm a side entrance to the fortified city. Director Mike Newell does a good job of laying out the geography of the town and the attack by the Persian forces. The action is well-staged and edited, making for an exhilarating sequence. Newell also cuts back and forth between the concerns of the city’s rulers over protecting a mystical dagger from the invading hordes.
It doesn’t take much of a leap to conclude that Nizam is after the dagger and faked the evidence of weapon manufacture. In a series of obviously constructed plot moments in the aftermath of the battle, Dastan comes in to possession of the dagger, is framed for the death of his father who had come to claim the city and with the dagger’s protector Tamina (Gemma Arterton) flees into the desert with Nizam’s troops in hot pursuit.
What follows is some fairly standard adventure movie plotting. Dastan and Tamina argue at first, but slowly fall for each other. They encounter various dangers, meet the pre-requesite comic relief supporting character (played ably here by Alfred Molina) before heading back to the city to stop Nizam in a big CGI showdown. If this plot is inspired by the video game, than makers of the video game must have been influenced by The Thief Of Baghdad and the various Sinbad movies of the 50s and 60s.
Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem is a fairly obvious one – the magic dagger. By pressing a jewel on the end of its hilt, the dagger’s possessor can move backwards in time to relive the last few minutes with hopefully a better outcome. As an adaptation of a videogame, it makes a certain meta-textual sense that the narrative comes with its own reset button. But with such a device rattling around the story, there is no way that one can be concerned with any of the character’s survival when their death can be so easily reversed.
So what does that leave us with to recommend? Gyllenhall’s faux-British accent isn’t too distracting. Arterton makes a better impression here than she did a few months ago in Clash Of The Titans, though I suspect that is the fault of the latter movie more so than a success of this one.