Monday, 7 June 2010

Movie Review: Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

Originally I was never intending to review ‘Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time’ (TSOT) after I’d seen it, not having the time to do so and all. However its recent return to public consciousness, with the revelation that the film has so far dramatically failed to reach anywhere near its $200 budget, has made me revisit the my initial thoughts on the film, with enough time passing to gather together any mixed feelings and write up what I could consider to be my final opinion on the matter.

I will say that against all my initial prejudices against most game to film adaptations made since the late nineteen-nineties, I actually quite enjoyed Prince Of Persia. It was ‘alright’, ‘not bad’, and could have been so much worse. I was surprised to see just how much more polished and professionally directed it looked to be from other videogame adaptations - a far cry from the DTV or music video look some of these films tend to take on. Whether that be from poor direction or just a lack of a decent budget I don’t know. Maybe both. But one thing is for sure, that TSOT ranks as one the best game adaptations to date, even if in terms of story and characterisation it is even shallower than some that have come before it.

Surprisingly, the film also feels much like it belongs in the POP franchise as a whole, featuring art direction that is partially simillar to ‘The Two Thrones’ with elements of ‘The Warrior Within’ put in for good measure. The costumes, especially with regards to the film’s Prince Dastan have clearly been adapted from the ‘Prince’ character in the last two games, representing a halfway house between the ‘emo badass’ look he had in the second game to the ‘hardened Persian adventurer’ he became in the third. One scene in particular, in which Dastan accidentally activates the dagger of time, demonstrates this perfectly. He becomes a half-human, half mystical being closely representing the dual light/dark prince on the cover of ‘The Two Thrones’ videogame.

The main reason behind this, and other such similarities, is that one of the film’s lead writers (who is also one of the producers), is in fact the original writer behind the ‘Sands Of Time’ game, which has no doubt left a lasting influence on the production team as a whole with regards to the film’s artistic style and rather superficial storyline. I thought it was quite nice to see someone paramount to the overall game design process finally being allowed to take on such a large responsibility in shaping the film, clearly keeping the overall look and feel closer to the franchise than most of these adaptations have done before. Other influences coming from Director Mike Newell and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer obviously creep in too, and this can be seen both in the way the film is lit and how the action is directed.

The yarn told in ‘Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time’ isn’t particularly original, though it works well enough for the film, while also closely representing the kind of narrative to be told through the prince’s many videogame adventures. In that respect it’s still reasonable solid, if nothing but superficial, and makes for entertaining if unremarkable movie.

It’s a pretty straightforward affair in which a young Persian Prince (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is not of royal blood, gets entangled up in the death of the Persian King and an apparent plot to seize the throne. Naturally he’s innocent, and along with a mysterious Princess (Gemma Arterton) set off to find the truth and enjoy some adventure along the way. That and something about a sacred time-controlling dagger, with whoever possessing it having the ability to alter a few minutes of time and space for their advantage.

This dagger is the main plot moving device in the film, along with the almost non-mystery surrounding the King’s death, and is used largely for story purposes than for any meaningful action sequences. Though it does come around full circle towards the end, but that is to be expected. Unlike the videogames there are only one or two scenes in which the Prince actually uses the dagger to reverse time to evade danger, and this is deliberately limited, mostly it seems to expand the story about the resting place of the mythical sands of time which power it.

Other than the use of the dagger of time, and the surprisingly accurate dress of its characters, which match the look and feel of the later games perfectly, there isn’t much else to be found in ‘TSOT’ that feels like a Prince of Persia movie. There are no fiendish scenes of Dastan escaping diabolical traps, or traversing an elaborate maze of different surfaces, although there are a fair few elements of rooftop acrobatics which depict the style of the games, if not in a slapstick kind of manner.

The dialogue is entertaining whilst being drenched in the obvious cheese and cliché that is to be expected from any summer popcorn flick, although at times the modern day language and constant wisecracking was somewhat off-putting. There are some convincing locations, marred by some strangely poor CG. But most of all, ‘TSOT’ displays a noticeably clear degree of professionalism and solid film-like qualities that most game to film adaptations lack, instead looking more like DTV releases masquerading as box office material (Mortal Kombat Annihilation, Resident Evil).

A thick layer of grain covers the image looking unmistakably filmic, and most scenes are filled with an over-saturation of colours, all representative of a standard Michael Bay production. Comparisons can be drawn with Pirates of the Caribbean, and definitely Transformers in this regard. This stylised look certainly aids in trying to create atmosphere for the film, and makes things seem that little bit more real than in the usual artificial looking videogame adaptations. Plenty of location shooting and solidly designed sets also do this, and is only let down by the sometimes-poor nature of the CG. At times it blatantly looks like something out of a videogame cut scene and is jarring compared to the live stunts in the rest of the movie.

Most of the films performances are by the numbers, with some of the actors going through the motions. Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton both seem guilty of this. Then again the scrip leaves them very little to work with and is the main cause of the performers failing to deliver any chemistry between characters, and any suspense in the film. Both their characters are equally strong willed, with Jake being the wise-cracker, and they all too often argue like adolescent teens despite the severity of the situation they find themselves in, taking more than a leaf from the Pirates book of characterisation.

Entertaining? On occasion, surprisingly so, especially when Afred Molina is drawn into the mix. His character, a tax-evading, modern day businessman of the time, brings some added fun and charisma to the film. Clearly he’s enjoying playing up his role (which appears to be a loose parody of Oliver Reed’s character in Ridley Scott Gladiator). Just one of a few obvious nods to other box office hits. Ben Kingsley is an obvious choice as the film’s villain. It’s a role that he’s played many times before, and as such requires him to do very little. The sheer stage presence he commands is enough to fill the part, and as a result he calmly sales through on autopilot without so much as of a hitch.

Frequently the story and action sequences can appear to be flung together rather quickly. Although individually they are okay, and the action sequences themselves are well directed and easy to follow, with plenty of explosive scenes. At one point during the middle of the film, the feeling of time passing and distances travelled for the characters and the audience, which is so important in building up a large scale and epic feel to the proceedings, seemed to be obviously absent. I noticed the same thing during my viewing of ‘Clash Of The Titans’, in which the entire film felt like an endless string of scenes being put together. Thankfully ‘Prince Of Persia’ mostly avoids this, and after the small blip in the middle keeps pushing forward relatively naturally.

Despite these issues ‘TSOT’ is a fun and pretty entertaining movie. Definitely more ‘Pirates’ meets ‘Clash’ than true ‘Prince Of Persia’, and this is clearly evident throughout. However the film isn’t bad at all, nor is it particularly good. Instead I would say that it’s alright (the exact word I used as I left the cinema), and comes off as a lot more polished than most game to film adaptations, even if it isn’t the most deep or coherent pick of the bunch.

One thing that I will add, is that is very refreshing to see a game adaptation look and feel so much like a standard by the number summer blockbuster than the obvious ‘not a proper movie’ that so many of these films seem to take. If it wasn’t called ‘Prince Of Persia’, then it could be mistaken for a Persian ‘Pirates’ movie, or a competitor to ‘The Mummy’ franchise. It does however maintain an overall artistic style that resembles in no small part the ‘Two Thrones’ and ‘Forgotten Sands’ videogames. A sure sign that these things are being taken far more seriously.

Ether way, it is a solid enough, and reasonably entertaining movie, if not slightly boring in parts, which is all to be expected really.

Alright… Yeah, that will definitely do it.

You may have noticed that unlike our game reviews we haven’t given TSOT a verdict out of ten. For any movie reviews we do at IQGamer we’ve decided to drop the arbitrary one-to-ten marking system, and instead let the tone of the review speak for itself.

For another take on Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, and loads more movie goodness head over to Beames on Film.

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