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TIMJ at the Movies: Prince of Persia

June 2, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

The second edition of “TIMJ At The Movies” goes from Mars to Persia, where we join a ripped Jake Gyllenhaal and the voluptuous Gemma Arteton in Mike Newell’s adaption of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to see if its parched of blockbuster brilliance or whether the curse of game to film adaptations may finally have been broken.

Before going to watch Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, let me make something perfectly clear before you even shovel the first piece of popcorn into your expectant mouth; this is not the story of the 2001 classic video game. The only thing that both game and movie share in common is the cool dagger that each character wields. Mike Newell and his team have taken the general concept of the game and recreated it as they see fit. This may not be to everyone’s tastes, nevertheless it’s better that writers and directors cater towards their strengths as opposed to trying to poorly recreate something and only doing it half heartedly.

The story sees a young, street bred boy named Dastan perform a bold feat before the King when one of the King’s men attacks another boy. Dastan diverts the guards attention, takes the boy away from the chaos, performing some early acrobatics that give a taster to the daring, no limits attitude of the Prince we know and love as he escapes the guards. This impresses the King who decides there and then he is going to adopt Dastan to one day become a Prince of Persia and takes him back to the castle on horseback.

The years roll by and while both sons of the King have full influence of the royal guard, Dastan has captured the hearts of the common folk and recruited for himself quite an army. Soon in, the armies of all three men are called for duty due to some word of harsh threats upon the King’s own city, so, Dastan and his men, and the royalblood princes and their men storm a city that is apparently ready to go to war with the King. Once the city has been ransacked, as the warriors reach its heart and the Princess who governs it, she is forced to marry the Prince Tus, otherwise lose her city and her life. However, the Princess is ready to give up her life rather than align herself with these men, taking with her a secret that threatens the balance of life, when she notices a piece of the puzzle upon Dastan’s person in the form of a dagger he retrieved from one of her defenders. She quickly changes her mind and agrees to the marriage, keeping her presence close to Dastan in hopes of claiming that which is most sacred to her.

Meanwhile, a sinister plot is brewing within the King’s home that sees Dastan exiled, orders now given to the soldiers to kill him on sight should he decide to return. In light of both of these extraordinary circumstances, the Princess helps the Prince escape and both are thrust together with their respective rivals at their heels and a powerful secret that is left unspoken between them which has capacity to pull them apart.

Prince Dastan is played by Jake Gyllenhaal of Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko and Brothers fame and is tasked with recreating one of the most iconic gaming characters of all time, which is no easy task. Unfortunately, I’m left with a mixed bag of emotion as Jake comes close to nearly ruining this movie, while at the same time stopping it from cart wheeling into despair. Before I go further with this, I can tell you that I really appreciate Gyllenhaal as an actor, so this is not a fanboy rant. Watching him in Brothers earlier this year was a true eye-opener to his acting abilities when he starred opposite Toby Maguire and Natalie Portman, and the power drama of Brokeback Mountain also shows that he can play with a palette of emotion. However, there’s something both on and off about him in PoP.

On the one hand he tries this most odd, convoluted, hybrid accent that borders on the overacted on more than one occasion and then sometimes it just seems to flow naturally and can really work within the context of the film. Then I found myself disliking the way he played off some of the actors in certain scenes, sometimes coming across as being a little too insincere with his gestures and playing up the cheek factor when it only needed to be a slight interaction. Then on the other hand, I found some of his facial expressions to be picture perfect and he captured the essence of the character excellently when in some of the action sequences.

His scenes with Gemma Arteton were also hit and miss for my liking, yet I found myself genuinely surprised when I got the spark in my belly while both were engaging in their romantic exploits. They are a cute couple in this film and their story is quite a clever narrative in the way it’s structured and how it plays out. It’s also very clear watching their screen time together that both really enjoyed working together on this film. Yet, there are occasions when the dialogue can come across as being quite wooden and stunted, producing awkward scenes to the viewer who may just be about to give in and succumb to their romance as they have wanted to so desperately, especially when both are trying to be funny.

This is the animated face of Jake Gyllenhaal

If my cinema is anything to go by, the comedy factor of this film has to fall on the shoulders of the brilliant, incredibly talented Alfred Molina (better known as Doc Ock) who is, without question, this film’s unsung hero. Molina’s treasure hungry, cutthroat vigilante character smacks of Crystal Skull’s Mac (played by Ray Winstone) but without allegiance changes every three seconds and a much less annoying disposition. His obsession with taxes and ostriches creates many a humorous moment for the film and despite Jake G’s very tongue in cheek portrayal of the Prince that creates a very light atmosphere in the film, Molina really does manage to make you laugh out loud.

Meanwhile, Sir Ben Kingsley really helps to ground Sands of Time and does help pull the viewer away from the marvel and majesty of dynamic acrobatics and tomfoolery to advise them that there is a very legitimate threat to our protagonist. That’s little surprise when you consider his knighthood in the acting world and the string of films he has starred in and the numerous roles he has made infamous. As expected, Ben Kingsley adds a flair of Machiavellian brilliance to PoP that helps ensure it doesn’t paint too far outside the lines and stops the film scattering in different directions. Even though you know from the very first scene what type of character he’s going to play, you can’t help but find yourself following in his footsteps and believing whatever he tells you along the way. Kingsley is a master at creating suspense in whatever scene he is in and puts this together with just as good effect as ever in PoP:SoT.

Moving on from the actors, the direction of Newell is also as good as you’d expect for a big budget blockbuster, just as you’d remember it from the likes of Pirates and Indy, this looks like an action film with good stunts, backdrops and well crafted sequences. Also, much the same as the filmmakers tried with DOOM, placing viewers in a first person perspective as homage to the game, Newell has done his homage to Persia by showing a panoramic layout of the scene and what the Prince needs to infiltrate before he attempts his crazed mission. The film is very good at paying its respects to Persia with its stunts, environment and style, although sometimes its difficult not to keep asking yourself if this is a film about Assassin’s Creed, especially since the Prince wears a hood over his head for a good portion of the movie. Not helped by a certain part of the film that almost looks as if Dastan is going to do the infamous swan dive.

There is a real Indiana Jones vibe to this movie, especially during the first half as there is suspense, action, danger, peril, there’s the quick wit, the irresistible romance and of course the dagger, representative of the treasure that all characters seemed to be tied in with. Prince doesn’t recreate the magic of Pirates: Black Pearl and the layer upon layer of plots that come together toward the end in magnificent fashion, but you definitely get the feel that Newell is at work on this title and faced with a fairly limited sand-like landscape for his direction, he manages to keep the scenes as different as possible and manages to make the piece entertaining throughout.

It’s also worth mentioning the fairly dazzling effects of the sands whilst reversing time. They are quite a wonder to behold on the screen and the way they’ve factored this into the film is neither overdone or underappreciated. It plays its part and it is an important one. You should definitely keep your eyes peeled

The music is also faithfully recreated in the film and really helps draw you into the illusion that you’re in Persia, entrenched in its myth and legend. The sound effects will also remind you of the game and will probably make you itch to buy ‘The Forgotten Sands’ which has a rather conveniently similar release date to this picture. As is sometimes the case, dialogue can tend to be harder to hear in a cinema as they save the speakers for the booming effects which makes a viewer feel as if they’re in the thick of war, but you’ll only miss a word or two here and there and its never enough that you’ll be confused about what’s going on.

At the end of it all, in my opinion, Prince of Persia Sands of Time is a triumph. They did it. It worked. It’s still not the adaptation I would have liked, its still not everything I could have hoped for but to be quite honest, PoP:SoT is one of my all time favourite games and my expectations were always going to be incredibly difficult to live up too. What I can say however, with all certainty, this is the best game to film adaptation I’ve ever seen. That’s not necessarily saying very much considering the heritage, but at the end of the day, SoT is a good film. It won’t win oscars, it won’t be on the tip of people’s tongues come December when they’re talking about the best film they’ve seen this year, but it’s a damn sight better than the appalling remake of Clash of the Titans and a lot of other drivel Hollywood dishes out Summer after Summer. It took an excellent A-List cast, millions of dollars, shitloads of press, hype, Mike Newell and Walt Disney pictures but finally, gamers have a film they can watch based on their favourite game, without feeling awkward sitting in their seats or getting the urge to storm out enraged and sickened to the stomach.

PoP:SoT has an authentic vibe, it feels as if it has a genuine knowledge of its source material. Generally the scenes play out well and the acrobatics and stunts are cool enough that you could happily watch them again. I just hope to God they don’t base the sequel on Warrior Within, otherwise, all the good made here, is going to go right down the shit pit…