Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

prince of persia one sheet
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the first big blockbuster to come out for the summer season. It’s tremendous fun, non-stop action and an adventure film with an appealing story. I not only enjoyed it but kept wondering when I could get a Blu-Ray copy so I could really step through some of the scenes and see how they were assembled. I bet you’re going to like it too.

The film starts with Dastan (William Foster), a beggar boy living by his wits in the bazaar in Persia, getting caught for stealing. Seconds before he’s to be punished for his thievery, the King of Persia (Ronald Pickup) appears and, seeing a hero within Dastan, stops the punishment and instead has him move into the palace as an adopted son. Zoom forward fifteen years or so and now-adult Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is joining his royal brothers Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) on an assault on the holy city of Alamut. With them is long-trusted family advisor Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley).
The assault of the city, a combination of swordfights, archery and Parkour, is truly thrilling, and watching Gyllenhaal swing, swoop and leap from building to building is great fun. Turns out that it’s also surprisingly true to the original video game: Prince of Persia actually started out as a late 80s video game for MS-DOS and Apple II computers. The reasons for the attack are suspect and soon Dastan is on the run, a victim of palace intrigue, Princess Tamina of Alamut (Gemma Arterton) in tow.

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Prince of Persia has very much the same feel and pace as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, except that Prince is a bit more family friendly. There’s also a sweet — and witty — romance between Prince Dastan and the beautiful and strong Princess Tamina, complicated time-travel elements, and a hilarious gem of a performance by Alfred Molina as the savvy, entrepreneurial rogue Sheik Amar that help make Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time one of the best films of 2010.

As befits a film based on a video game, the performances in Prince of Persia are a bit larger than life, particularly the dastardly rogue that Kingsley plays. He’s a great actor, but the entire cast did a splendid job creating a straightforward adventure movie that eschews moral ambiguity and character development for action and stunts. It’s the genre, and it’s fun.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however. One of the most surprising glitches was that many of the long shots were obviously computer generated, and looked more like a video game than a multi-million-dollar special effect. The ending was a bit confusing too, when the magical Daggar of Time that let Prince Dastan travel through time paired with the enormous underground Sands of Time pillar. There’s also some debate about having a non-Arab actor in the lead role, but Gyllenhaal does a great job and I think it’s just knee-jerk political correctness. In my eyes it’s a complete non-issue.
prince of persia publicity still

Princess Tamina (Arterton) and Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal) in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

What I most liked about this film was the mythos of the poor boy with the heart of gold who becomes a prince. At one point, King Sharaman reminds Dastan “The boy I saw in that square was capable of being more than good, of being great.”  Doesn’t every boy secretly dream of being a hero?  Harry Potter is a similar story and it’s no surprise that Prince director Mike Newell previously directed one of the Potter films (The Goblet of Fire).
Speaking of films that were inspiration for Prince of Persia, there’s definitely an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom scene and the core story has more than a passing nod to Aladdin, another Disney property.
The banter between Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina was delightful and there’s a very modern sensibility about their interchange, even as they’re in the middle of a fantasy film set a thousand years ago. Princess Tamina is also a strong, capable character, a nice switch from the prototypical helpless females that populate most of these fables and older video games. Their dialog is suggestive and flirtatious, but in a manner that’ll pass right over the heads of younger audience members.
The film is rated PG-13, though I predict there’ll be a lot of children in the theater. That rating feels a bit too restrictive, speaking as the father of a 13yo and 10yo: It’s a fast-paced action film with some intense fight scenes, but I’d suggest that perhaps PG-10 or so would be a better rating, if only the MPAA had such a thing.
Finally, as the King states more than once, it’s “the bond between brothers that is the sword that defends the empire” and the combination of honor and brotherhood underlying terrific action sequences and a good, entertaining story make this the next blockbuster of 2010. I’m looking forward to the Prince of Persia sequel. 

5 comments on “Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

  1. Nice review! I appreciate that you reviewed the movie for what it’s supposed to be: a fun, fast-paced blockbuster.

    I wasn’t sure if it would be any good, since video game-based films usually aren’t, but I’m excited to check it out now on your recommendation.

  2. I had high hopes for this when I read a interview with Gyllenhaal (in Game Informer magazine) where he discussed how if there was a move that was there “just because it was in the game” Jerry Bruckheimer would question it and make them re-work it until it made sense within the movie.

    Looks like a fun movie to catch.

  3. So excited to hear that you give this a great review! I really want to see it and hope I get a chance to!

  4. This really was a surprisingly decent film. I didn’t want to gouge my eyes out in the theater like I have for every single video game-to-movie adaption in the past (except for the first Resident Evil).

  5. Before the movie I was a big fan of the game (PC & PS2), when I saw the movie loved it, Gyllenhaal is perfect to plays as prince Dastan.I think the movie is less of jump scene like in the game but overall I really love this movie.

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