July 4, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Review

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by Mike Newell
Walt Disney Pictures

Much can be said about the fabled history of video game adaptations. The illustrious likes of the now-infamous Uwe Boll to the failed exploits of Milla Jovovich in the increasingly frustrating Resident Evil films are just some of the more notable points of the medium's young history. When Jordan Mechner- the original mastermind behind the famous 2D platformer- announced a movie deal that was struck with Disney for a Prince of Persia adaptation, I was shocked, cautiously optimistic, and indifferent- in that order.

Sands of Time has a lot going for it: Mechner conceived the idea for a more screen-oriented story based on the rather good story of the video game trilogy that inspired it, a rather decent director Mike Newell was at the helm, and Jerry Bruckheimer was backing it seriously with his gargantuan finances. But now, you say, what could go wrong?

Well, it's not that there's anything technically wrong, it's just that everything feels barely correct. It's like, just as long as setpiece A and plot point X was done, the rest wouldn't even matter; it's like the whole crew wasn't even going for anything special or unique despite a high budget.

In short, it's just plain ol' mediocrity on full display.

Good movies are easy to love. Bad movies are easy to hate (or ironically love). Mediocre movies that are aimless and ambition-less? They're not even worth the time. The entire movie is basically Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton talking for the sake of talking, battling for the sake of battling, and not rewinding for the sake of staging awkward conflict. True, the sand in the movie's McGuffin- the dagger of time- is limited and thus must be used wisely, but there's not an actual sense of danger and despair over the dagger's potential to destroy the world. Nor is there any danger to the main villain- who is clearly made up to be regarded as such.

And by that I mean Sir Ben Kingsley who makes an appearance here as an uninteresting villain who hires a spy and creates a conspiracy in his brother's kingdom just so he can claim the throne. At first people trust him, but come on, he wears evil villain make-up, clearly someone in the palace should at least have an uneasy amount of suspicion around him. Hell, with eyeliner so sinister, the only thing that would make the guy even more evil is if his role was just given to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a move of uninspired, badly sequenced flashbacks, his motivation is explained, in a manner as if to say, "Well hey, at least our villain has some kind of motive!" and the way that the hero just formulates this motive is just full of B.S. for it feels as if he just pulled it out of his buttocks.

I have no apprehension about giving a name to the usually nameless hero, but I do have to exercise a bit of restraint with the casting choice of a clearly white American. Jake Gyllenhaal, usually a pretty decent actor, is kind of uninteresting and not charismatic here. He's only "adequate enough" for the role and is simply a constant reminder for the film's penchant to settle for mediocrity. Fine, maybe he did do his own parkour, but whenever he does anything related to a stunt, it just appears unbelievable, because the film also has a thing for constantly using slow-motion and fast-motion that it isn't even funny. Hell, it's not even like Zack Snyder who uses much of his excessive slow-mo in an elegant way, it's just slow-mo for the heck of slow-mo. That, in addition to motion blur, makes things look unconvincing... as if the movie wasn't such a huge green screen already!

Also a bit of a negligible character: Tamina. She's the princess that's attached to Dastan's journey to guard the dagger, and she's played by Gemma Arterton. Unfortunately, she just can't plain act. There's nothing endearing, likable, or charming about the character, because there's no personality to even like... unless beauty is a personality. Last time I saw a movie with a person who used her beauty as her personality, it involved robots with balls.

If there's really anything to like about this movie, it may well be the cinematography. There are some moments in the film that are pretty well-shot, and the apparent production value makes the film look initially epic overall. Some scenes suffer from a lack of polish in the special effects department, but overall, the movie looks good enough aesthetically.

Maybe there was a benchmark that was observed during the making of this film. Maybe the producers only settled to make the film "tolerable enough" or "excellent enough for a video game movie". Granted, this film is head and shoulders above much of the Street Fighter's and Alone in the Dark's out there, but as a self-contained, classic swashbuckling adventure film? It just doesn't match up, not because it's bad or unentertaining, but because it just doesn't aim high. It's more than watchable, but it doesn't get any more than just that.

Rating: 6/10

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