Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

directed by Mike Newell

Prince of Persia poster  
It's a wonder more films haven't been set during the era of the Persian empire, because it's perfect for moviemaking. Most westerners are vague on the details, offering ample opportunities to make things up or rewrite history. Then there's the potential for gorgeous desert settings and heroic swordfights in lost cities, viewed through the romantic lens of the distant past. Prince of Persia takes full advantage of this backdrop, with oodles of exotic glamour.

The story revolves around the Persian royal family. King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) rules jointly with his brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley), whilst Princes Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle) are heirs. Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn't of royal blood at all, and stands to inherit nothing. The king was impressed by an act of bravery when he was an orphan street boy, and he adopted Dastan as his own son. When Dastan leads an assault that helps the Persian army win a battle his courage is in no doubt. The city of Alamut is accused of manufacturing weapons to sell to Persia's enemies.

The Persians capture Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a renowned beauty who's understandably hostile to her conquerors. But during the victory celebrations the king is poisoned, and Dastan is framed for the crime.

Forced to go on the run, Tamina follows him and helps him escape. But she seems more interested in the attractive dagger he picked up during the battle. The dagger allows the bearer to turn back time, and only the holder knows what has happened.

There's a lot of leaping, running and fighting as Dastan struggles to evade his pursuers and clear his name. The dagger is a kind of mystical weapon of mass destruction, and all of the bad guys want to get their hands on it. There are snakes, assassins, furious traders and even ostriches for our hero to contend with. Breathless action sequences come thick and fast.

The high energy action scenes are one of the signs of this film's video game origins. In many ways Dastan is the perfect game hero. He's brave, athletic, handsome, he wasn't born to wealth but he earned his place in society, and he inhabits a beautiful but dangerous world. However he's a little too perfect to make an interesting movie hero. The struggle to clear his honour, the acrobatic stunts, the determination, and his tendency towards heroic self-sacrifice are as predictable as the tides. Dastan may be the kind of character people want to be when they're playing a game, but that's not the same thing as somebody people want to watch.

I don't know whether this is also related to the fact Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a game adaptation, but it's a very male-oriented movie. Tamina is the only female role of any significance. Whilst she's feisty enough, all of the other women are hidden away in harems or otherwise absent, while the men talk about brotherhood and stab each other in manly ways.

Casting Ben Kingsley as Nizam was a mistake. He's one of the most typecast of actors, and his appearance makes a fairly predictable story even more so. The ending is unconvincing, because some of the characters accept what happens all too easily. The way they respond doesn't quite ring true. Realism isn't a priority in this movie, but although that's okay when we're talking about magic daggers and beggar boys becoming princes, it's not so much fun when people suddenly start acting out of character.

So the movie offers romantic settings, a beautiful princess, fancy weaponry and balletic combat that's almost too fast to see. It looks the business. It just doesn't hold any surprises.

25th May 2010

Film Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Mike Newell