The title of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is similarly structured to that of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, though sadly not quite as entertaining. Still, it makes for a decent enough adventure movie set in the scorching desert featuring dastardly villains, a princess in peril and a sword wielding hero.
Set in a time when Iraq and Iran were called Persia, the action begins when adopted Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his two brothers are about to invade the sacred city of Alamut that may or may not be providing dangerous weapons to the enemies of the Persian empire (sound familiar?). Dastan is an orphan from the streets who was adopted by the king (Ronald Pickup) who was impressed by the boys Parkour abilities while fending off his guards. His brothers Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle) accept him although sometimes disagree with his brash ways. Accompanying the three brothers on their journey is the family uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley). Here is a clue to finding the villain really quickly in a Disney adventure movie. If there is a bald character who sports a goatee, a lot of eye-liner and is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, BINGO!
Anyhow, the family has a meeting, decide to invade the city in the name of the Persian empire, and by morning you have a great battle involving spear-throwing, flames, sword fights, lots of CG soldiers, and Prince Dastan jumping all over the walls in order to open a gate. It’s hard to tell when it’s Gyllenhaal and when it’s a stuntman, but he looks tanned and in shape so you could say he looks the part. Quick question: why is it that when a Hollywood movie is set in Persia hundreds of years ago, the actors always need to have British accents? Shouldn’t they have, I don’t know, Persian accents? When Americans play Russians, they speak English with a Russian accent don’t they? Who comes up with these rules?
The accent issue aside, once Alamut has been taken over, it would seem there are no weapons to be found and the family meets Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) who is offended that a bunch of “Persian illiterates” have taken over her city and wish her to be married to one of the brothers. Before nuptials can take place, the king is murdered by a poisoned robe, Dastan is framed for the crime and forced to go on the run with the princess. A poisoned robe: that’s new. Sounds like a rejected assassination idea that the CIA would have come up when they were out of imagination.
After having escaped his own soldiers in order to hide in the desert with the princess, Dastan figures out that the true reason for the invasion is a magic dagger that has the power to turn back time for whoever presses the big button on the hilt, which contains the mythical Sands of Time. Dastan has to use it a couple of times to get the idea, but anybody who has ever played a videogame will know what it’s all about. You press it, and you get a second turn. Simple.
The problem for the whole world is that if the power of the blade is misused, it just might destroy all life as we know it. So from that point on Dastan and the princess are travelling across the desert in order to prove Dastan’s innocence and protect the dagger. Along the way they encounter Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) an ostrich race promoter who has an expert knife thrower for a bodyguard (Steve Toussaint). The Sheik’s anti-taxing stand and one-liners provide the movie with much-needed comic relief, although you get some of that with the bickering that occurs between Dastan and the princess.
They say that in romantic comedies, conflicts create the relationship. It’s hard to come up with a greater conflict for a couple than for the man to have invaded the woman’s city. Now imagine that couple having to share a camel through the scorching desert for days. Good times.
Some of the best battles occur when Dastan has to fight the Hassansins, expert murderers who each have their own special weapons including snakes, double-bladed swords, and metallic whips. They also seem to have the ability to travel with their own little twisters, which is a good stealth tactic, but doesn’t that mean they can be seen from far away? It would seem kind of weird to see five or six twisters travelling side by side and heading in the same direction.
Overall, the movie succeeds. Mike Newell, the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, certainly knows his way around a big budget franchise. He has made a fun, light and entertaining movie, but Prince Dastan is no Jack Sparrow. There could have been more perilous chases, more of Alfred Molina’s funny Sheik, and no offense to Ben Kingsley, but I like villains who are bit more eccentric. Captain Barbosa’s mad cackling was a highlight of the Pirates franchise. Kingsley is just average as far as movie villains go. It’s not enough to be bald and have goatee.