Since I never really got into the video games, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. At first glance, it looked to be just another video game remake, I figured shlock director Uwe Boll was at the helm, since that seems to be his specialty. Thankfully, it’s Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)) instead, so there was a chance it could be good.
Still, even with Jerry Bruckheimer producing, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. So rather than spending my money in theaters, I waited for the DVD release. Even before I got that far in my NetFlix® DVD queue, however, it was available for instant streaming. But, would that mean Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was bad? Or like Alice in Wonderland (2010) before it, NetFlix® had just been able to snag another good Disney film relatively early?
Jake Gyllenhaal, after starting off with cult fave Donnie Darko (2001) and going on to The Day After Tomorrow (2004), abruptly went garnering for an Academy Award® with Brokeback Mountain, effectively shunning his action fans along the way. Now, however, it seems he’s back in the action genre, with both this film and his upcoming techie thriller Source Code (2011). And it’s good to have him back.
Gyllenhaal fits the role of rogue prince well. He does a pretty good job of leaping and fighting his way across deserts and temples, wowing the crowds with his character’s acrobatic daring. He’s also pretty good at providing comic relief when that’s called for as well. He does seem a bit rusty at the action dialogue, but that’s mostly in a few awkward sequences with his lovely co-star, who does a good job of covering up his brief lulls.
That lovely co-star is Gemma Arterton. She does a decent job of providing both eye candy and some wit of her own. In fact, her sharp retorts are a highlight of the few sequences in the film not laden with special effects. In fact, her wisecracks should generate more laughs than Gyllenhaal’s own occasional quips.
Ben Kingsley, who seems to have been pigeon-holed into one type of role these days, pulls off another re-incarnation of that role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Since the viewer is getting a bit tired of seeing him do a role he can probably do in his sleep by now, he plays his part without garnering much interest. The rest of the cast, including Karl Urban as one of Gyllenhaal’s princely brothers, is largely unused. Alfred Molina does get a moment or two in the sun, even if his “small-time businessman” starts off shaky.
The plot starts off well, with the story of an orphan raised to become a prince. He is then accused of murdering his “father”, and must prove his innocence while finding the real culprit. Basically, take The Lion King (1994) and change the lions to ancient Persians. Add in the mystical element of a dagger that can reverse time, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time emerges.
The special effects are good, but not quite good enough. While most of the sequences look entirely realistic, the effects do falter at times. That allows the veneer of reality to slip a little and let an occasional obvious green screen or a bit of unrealistic computer imagery to show through. Thankfully, most of the effects are top notch, so those few slips are easy to push aside.
Thankfully, what worked for lions also works in live-action form, and the viewer should enjoy watching Prince of Persia. An occasional Gyllenhaal fumble or a special effects blunder does dampen the fun – as does the easily imagined cliched ending. Still, viewers going into the film thinking “popcorn flick” should still have a couple of moments of fun with it.