Indiana Jones would have felt right at home, i.e. rather uncomfortable, with much of the set dressing for the new film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time….Snakes…to echo the classic, Why’d it have to be snakes? Lots of them, slithering around, emerging from the sleeves of the mysterious dark dervish ninjas, called Hassansins (now who came up with that gem of a name?) who lurk with the moodily obscure menace of multiple Voldemorts around the periphery of our hero, Prince Dastan’s quest. Eeeshhh, I shudder, along with Indy. It still works as an effective creep-out device.
The latest film from the unlikely collaboration of Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Pictures, Prince of Persia, takes a video game and makes it come to life with much of the spirit, if not quite the level of finesse of George Lucas’ classic summer movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Actually, director Mike Newell seems to sample from many of the archetypes of the genre with, I must say, some success. Snakes and a fiercely feisty female partner from Indy, sandstorm menace from The Mummy, beautiful lighting effects and 360 degree pans of the gorgeous city on the hill, reminiscent of the wonderful miniature effects in the Lord of the Rings films, even back to the original Thief of Baghdad films with the intrepid urchin street hero. Well, Newell is never one to stay in one cinematic mood, himself, for very long.
Director of some of my favorite films Enchanted April, Pushing Tin, Into the West, all intimate character studies, and a few of my least favorite, the cringe-inducing An Awfully Big Adventure, and the ultimate “Yeesh, They Deserve Each Other” romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mike Newell has tried and incorporated almost every kind of genre in his long career. He also has a specific experience he brings to this adventure film, having directed a number of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He’s a fine choice at the helm. He brings a brisk pace to a fairly neat and simple plot that he revs up like a supercharged amusement park ride, caroming on toward its goal but never swerving too far off the tracks. It may take us a while to get there, at almost two hours, but the ending didn’t make me go “Yeah, right…” with a sense of narrative betrayal, as I often do these days. He and his writers (and those of the original game, I’m assuming) set up their rules and stick to them, which brings you a satisfying conclusion. I applaud them.
Note: If you’re interested in seeing a visual of the original game, here’s a link: youtube.com/watch?v=y7tA-6mlbNY
The following clip is more informative than the trailer, and may be considered a tad spoilerish. It is also disabled here by Disney, just click the “Watch at YouTube” button and it should take you there.
The casting is well rounded and always charming. Actually, I’d say that in some, if not all of the cases, they have more in their acting arsenal than they are called on to use. Jake Gyllenhaal is known for his offbeat choices in roles, like Brokeback Mountain, Proof, Zodiac and most recently Brothers. He obviously isn’t afraid of a challenge, and perhaps becoming an action hero and holding back his thespian impulses is this movie’s challenge for him. As the aforementioned Prince Dastan, he certainly looks fetching in his new beefed-up physique and lengthened tresses, and one wonders how much of the athletic style of parkour training he did himself, or if it was more of the parkour supervisor, David Belle? Jake certainly jumps, flips and bounces with all the aplomb and acrobatic skills of his video game counterpart. If you haven’t heard of parkour, here’s Mr. Belle himself.
Kingley, as Nizam, is underused a bit, and doesn’t have quite the flair for deadpan, tongue-in-cheekness, that say, Patrick Stewart brings to the X-Men franchise. To round it out Alfred Molina is wonderful as always, as Sheik Amar, who has a normal abhorrence for taxes and an abnormal love for his ostriches. He does always get in on the best film series, doesn’t he? (as Satipo, the guide, in Raiders, and Doc Ock in Spiderman 2)
Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, Quantum of Solace), our lovely Princess Tamina, handles her role well, having both the decorative quality required in our heroine, but more importantly, she has courage. Tamina is one who gives our hero back his own, shot for shot. They make a most combative but satisfying romantic pair.
So, the scorecard on Prince of Persia is a pretty good one, if you’re in for a brisk ride of summer movie fun. Visually: very pretty. Effects: you can see the money spent. Plot: some holes, of course, but as it’s designed for speed not nuance, like most Bruckheimer films, you don’t really need to look closely. Acting: what there is of it, quite adequate. Fun and Thrills: definitely worth a watch. If I were starring it, I’d give it a 3 ½ or 4. Kick back in the AC with popcorn and a soda and beat the summer heat.