Review: ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’

Disney trades in the Caribbean for all of Persia with mixed results. While the game the film is based upon was epic, the film seems to be holding back and overshooting all at the same time.

When Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal ) was found as an orphaned child living on the streets, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) saw in him the makings of a prince, although his blood was not noble. Adopted and raised as one of the king’s own children, Dastan seeks challenges wherever he can but also displays a strong heart. His path crosses with the defeated Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) during the raid of a holy city suspected of secretly dealing in illegal arms, but an assassination and a dark betrayal force Dastan to flee with the princess. If he is to have any chance to clear his name, he must learn many secrets that led up to the betrayal including one that could unmake the world if it fell into the wrong hands.

As the next big anticipated franchise from the Mouse House, there is something that feels restrained about Prince of Persia. It should have felt as big and as important as Clash of the Titans, right? After all, isn’t the world itself at stake? Jake Gyllenhaal turns out to be a fine prince; his natural shyness onscreen creates a humble but capable warrior, perfectly foiled by Gemma Arterton’s charmingly huff princess. But even the appearance of Alfred Molina providing an unlikely ally as Sheik Amar and Ben Kingsley’s council as Uncle Nizam can’t seem to make Prince of Persia feel bigger than, well, Persia, and maybe it shouldn’t have tried.

While comparisons to Disney’s Aladdin were bound to happen (in fact, the opening sequence felt as though it was missing a song cue as young Dastan evades the guards over the theft of an apple), religion is carefully stepped over and around. While the main action is placed in a holy city, there is little sense as to what that even means, especially when it was chosen as a target for conquest. Even dream sequences and flashbacks to impending dangers such as the end of the world don’t seem as epic; all we see is the edge of a city crumbling in a sandstorm. Coupled with the ending, the real dangers of tampering with the film’s plot device seem less world-shattering than personally affecting, and maybe that’s where the film should have shot for rather getting too big too fast. The mere suggestion from the princess that Dastan might somehow be “a chosen one” underlines this failure: chosen by who? To hear the princess tell it, the so-called “gods” would be just fine with the world being swallowed whole.

The second act is easily the weakest, as traveling between locations and evading capture creates the illusion of all the time in the world. Undermining the earlier urgency of the first act grinds the film to a halt before again picking up in the final act, but by then it has become obvious what might or must happen. Sadly, what happens at the end is almost exactly what we were told should not happen, yet it inexplicably works out for our hero. Is this another benefit of being this mysterious “chosen one?” Assuming this is all fuel for the inevitable sequel, one thing should be clear: whether you’re using a dagger or a DeLorean to fix the future, saving yourself should be enough to start with.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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