It’s increasingly rare that films in Hollywood come from truly original sources. Witness the never-ending surge of sequel, remakes, spin-offs, re-imaginings, adaptations, etc. But just because something is an adaptation of a successful property, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will capture the audience that it tries to caters to. (See Phantom of the Opera, for instance.) In the case of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the source material was not only the video game of the same name, but the entire saga created by visionary video game designer Jordan Mechner. That Mechner himself was involved in crafting the storyline, as well as super-blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Mike Newell, the film had all the right elements – but was the film worth the sum of its parts?
The storyline involves Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an orphan who was adopted by the King of Persia. King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) has been expanding his empire, and his brother Nizam (Ben Kinglsey) arranges with Sharaman’s two sons Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), to lead a surprise attack on the holy city on Alamut, who they believe is selling weapons to the King’s enemies. Dastan uses his cunning and stealth to make the attack a success, and then in an effort to foster peace, Sharaman suggests that Dastan marry Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). But when Sharaman is killed and Dastan is framed for the murder, he finds himself on the run with Tamina. Soon it becomes clear that the dagger that Dastan grabbed when capturing Tamina has a larger purpose – it is the Dagger of Time, a mystical artifact that allows the bearer to rewind time 1-minute when activating the Sands of Time held within. But the sand runs out, and now Dastan and Tamina must return to Alamut to clear his name and expose the conspiracy that resulted in his adopted father’s death. Along the way, they encounter Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina), a somewhat shady character who runs an illegal ostrich racing enterprise, deadly Hassansin warriors who are trying to kill them, and other deadly situations.
It’s not a very convoluted storyline, but the way that it unfolds might seem a little muddled. For a video game adaptation, it could certainly be worse, but it could also be better. It plays out as a somewhat predictable by-the-numbers popcorn film. It’s a fun film, but hardly something deep and meaningful. Molina and Arterton are the two shining jewels in the film; Molina is great in his comic timing, and Arterton gives a nice performance of a strong independent woman who can hold her own. While Mike Newell directed the film, and he cut his teeth on action sequences during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the film is definitely a Jerry Bruckheimer production, through-and-through. The action sequences are where the film shines, using the free-running styles of parkour to give them a bit of a twist and high energy. The music by Harry Gregson-Williams does an excellent job evoking the mystical Persian qualities, with a strong melody and fun ethnic percussive grooves. The production design is excellent, and the visual effects sequences range from excellent to somewhat cheesy (particularly during the sand avalanche sequence).
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time might not be the franchise-starter that the filmmakers hoped it would be, but it was a fun popcorn film that provided plenty of entertainment value. Those hoping for more bang-for-their-buck might hold off and wait for home video, in which case it’s absolutely worth the rental.