Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – The Film
I’ve mentioned previously in this blog that I consider the Prince of Persia Trilogy, of which the first game is called The Sands of TIme, the best video game series of probably the last decade or so. This is due in large part to the storytelling, as there is a cohesive story arch throughout all three games. The first game, The Sands of Time, is especially memorable because it is so well told and self-contained; you can almost imagine a circle being completed as you complete the game. Plus, the characters are strong and drive the story forward; you are willing to continue playing because you care so much about the characters and what happens to them.
Which brings me, unfortunately, to the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie directed by Mike Newell (who directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which wasn’t that bad of a film) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan, Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina, Ben Kingsley as Nizam, and Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar.
When this film was announced, I was definitely intrigued and excited. I had all my memories of the video game to use to imagine a cinematic world, and I thought that this film would be one of the best ever made, easily being on par with an Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean film. Then when behind the scenes photos and official artwork was released, I was ecstatic. That excitement was tapered though when the first trailer came out, but I was willing to accept that for whatever reasons they couldn’t film a 1:1 adaptation of the video game. Then the film, based on one of my favorite video games of all time, came out in theatres. I saw it once. I bought the dvd when it came out. And then didn’t watch the movie a second time until tonight.
What went wrong with the film version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? Why don’t I like it all that much? Well, that’s not entirely fair, I don’t hate the movie. I just think it is deeply flawed and could have been much, much more.
First, the story of the Sands of Time.
The film, perhaps by necessity due to the lack of intelligence of most moviegoers, is significantly different than the original video game. There is still a dagger that rewinds time that is powered by the sands of time, yes. There is still a princess who knows more than she lets on. And obviously there is still a prince of persia. Both the movie and the video game also start off with the Persians invading a city and someone discovering the dagger of time. In the movie, the Prince is put on the run when he’s framed for the murder of the king. In the game, however, the Prince foolishly unleases the sands of time which transforms the king and everyone else into hideous sand monsters, of which only the dagger of time can kill. The Prince’s goal in the video game is to stop the evil Vizier and set things right by rewinding time. In the film, the Prince is trying to clear his name while expose his evil uncle. The video game’s story is more Arabian Nights, while the film feels more like your standard by the numbers action movie plotline.
Second, the setting of the Sands of Time.
In the film, the characters travel between two different cities, a settlement or two, and across numerous deserts. All interesting and varied, great for filming on location and wasting budget. There is even a rather cool underground section that results in the culmination of the film. In the video game, you stay within the Persians home city, as the city being invaded serves as the game’s tutorial level before cutscenes. You explore this entire palace and surrouding enviroments, discovering such notable locations as the library, the aviary, the dungeons, the bulwarks, the towers, royal bedrooms, etc. The goal is to get from point A to point B, where the evil Vizier is protecting the Hourglass of Time which holds the Sands of Time, but it takes different twists and turns to get there. Obviously this is more of an objective based story as fitting a video game, but the variety of settings that take place in only one location would have been easily filmable by today’s technology and would have been extremelying intriguing for the audience. But then again I’m a sucker for epic architecture and impossible environments.
Third, the characters.
In the video game, the Prince is tricked by the evil Vizier into unleashing the sands, transforming the whole kingdom into magical sand monsters. The Prince is young, but not a fool. He’s highly intelligent, well trained, and a true prince, not some street smart kid. He’s also (for the most part) simply called “The Prince”. The prince in the film, now named Dastan (which isn’t a bad name), is a foolish guy who is only halfway intelligent. I understand they were trying to make Jake Gyllenhaal into an action star with this film, but they could have done a better job. Heck, Brendan Fraser is a better action hero in the Mummy films! Dastan simply comes across as an idiot half the time, reacting instead of planning. In a way, he plays second fiddle to Gemma Arterton’s Princess Termina (a new character, but based somewhat on the female character in the video game). Gemma Arterton is the best thing in the movie, and not simply because she’s gorgeous and intelligently sassy. Her character is the most well-rounded of the cast, driving the Prince Dastan everywhere, setting the course of events, and providing the necessary catalyst for plot developments. The films writers and directors still manage to keep a lot of the banter between the Prince and the female lead, yet most of the sense of mystery is gone. Shame.
Fourth, the production.
The editing in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is worse than a made for TV movie. It feels rushed, done by an amateur, and desperately in need of a director’s cut (if it wasn’t the director’s fault the movie was poorly edited, that is). Rarely does a film need to be lengthened, but this film needs room to breathe; it simply moves too quickly, not giving the audience a chance to experience feelings or for the plot and characters to build enough gravitas. The locations chosen for this movie feel fake, worse than an episode of Hercules or Xena filmed in someone’s backyard in New Zealand. The fighting is simply boring, obviously artificial and not setting any new standards or achieving old ones. The sets come across as realistic but cheaply so; everything is coated in yellow or sand colors, which makes things feel cheap and needlessly based on some actual representation of what historical Persia may have been like. This is a fantasy movie embrace it! That said, some of the CG environments and city landscapes are well done.
Seriously? You took a story and intellectual property that could have been a series, netting you hundreds of millions of dollars and keeping hundreds employed for years. Instead you made it childish, lowest common denominator, and a joke. Pity.
All these things and more so add up to an experience that is not as strong as it could have been. This movie was a translation failure of artistic brilliance. I don’t hate the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: I just expect better. It goes on the shelf, and I’ll watch it again in a few years, and continue to hope they will release an updated, expanded version of the film.
It’s funny. Everyone always says the book is better than the film version, although the Lord of the Rings proves that wrong. But I guess the same idea is true of the video game and the film adaptation.