Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time review

Prince Of Persia review - Jake Gyllenhaal climbs the walls as the acrobatic Prince of Persia in this blockbuster adventure based on the hit videogame franchise.

It’s the movie that finally breaks the curse of vidgame-movie adaptations and... Hold on a second, that’s not right. Press the L1 trigger to use the Dagger of Time and unleash the mystical sands. R-E-W-I-N-D...

Paul WS Anderson and Uwe Boll have a new comrade in videogame-movie hell: British director Mike Newell. His leaden-footed adaptation of the award-winning Prince Of Persia videogame franchise proves once again that joysticks and movies don’t... No, that’s not it either. Use the Dagger of Time and R-E-W-I-N-D...

So just what is Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest assault on the summer box office? A mega-budget videogame movie that cleaves close to its source? An old-school sword and sandal epic? Or are we simply talking Pirates Of Persia? Bruckheimer would surely select answer c). What he’s conjured is a Middle Eastern adventure with a dashing hero (Jake Gyllenhaal), a plucky heroine (Gemma Arterton dressed like she’s just escaped from an Arabian Nights-themed pyjama party) and a supporting cast of familiar faces led by the everreliable Ben Kingsley. Even the biggest game-o-phobe wouldn’t be scared off by that pitch.

Forget the fanboy pandering of Doom, Hitman or Silent Hill; this movie wants to reach an audience that thinks an Xbox is something you tick on a ballot paper. Following the same popcorn path as Pirates Of The Caribbean – exotic locales, buckling of swash, a soupçon of the supernatural – it aims to entertain all-comers.

But just like the fleet-footed prince vaulting over a chasm of spikes, missing the next ledge by a fingertip and plunging to his death, the film has a habit of falling flat. And unlike the prince, the filmmakers don’t have a magical dagger they can use to rewind time and retry. That’s not to say Prince Of Persia doesn’t have its moments.

Gyllenhaal is ace as the brash young Dastan, a street urchin adopted by the Persian king, elevated to royalty and then mistakenly accused of terrible betrayal. A dead ringer for the bumptious, free-running videogame character – who let players dash along walls and scale impossible heights – the actor has him to a tee. Beneath the shaggy hair and stubble is a likeable man-child, a playful puppy happier doing pratfalls to entertain his troops than holding his head up high like a true blue blood.

A hero deserves a foil, and he gets it in Arterton’s Tamina, the full-lipped, sharp-tongued princess who asks Dastan to safeguard a mystical dagger that possesses time-shifting powers. Their romance on the run is a highlight, their bickering, brittle banter evoking Han and Leia. Even when squeezed into belly dancer and slave girl outfits, Arterton projects a fiery dignity, her pouting put-downs giving the partnership bite.

What lets Prince Of Persia down, though, is its desperate attempt to cover all bases. The screenplay, penned by three writers and game creator Jordan Mechner himself (he gets a screen story credit), tries so hard not to put a foot wrong, it struggles to get off the first level. The storytelling often follows the US Infantry approach – leave no man behind – even if that means explaining the dagger’s powers several dozen times in case the audience is hard-of-thinking. Privileging exposition over characterisation, the screenplay leaves our prince with few handholds to scale his way into our affections.

Meanwhile Newell, who proved such a safe pair of hands on Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, seems less assured here. The parkour scenes are no more than passable, while the biggest concession to videogame convention – during a palace siege the camera zooms and picks out points of interest – feels like a half-hearted gesture. And while it refreshes to see a fantasy flick that doesn’t stuff the screen with CG critters, it’s a shame the original game’s sand monsters have been elbowed out by a bunch of black-robed, milky-eyed killer ‘Hassansins’.

Still, Newell keeps the eye busy, the pace fizzing. The film’s comic relief also allows the Four Weddings maker to win back some points. In fact, when Alfred Molina suddenly pops up as “a slightly disreputable entrepreneur” – two parts Arthur Daley to one part Sallah from Raiders Of The Lost Ark – and unleashes a busload of ostriches (don’t ask), you wonder if Bruckheimer and co are about to turn back the clock and rediscover the old Pirates Of The Caribbean magic. Sadly they don’t, leaving a slightly hollow feeling when the game’s over. Rewind the Dagger of Time and replay? Meh.

Slick Bruck-buster dynamics anchored by Jake ‘n’ Gemma’s sparring and sex appeal. But the scripting needs to take another leap if they want this Prince to produce some heirs.


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