Saturday 22 May 2010

Review: Prince of Persia : The Sands of Time

Year: 2010
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, Boaz Yakin
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Tony Kebbell, Richard Coyle

Synopsis is here

Based on a video game produced by Ubisoft; Prince of Persia had something against it before it came out of the stocks. As soon as the words video game are uttered, the same old cliched comments are spouted, even by myself. As a gamer (not a great one) before I became a film fan, I also found the cinematic adaptations more than a little disappointing.

Unlike Comic Books and/or Graphic Novels, which have come from forgettable endeavors (Spawn, 1989 Punisher anyone?) to a rich commodity. Video Game movies however; have only ranged from shite (Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros) to just about watchable (Mortal Kombat's fight scenes). Like other adaptations; it's about time that someone tapped into the spirit of the medium and bring some real fun out of the movies produced. Does Mike Newell's blockbuster feature do this? Well....just about I guess.

First thing I'll say about the film is that, along with the other 2010 blockbusters (Robin Hood Iron Man 2) is quite plot heavy. In fact surprisingly so. However, while I enjoyed Robin Hood and Iron Man for the gradual build of narrative; mainly due to their solid lead characters (and actors) managing to carry the story during the "lower" moments, POP seems to be lacking in that area. It's not that I didn't care for the character, as the beefed up Jake Gyllenhaal (with nice British accent) manages to put a lot of energy into the role of Dastan. However, the personality just doesn't feel as rich.

It seems that the difference is that characters like Tony Stark and Robin Hood have deeper wells to draw from. Hood has his history, Stark is coming to terms with ego and mortality, Dastan is a character that feels like he's truly bound to the screenplay. He has personality (the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Arterton brought many a sly grin to my face) but his actions don't feel as organic as his aforementioned contenders. POP not only feels like it could have been shorter, but also more focused. Like Ironman 2, the film has a lot of people battling for screentime, however while the former felt, to me, that it knew what it wanted to do with all it's players. POP tries to value everyone as equal importance.

The film is also quite obvious, the moment you meet characters, you know of their fate. Yes, it may be a blockbuster but you can tell from it's subtext (clear parallels to the Iraq war yet again) it's trying to encompass as much as possible and make accessible to as many people as possible.
Ambition is good and needed for these future video game adaptation but POP works best when it forgets all that and focuses on the battling and the banter. Getting that right will make it so much easier to expand.

But it's not all bitching and moaning; Mike Newell, a director capable of large projects and stars, delivers a film with some fun set pieces, while the screenplay has some pithy lines, despite not having the most engaging story. Newell's film also remembers it's origins and many moments feel like a Ubisoft game... It's a shame said game is Assassin's Creed and not Sands of Time however (although there's a nice two thrones feel to some of the film). From a performance point of view, everyone is enjoying themselves here. Once again it's hard to keep your eyes off Gemma Arterton due to her screen presence and not just her smoldering looks Molina and Kingsley clearly like working on projects like this in between more serious works, while Richard Coyle and Tony Kebbell are welcoming additions.

Prince of Persia is forgettable fluff which works best when things are kept simple. There's some genuine moments of amusement throughout and I'm sure many gamers (in particular the younger ones) will hopefully get their money's worth. Once again it's a video game adaptation that's not all I hoped for, but it's a step in the right direction.