Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Reece Ritchie
Written by: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, based on a story (and a video game) by Jordan Mechner
Directed by: Mike Newell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/09/2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Grains of Bland

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jerry Bruckheimer's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time looked for a brief moment like it could have been another Pirates of the Caribbean, breezy and light and roguish and playful. But within minutes, it's clear that the new movie isn't any of those things. Rather than witty, sparkling dialogue, we get stupid, serious dialogue, with characters explaining the painfully obvious to one another. Instead of fleet-footed camerawork, we get junky, choppy stuff that looks both rushed and truncated, as if neither director Mike Newell nor star Jake Gyllenhaal were comfortable with the fighting and violence and just wanted to get it all over with.

Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan boy who is adopted by the king and becomes a step-brother to princes Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) -- never mind that three white boys are "princes of Persia." That's the least of this movie's problems. In an obvious parallel to the WMDs in Iraq, the king's brother and advisor Nizam (Ben Kingsley) urges an attack on the holy city of Alamat. According to "spies," the city is manufacturing weapons for the enemy, but the real target is a magic knife that, filled with some magic sand, can transport its user back in time. The beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is in charge of protecting the knife, and when Dastan is framed for the murder of the king, she decides to help him.

The movie has a hard time keeping its bickering lovers together. Their attempts to kill each other and outwit one another barely make sense. For the first half of the movie, the reasons for their companionship are, at best, strained. Of course, they both want the knife, and only one can possess it, but the way they relate to one another is terribly forced and decidedly unsexy. Most other scenes in the movie are equally forced. When we first meet Dastan, he's in the middle of a bare-chested brawl, which is an easy way to illustrate what a tough rebel he is. This same sequence was used in Sherlock Holmes, and, frankly, in tons of other movies. Likewise, in the king's death scene, which is supposed to be a surprise, he may as well have delivered his own eulogy; it's all so obvious. Some of it is so darn obvious that I couldn't help laughing.

Newell occasionally pauses for a really cool CGI shot in the middle of a battle sequence, such as one of Dastan, poised on the top of a tall tower, readying himself for a big fall. Those shots look great, all swirl and slow-motion, but then Newell intercuts them with his regular fast-paced, shaky stuff, and it draws even more attention to the lack of skill and care put into this film. (It's a far cry from Newell's solid work on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) Thankfully Alfred Molina turns up for a little while as Amar, a sheik who races ostriches, makes money on gambling and grumbles about the evils of taxes. He's the most carefree and unstructured part of the movie, until he decides (improbably) to go along with the hero on his quest and therefore promptly loses his appeal.

Prince of Persia is one of those movies that shows just how callous Hollywood can be, and how much contempt they sometimes have for customers. (What really scares me is the "Sands of Time" part; are they already planning a sequel?) This is as lazy and joyless and forced as any movie as I've seen lately (aside from Clash of the Titans); I get the impression that no one involved actually wanted to tell this story or make this movie. It's as if the toys were already produced, the marketing was in place, the posters were out, the video game was re-packaged, and someone now had to do the drudge work and make a movie to sell it all. In short, no one actually cared, and as an audience, neither should we.

Disney has released a 3-disc combo set, starting with a deluxe Blu-Ray edition. That disc includes a series of interactive featurettes, plus a deleted scene. The DVD comes only with a "making of" featurette, and the third disc contains a digital copy for your computer or phone.

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