Directed by Mike Newell (who also directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and some other fantasy films), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time came out in 2010 as one of the later attempts to revitalize (or just vitalize) the trend of adapting popular video games into movies.
When this film was on the horizon, a lot of gamers were ready to love it, because unlike a lot of other ill-fated adaptations, everyone agreed that Prince of Persia was a game that lent itself nicely to the feature film treatment. Even better, this was a game franchise that had already been successfully reinvented many times since the 80s.
That said, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was intended to be a film adaptation of the 2003 hit video game of the same name. But that didn’t really happen. Instead, Jerry Bruckheimer produced a film that deviated heavily from its video game source material, maintaining only the most superficial aspects of the game that define its identity.
Yes, the main character has the power (somewhat) to turn back time with a dagger, though it’s hardly used in this movie. And he’s a quick-moving prince living in a Persian empire who must team up with a feisty princess (played well here by Gemma Arterton). But rather than adapt the more thrilling aspects of this character, who loses his family in the night due to the villainous treachery of their sorcerer advisor amidst a castle magicked to all hell, Prince of Persia (the movie) focuses on traditional swashbuckling adventure akin to Bruckheimer’s work in Pirates of the Caribbean.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as long as you’re able to buy into a British-accent Jake Gyllenhaal playing someone who lives as Persian royalty after being adopted as a street orphan. The adventure boils down to the prince being framed for treason and then trying to prevent a magical sandstorm that will wipe out everyone in the world, which is a far cry from the more singular, human adventure in the games where only a kingdom is at stake.
For all of the fun Prince of Persia tries to have, its main problem is lacking any sort of identity that it could have easily gleaned from its source material. A generic plot and world-ending villainy are even less interesting when none of the characters (even Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina, and Ben Kingsley) have nothing interesting to say beyond their simplistic motivations.
There are bright spots whenever the film shows off some now-dated parkour reminiscent of the games, but even the Dagger of Time, a powerful plot device in and of itself, is relegated to B-movie time travel plots we’ve seen before, rather than the effect that reversing mistakes at will can have on a person trying to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, the movie never really gets that interesting, but it also manages to stay light and entertaining throughout. Like National Treasure to a lesser degree, Sands of Time is full of breezy action with likable enough characters thrown into the chaos. But even its own special effects are hard to swallow, since even basic rooftop antics are enhanced with CGI for the sake of spectacle, and it was just as noticeable 6 years ago as it is now.
Getting down to it, the major problem with Sands of Time has nothing to do with it being an imperfect movie. Plenty of enjoyable adventure films have glaring flaws that you forgive because you love being in this world that’s been created for you. Sands of Time lacks this type of setting, with characters whose chosen names could have used more debate, a historical backdrop devoid of awe (Secret Guardian Temple, anyone?), and an uninspired…well, everything else.
Second Opinion Grade: C-
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