A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 344 – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – February 7th, 2011

I was not looking forward to this movie. Granted, it’s a cheesy action movie based on a video game series I quite like, but I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I didn’t want to own it. I’m fairly sure I was vocal about not wanting to see it or own it before it even came out in theaters. It rubbed me the wrong way right from the beginning and yes, I blame the casting. It suffers from the same issues that plague The Last Airbender (and no, I won’t be watching that) and I know I said I had problems with it. And then one day I came home from work and Andy told me he’d bought it. We might have had words about that. And now we have a standing policy not to buy things without consulting each other first. When I grabbed a pile of movies for cheap at work I put them aside first, checked with Andy, and then paid for them. I think that’s a good policy, both for the collection and for our marital bliss.

All that being said, it was not as horrible as I expected. Of course, I went in with expectations about as high as a worm’s eye view, so that wasn’t hard. I can think of worse movies. I can think of worse movies in our collection. But that does not make this a good movie. Even the presence of two actors I quite enjoy isn’t enough to make this a good movie. Witty banter isn’t enough and pretty props and effects aren’t enough. It’s just plain not a good movie. And there were no spinning saw blades in the floors and the princess didn’t crawl through any cracks, so right there it fails as a movie of the video game for me. Were spinning blades in the floors too much to ask? I think not.

Part of the movie’s problem is that I just don’t buy Jake Gyllenhaal as the prince. He seems a nice enough actor, but I’ve always seen the prince in the games as a Han Solo sort of character. And to pull off that sort of character you have to ooze charm. You have to be so charismatic you could be loved and adored by the people you’re shooting. Or stabbing, as the case may be. And Gyllenhaal, well, he just seems to be a bit too serious. A bit too quiet. He just doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t seen too much with him yet, so I don’t want to speak to his abilities in other types of roles, but I don’t think he’s really the charming scoundrel type. He can’t pull off moments like selling a princess into slavery without making me want to slap him. That moment was really close to Beastmaster levels of disgust for me and there wasn’t enough survival-of-the-me snark to mitigate the grossness.

Gemma Arterton does a slightly better job with the banter and snark, which is nice. I mean, it’s kind of cool having a female lead who tricks the scoundrel male lead into feeling sorry for her before kicking his ass. That’s what I want from my Prince of Persia princess. Really, she outshines the prince whenever they’re on screen together. Can’t complain about that. And then there’s Ben Kingsley, who arrives on screen looking like he should have “Grand Vizzier” written on his hat in rhinestones. Oh, Ben Kingsley. You need to find some movies where you’re the good guy, or even a neutral guy. Or at least a better bad guy than this, bitter over being a king’s brother. Richard Coyle was the surprise here for me. I know him best as Jeff in the original Coupling series. Bizarre to see him so coherent, and I did enjoy seeing him do something so very different from what I know him from. Still, I wish it had been in something better than this.

The plot isn’t anything special. It’s your typical treason plot, with someone close to the king (they didn’t call him a grand vizier but come on – look at the beard!) plotting to take over the throne and setting up our hero to take the fall for it. We get some backstory, with the king adopting homeless orphan Dastan and making him the youngest of his three sons for some bizarre reason. The king’s brother tricks the three young princes to attack a fortified holy city so he can steal a magical dagger that contains the sands of time and which can be used to reverse up to a minute of time if needed. The king is killed, Dastan is blamed, he goes on the run with Princess Tamina, the ruler of the holy city, and together they have to try and keep the dagger out of the wrong hands while also stopping… the dagger from getting in the wrong hands. I mean, okay, Dastan knows he can’t let the bad guys get the dagger, right? So he takes the dagger with him when he heads back to the city where the bad guys are. Smart move, jackass.

There’s actually a whole plot in the movie where Dastan and Tamina head to a sanctuary in the middle of nowhere to try and dispose of the dagger by plunging it into the earth. Great idea, except one of Dastan’s brothers shows up (Garsiv, played by Toby Kebbell – and I must say I liked him, even if Andy is totally right and dude was pulling some major Karl Urban facial expressions) and then a bunch of hired hit men show up and it really feels like a climax. Sure, it’s not as showy as the real climax ended up being, but watching it, I realized there was another 36 minutes to go and kind of boggled. The movie lurches from action scene to action scene. There’s even a sandstorm. Saaaaaaandstoooooooorm. And no, that’s not the only MST3K reference that found its way into this movie for me. It is a movie perfect for riffing on (and yet RiffTrax hasn’t done it).

By the time the actual climax happens and there’s sand everywhere and time’s being reversed and then set going again and reversed again and so on and so forth I was so bored all I could do was snark about the lack of spinning blades. It was pretty obvious how it was going to go in the end, though I was amused to see that our hero had to subcontract a key part of the plan to another hero (the knife throwing Seso, played by Steve Toussaint about as well as one could play a role with so little to work with outside of action). It just left me feeling like with a budget like that, and material like the game(s), they could have done a better job. Frustrating, but there you have it. It didn’t grate on me as much as it could have, but it certainly wasn’t surprisingly good or anything. And seriously, if I’m ever a world leader, remind me not to have a grand vizier. Especially not one who looks like Ben Kingsley.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

February 7, 2011

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

“Most people think time is like a river that flows fast and sure in one direction, but I have seen the face of time and I can tell you that they are wrong. Time is like and ocean in a storm.”

So begins one of the greatest video games of all time. A game which shares a title with this movie and very little else. The game is a near perfect blend of action, puzzles, and plot. It made you care about the characters of the nameless Prince and the rival princess Farah who is the only other person not corrupted when the sands of time are released. It has adventure, romance, magic and most of all a wonderful way of telling the story.

I remember seeing the previews for this in the theater and saying to my wife “we’re going to see that, right?” It was the same reaction I had when we saw the previews for the Clash of the Titans re-make. I knew this wouldn’t be as good as the source material, but I was curious to see how a truly great game would hold up when adapted into a summer blockbuster big budget movie. We didn’t end up seeing it the theaters though, and when I eventually bought the movie on DVD (at the same time that I bought Clash of the Titans in fact) Amanda was aghast that I would waste our money in such a way. Why, she wanted to know, did I keep buying movies I knew were going to be bad?

The fact of it is that this movie isn’t all bad. Oh, it can’t hold a candle to the writing and charm of the game it takes its name from, but it’s a passable if somewhat over long summer action flick. It has some fun fight scenes, a little wire work, and some acrobatics which, although they do not really capture the flow of action in the game, look kind of cool I suppose. I’d say it has two main flaws. For one there’s Jake Gyllenhaal. He makes a strange sort of action hero. He has the physique (he must have done a whole lot of push ups) but he doesn’t have the charm. Somebody made an effort to make him look like the Prince in the second PoP game. The one with the mopey, angsty, Trent Reznor inspired hero. And although there are quips for him to deliver in the movie they never seem to work. I would posit that the problem is that at heart Jake is a ham. He’d be more at home in some of the campier comedy inspired episodes of the Highlander TV series laughing it up with Adrian Paul. When he’s called upon to bring some intensity he just comes up short.

My other problem with the movie would be that it takes so long to get moving. It’s about forty minutes before the prince first uses the dagger of time to rewind. There’s a long preamble that introduces the slightly confusing royal family with the king, his evil brother (don’t deny that you knew from the very first time Ben Kingsley appeared on screen that he was evil) the king’s two biological sons and his adopted street urchin son Dastan (our hero ladies and gentlemen.) Then there’s an extremely long siege on a peaceful neighboring town where Dastan gets the dagger. And back to the capital of Persia (wherever that is in the confusing alterna-universe of this movie) where the king is assassinated and Dastan framed for it. All of that before we get any sands of time at all. I think that one thing this movie very much needed was a ruthless and creative editor. If your movie is about the manipulation of time then perhaps it should not be so ploddingly linear – and perhaps you should set a better pace from the outset.

I won’t say that I expected more from this movie. It delivered pretty much exactly what I saw in that preview in the movie theater. In the end though it doesn’t have a creative moment in the entire film (you know what would have been a cool and unexpected twist? If Ben Kingsley had turned out NOT to be the bad guy!) It borrows not just from the game but from the Disney Aladdin and the Indiana Jones movies. It is about half an hour longer than it needs to be. After watching the whole thing tonight I wanted to hold the ‘L’ button and re-do it. I leave you with another quote from the classic game this was based on: “Wait. That’s not how the story goes.”

February 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment