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Entries in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time/The [2010] (1)


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

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Last year, I watched my friend Lauren play Prince of Persia on a Playstation 3. I was in and out of the room during the several hours she guided Prince Dunstan through level after level of acrobatic adventuring, and would occasionally ask what her character was up to, what he was trying to accomplish. Every time I checked in, the lush locales would be different, but the action was the same: Dastan leaping between buildings; Dastan swiping his swords at one indistinguishable cluster of villains or another. Lauren talked excitedly about the game and its history, and particularly the banter between the characters; I appreciated her passion, but could only see a really pretty looking video game that didn’t make a lot of sense.

Watching the film adaptation, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, was a lot like that. I went into the movie knowing only that it was set in ancient Persia, and that its lead was played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s about as far away from what would be an Iranian today as I can imagine. And that’s one of the three big problems I had with the movie.

For about the first twenty minutes, I was so distracted by the lack of ethnic actors that I spent a good deal of time thinking back to my grade school history lessons; I tried to make sense of the fact that nearly everyone in the film spoke with an English accent and was very clearly either an overly bronzed British or American actor. The sets and costumes looked about as I’d expected they would, but something was so off about the performers that my brain began to itch; kind of like when Cedric the Entertainer headlined the urban remake of The Honeymooners a few years ago.

The second problem, related to the first, is that my mind had time to care about these trivialities, because neither the story nor its execution was exciting enough to get me involved. This is a Disney action film, packed with lots of horse chases, sword fights, leaping snakes, and grand-scale, fiery space/time explosions, and somehow I managed to nod off about five times (lest you accuse me of being unfit to review a movie I passed out on, know that my mind would wander during a scene, and suddenly I’d jump back into awareness while still watching the same scene—sadly, these lapses of seconds didn’t distract from my understanding of anything that was going on).

My last concern would have actually been a plus, had this movie come out five or six years ago. Prince of Persia (the movie) is a political allegory for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I’m not kidding.

Prince Dastan is the adopted son of the Persian king, who tries to stop one of the other sons from invading Alamut, a city that has been wrongfully accused of manufacturing weapons to use against Persia. The king’s trusted advisor and brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), is a power-hungry puppet master who stages an attack on the king and produces faulty spies and evidence to attest to the city’s nefarious plans—all in an attempt to seize control of a powerful resource that lies within the city (in this case, a dagger that can turn back time). I’m not saying I agree with the allegory, but it’s an undeniable parallel that, today, seems as relevant as a Monica Lewinsky joke. In fairness, these bizarre connections are probably the only thing that kept me from falling asleep ten times.

Prince of Persia is not a bad movie, it’s just supremely un-engaging for anyone over the age of thirteen. The cast is uniformly terrific (yes, even Kingsley), and I particularly liked Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina, Dastan’s spunky, reluctant counterpart on his quest to destroy the Death Star. I mean, bring down Darth Vader. I mean Nizam.

If you’re a film buff, or if you’ve seen three of the fifty other movies that have followed this template much, much better, you’ll probably be bored by Prince of Persia. In fact, you’re better off playing the video game; it’s as exciting as you choose to make it, and can be turned off when interest begins to wane.