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When Aladdin Met Indiana Jones

Movie Title: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, directed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's Mike Newell, is one of the best video game movies I've seen. Don't get excited. That is simply to say that I am no worse off for watching it, which can't be said of most video game films. The same can be said, for instance, of 2008’s Max Payne. Just call this one a cross between Aladdin and Indiana Jones and you've pretty much nailed it.

Alone in the Dark (2005), Super Mario Brothers (1993), and Double Dragon (1994) were loathsome accomplishments that will never see the light of day in terms of knowing movie success, or accomplishing simpler things, like...you know...just being semi-entertaining. Prince of Persia has the entertaining part down in a cast of good characters and motivated, chemistry-laden performers who go so far as to care about the parts they play. Aside from being white people in a dark-skinned land and time, they adopt their parts well. As with the video game, there's even a confident sub-title that betrays enough confidence to suggest having multiple additions in the series.

Set to triumphant theme music that sounds like it was swiped from the background of a 1960s McGraw-Hill Films video, Prince of Persia is a mythologically focused journey of one young, orphan outcast who finds the favor of the King of Persia and is succored into the ranks of warrior royalty. Coming of age and finding himself with an opportunity to put his acrobatic combat skills to good use, his brother by adoption and crowned prince, Tus (Richard Coyle), gives the order to invade Alamut, a city suspected of supplying Persia's enemies with weapons.

These suspicions and subsequent battles lead the star, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), to fight alongside Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) on a journey to protect a sacred dagger that gives its possessor the ability to travel back in time, powered by the sands. Oddly, the thing is activated by...a button?! Dastan discovers corruption and murder in an uncovered plot to subvert rule of the entire Kingdom of Persia, and potentially, the world.

Most of the action is incomprehensibly cluttered in choppy camerawork and overly lavish special effects. There is a push to add jokes and comic relief, which, more often than not, only serve to make viewers take the film less seriously than they otherwise would. But use of these was not a total failure. The characters have their places, most with a value that is brought out by the others.

There is a strong sense of heroism and a feeling of historicity in a plot that should seem far more detached in senseless science fiction than it is. The film has some of the most poorly constructed names of any movie and do not sound remotely Persian or Middle Eastern. And you can see Dastan doing flips and out-clanking swords and dodging the arrows of those who clearly had the drop on him.

“Seso” (Steve Toussaint) is a blade-throwing warrior whose only prominence on screen is but a fraction of the time of the major characters, and yet there is triumphant art in his short presentation. Ben Kingsley's “Nizam,” by contract, is a role of shallower dimensional depth, and this happens to be one of his weaker performances.

The plot of the Prince of Persia is laid down with very little narration and more in the out-folding of the story on screen, in which it sometimes needs help and condensing for clarity. Secret societies of snake-wielding, vision-seeing assassins would be among the first things to go if it were up to me, as would ostrich races and entrepreneurial gypsies with large senses of humor who roam the desert.

Prince of Persia is not alone in being one among quite a few modern movies with a runaway tendency to go heavy on the eyeliner, a thing that is quite visible and that I frankly can't see the sense in, anymore than I can the sense in situations lifted right out of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (you'll very easily spot them). This is a fun-filled adventure, heavy on an excitement, but too light on suspense and the gravity needed to make it an upright, non-slithering success.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)
Director: Mike Newell
Summary: A young fugitive prince and princess must stop a villain who unknowingly threatens to destroy the world with a special dagger that enables the magic sand inside to reverse time
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal "Dastan," Gemma Arterton "Tamina," Ben Kingsley "Nizam," Alfred Molina "Sheik Amar," Steve Toussaint "Seso," Toby Kebbell "Garsiv," Richard Coyle "Tus," Ronald Pickup "King Sharaman"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Romance
Trailer

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