Monday, December 13, 2010

Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time

The first indicator I had that this movie wasn’t going to be very good came right at the start, when Jerry Bruckheimer’s logo popped up and promised me this film was going to be something along the lines of Transformers. The second indicator came right afterward, when we see Jake Gyllenhaal’s character as a child, running from the law through the Persian marketplace before scrambling up onto the rooftops to continue the chase there. Now, I don’t know if the estimated $200 million budget included paying for any child-sized stuntmen, but it certainly looked to my untrained eye like it actually was two children trying to climb up a wall, every bit as quickly as one would expect children to do so. I have to say, it does kind of take some of the tension away when it appears the guards chasing them could have just casually strolled up to them and caught them, or perhaps even made a game of it and hopped backwards on one foot toward them. The rest of the movie wasn’t much better.

Anyway, the film stars Gyllenhaal as Dastan, adopted prince of the Persian Empire, who early in the film leads an attack on a peaceful city after getting some false information about the city preparing weapons for war against Persia, and is subsequently framed for his adoptive father’s murder before having to go on the run with Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) from the city they just conquered. Helping them in both their flight and their attempts to discover who set Dastan up (hint: it’s Ben Kingsley, who spends the entire film looking sinister and hateful as though he were afraid anyone might sympathize with him) is a mysterious dagger Gyllenhaal recovered in the attack on the holy city, that has the power to turn time back for a minute, without anyone but the wielder retaining any memory of the future that didn’t happen.

I suppose one could very well argue that this is an ideal video game movie, in that it’s very loud, dumb, and emphasizes constant action over anything approaching coherency. It’s also big on using masses of semi-faceless enemies that mostly all look alike, almost as though they just took the same character and occasionally swapped the palette a bit. If Scott Pilgrim reminded us all why we love video games, this was the film to remind us that a lot of the time they’re really stupid and annoying.

The back of the DVD case promises that this is “in the spirit of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy”, though I think it would be far more accurate to say that this is more like a Pirates movie without Johnny Depp or Geoffrey Rush (I.e. the two main reasons to watch), and with all the colors muted down to dull sandy tones to help ensure that it looks ugly as hell. I’m not sure how the deserts of the Middle East could look so beautiful in films like Lawrence of Arabia, and yet look so ghastly here. I’m also not certain how so much obvious talent could do such a bad job both in front of and behind the camera. Gemma Arterton I’ve only seen in Quantum of Solace before (and honestly don’t even remember which of the two Bond girls she was in that), so I can believe she might just be a bad actress, but Gyllenhaal looks like he just decided to drink the whole time filming was taking place, and Kingsley is pretty much just sleepwalking here. I can’t even just place all the blame on director Mike Newell, as I know he’s capable of much better than this, having previously helmed such films as Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Donie Brasco (then again, he also did Mona Lisa Smile, so clearly there are cracks showing).

I could go on a good bit longer about all the problems with this film, from the tremendously lame sandstorm that lasts exactly long enough for Gyllenhaal and Arterton to have a Serious Discussion, and then ends as soon as they’re done, to the constant flashes of slow motion to try to snag some of that vital 300 audience, to how it clearly labors under the false impression that ancient Persians believed in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. However, since the film seems to have been beaten up enough by audiences already (that estimated $200 million budget translated into making a total domestic gross of $90 million), I will mention the film’s one big saving grace in Alfred Molina. Molina shows up roughly a third of the way in as an outlaw libertarian, ranting about he and his men spread rumors about how evil and villainous they are so that the Persian tax collectors will be too afraid to try to visit them. Then he shows off his ostrich races, which gives us great lines like “Did you know that ostriches have suicidal tendencies?” He feels as though he just wandered in from a far different, far better movie, and I hope he manages to get his own spinoff somehow.

I admit to being a bit of a fan of this kind of desert adventure tale, but as these types of films go this ranks somewhere below Hidalgo and the recent Mummy series. It fails on almost every level it shoots for, giving us a perfect example of why snide assholes like me scorn summer blockbusters. It doesn’t work as an action movie, a comedy, or a romance, even though it tries all three at times in a sad attempt at appealing at all audiences. It’s a movie designed by committee to sell extra video games and Happy Meals, with no more soul to it than that would indicate.

Rating: *

1 comment:

katsucurrys14 said...

zoroastrianism is actually closer to abrahamic good vs. evil / one god type stuff than you might expect relative to the more standard multi-god pagan religions we've come to associate with antiquity

gemma is hot btw. she played strawberry fields (redhead dead girl)