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Teen Review: ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’

Let the Sands Run Out on This One

Above: On the set with Jake Gyllenhaal as he does battle -- repeatedly -- in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (opening May 28 throughout San Diego) has everything you could ask for in a summer blockbuster (especially one produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the undisputed champion of the action-event film): exotic locations, fast-paced action, quick one-liners, a thundering score, and pretty leads that never seem too affected by the rugged environments they’re meant to occupy. But, you know what, that’s fine by me. Personally, I love it when a big summer blockbuster comes together; I’m willing to forgive clichés, the occasional -- even sometimes gargantuan -- lapses in logic and/or laws of physics, and the like, but it requires something a little bit extra to seal the deal and produce something that can be considered worthwhile. I’ll qualify these prerequisites quite simply as imagination and spirit. And it is those two things that are sorely lacking in “Prince of Persia.”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton star in the big screen adaptation of the video game "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Walt Disney

Above: Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton star in the big screen adaptation of the video game "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

The film, based on the video game of the same name, tells the story of Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an orphan boy who is one day discovered in the streets of ancient Persia and adopted by the ruling king as one of his own. The boy grows up with relative ease alongside his two brothers, until they find themselves marching on an ancient holy city called Alamut that is protected by one Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). It doesn’t take long until the city is taken and Dastan becomes discoverer of a plot to unravel time itself and forever alter history by the dastardly…well, I guess I shouldn’t spoil it, but if you can’t figure this one out by about ten minutes into the movie, then you’ve clearly never seen a movie before in your life. That said, this plan is directly related to the ancient city of Alamut, believed to be hording weapons for Persia’s enemies, until it becomes clear that the nefarious villains of the film are simply using this invasion as an excuse to exploit the ancient energy sources Alamut holds in order to accomplish their goal and gain control of the empire. Now there’s a metaphor so thinly veiled it makes "Avatar" look like a masterpiece of subtlety in metaphor (seriously, a few scenes in this movie had me thinking I was watching “Green Zone” again). Nevertheless, events are set in motion, forcing Dastan to flee with the princess along with an ancient dagger that manipulates the fabled sands of time, allowing whoever possesses it to go back moments in time and redo any events that had previously conspired. So, we have the most convenient plot device in the world and a haphazard little action story to boot, so everything seems to be going swimmingly, right? I wish.

Alfred Molina chews up some of the scenery in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Walt Disney

Above: Alfred Molina chews up some of the scenery in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to this movie. The director, Mike Newell, has some experience in this kind of filmmaking after helming one of the more preferable entries in the "Harry Potter" series, “The Goblet of Fire,” and I could also at least harbor some hope that I’d be pleasantly entertained by the work of veteran character actors Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina filling out a few of the supporting roles. But whatever novelty either of their characters had, it wears off somewhere around an hour into this movie. As did the increasingly dull action scenes (I mean how involved can you be when there’s a dagger that can turn back time whenever something unfortunate befalls one of the film’s heroes), the extremely tired attempts at political humor, and not to mention the seemingly endless instances of near kissing that occurs between the two leads that left me hoping that this movie would just cut its losses and have someone take out one or both of them somewhere mid-passionate trance just to shake things up a little bit and maybe add some kind of life to this whole affair. If only.

The film "Prince of Persia" tries to imitate the video game action.

Walt Disney

Above: The film "Prince of Persia" tries to imitate the video game action.

No more than ten minutes or so must have gone by from the time I walked out of the theater that I actually forgot I had just spent two hours of my time watching that tired attempt at entertainment. Sure, it hit all the surface level requirements and I got some genuine, mild chuckles at a few moments here and there when the film was willing to have a little bit more fun with itself than usual. But the energy had all but left this adventure at the most basic level, the screenplay; it literally gives the actors nothing to do but try desperately to make some of the most awful lines and this most inane of plot’s work, and the filmmakers seem content to do nothing but throw more and more CGI action sequences at the audience to make it feel like they’re watching something interesting or significant happen. Remember the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films; those were cut from a cloth not too dissimilar to this film: both inspired by novelties and shepherded to the screen by Disney and Bruckheimer. At least those had the ability to immerse us in the swashbuckling, oftentimes charming, sometimes off-putting, and wonderfully supernatural world of pirates and the high seas (not to mention it introduced one of the most iconic characters of film in the 21st century with Captain Jack Sparrow).

Alas, “Prince of Persia” (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action) has nothing of the sort to elevate it above something utterly tired and ultimately forgettable.

-Michael Shymon Michael Shymon just finished his freshman year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where he's studying Film & Television Production. He's hoping one day all this movie watching will finally pay off. While he's home for summer break in San Diego, he'll be resuming his duties as a KPBS Teen Critic.

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