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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Mike Newell, 2010)
Better than many films that find their source material in the world of videogames, but still rather mediocre, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time lumbers onto the big screen with far too much bloated pomp for its own good. Clearly designed to be the first film in a blockbuster series (the subtitle is one big tip-off), the movie spares no expense in realizing its fantasy world of ancient Persia. For the simple, almost retrograde, story that’s being told, though, the production values are so opulent that they become distracting. Time and again, the camera moves through elaborate, computer-enhanced sets and repeatedly shunts the characters to the side to show yet another panoramic vista. The CG-enhancements are so omnipresent here that they soon become the very opposite of “special” effects. Worse still, they drain the excitement from the acrobatics on display. When a computer-generated gymnast becomes interchangeable with one made out of flesh and blood, any derring-do on display becomes void of excitement.
Prince of Persia clearly draws some inspiration from the adventure films that were popular during the golden age of Hollywood. There’s something of a throwback quality in play here, present in the attempted balancing act between action, romance, and comic relief. The film is only partially successful in its efforts, however. Director Newell is competent enough, and he certainly throws enough on screen to keep the attention from drifting, but moments like those involving Alfred Molina’s scheming racetrack manager threaten to scuttle the whole enterprise. Even more damningly, Jake Gyllenhaal is a sullen screen presence and a far cry from the legends like Errol Flynn and Rudolph Valentino who cemented the adventure film’s popularity. Without a movie star convincing us that the ride that we are taking is fun, the overall effect is diminished.
In a few of its early scenes, as an invasion to find hidden weapons within a nation shrouded in mystery is undertaken, Prince of Persia brims with subtextual (if obvious) nods to the Iraq invasion. By the midpoint of this action romp, however, all subtext and motivational shading are forgotten. Once modern day parallels are jettisoned, the story devolves into a simple story of good versus evil. Without a particularly memorable villain or a hero worth cheering for, the pursuit of spectacle overtakes all other considerations. While that may not be an inherently bad thing, it is almost definitely an uninteresting thing that will be forgotten as soon as one leaves the theater.