Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
September 9, 2010
Jerry Bruckheimer’s reputation for producing successful summer blockbusters took a minor, albeit notable hit with the less than stellar returns for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), an adaptation of the popular video game of the same name. The film made mad money in the rest of the world but because of its lackluster business in North America (well below expectations); it was considered a commercial failure. What did the studio expect? With the notable exception of the durable Resident Evil franchise, video game adaptations are risky ventures that rarely perform well at the box office. The bottom line is that people would rather be playing them than watching them. The studio probably figured that with Bruckheimer’s Midas touch, he’d be able to do for video games what he did for amusement park rides with Pirates of the Caribbean – find a way to translate it into a fun, rousing popcorn movie.
However, Bruckheimer made two risky choices that, ultimately, did not pay off. Firstly, in the lead role he cast Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who has yet to open a studio blockbuster on his own (he co-starred with Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow). Secondly, Bruckheimer hired journeyman director Mike Newell to helm the film. While he did direct one of the Harry Potter films, he is known more for character-driven films like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Donnie Brasco (1997) and not for action/adventure fare. Still, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film had the same kind of obstacles facing it and look what happened. Of course, Gyllenhaal is no Johnny Depp and what he did in that film is a crucial and important distinction.
Impressed by the athletic prowess and tenacity of an orphaned street urchin named Dastan, King Sharaman (Pickup) adopts the boy and he becomes a most unlikely prince of Persia. He (Gyllenhaal) grows up with the King’s sons, Garsiv (Kebbell) and Tus (Coyle), while their uncle (Kingsley) has his own agenda. It seems that their kingdom is at war and spies claim that the city of Alamut is arming their enemies. One night, the stealthy Dastan leads a sneak attack on Alamut. They take the city and Dastan recovers a snazzy ornate dagger while the beautiful Princess Tamina (Arterton) agrees to be Tus’ wife so that her people will be spared.
However, this conquest does not sit well with the King as Alamut is a holy city and no proof actually exists of their supplying weapons to others. Dastan is set-up and framed for the death of the King and is forced to make a hasty getaway with Tamina. He finds out that the dagger is actually a mystical device that enables the bearer to go back in time. Dastan must clear his name and get revenge for his father. Along the way, he runs afoul of an opportunistic sheikh (Molina) and evades an enigmatic band of assassins.
Dastan and Tamina have one of those love-hate relationships as they banter and bicker back and forth like something out of a television sitcom. Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton are certainly appealing leads, but there isn’t much to their characters and so we never become emotionally invested in their relationship or in Dastan’s plight. Gyllenhaal does what he can with what little he has to work with but he lacks the ability to make something memorable out of virtually nothing, like Johnny Depp did in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) and Robert Downey Jr. did in Iron Man (2008).
Prince of Persia’s story is a thinly-disguised commentary on the war in Iraq complete with the search for weapons of mass destruction that never existed in the first place. There are plenty of action sequences that keep the film moving but they all feel like we’ve seen them before and done better. The film looks great, with fantastic cinematography and detailed production design, but it is ultimately a slight bit of entertainment – the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy.
“An Unseen World: Making Prince of Persia” takes us through this big scale Bruckheimer production. He worked closely with the game’s creator to bring it to the big screen. For some of the film, the production shot on location in Morocco and actually created portions of Alamut in incredible detail. We see footage of the cast and crew working hard and dealing with the unbelievable heat. Thankfully, all the interiors were shot on climate-controlled soundstages in England where the filmmakers had more control over their surroundings. This featurette doesn’t run too long but does give one a decent overview of the challenges the filmmakers faced bringing this video game to the big screen.