Saturday, November 13, 2021

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Film)

After the success of Prince of Persia: The Sands ofTime, Jerry Bruckheimer Films sought the film rights to the game for distribution under Walt Disney Pictures. Series creator Jordan Mechner, who couldn’t resist the offer, was also hired to write the script. However, production wouldn’t begin until after the 2007-2008 WGA strike was resolved, as Disney wanted to ensure that Prince of Persia would become their next Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, these plans fell through, with poor critical reception and an underwhelming box office in its original 2010 release. I remembered liking the film when it came out and re-watched it after finally playing the original game as part of a deep dive of the Sands of Time trilogy. While I can agree there are better films, I’m not sure I understand why critics at the time were so harsh.

Dastan (William Foster), an orphan living on the streets of Persia, is adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) after showing courage. Fifteen years later, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) plays a decisive role in the invasion of the holy city of Alamut, alongside his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), and claims a sacred dagger. When Alamut falls, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) sees the dagger in Dastan’s possession and agrees to a marriage uniting the two kingdoms. During a celebratory banquet, Dastan presents Sharaman with sacred robes, but they are poisoned and fatally burn him. Dastan is accused of murder and escapes with Tamina. While on the run, Dastan learns that the dagger has the power to reverse time and works with Tamina to clear his name and prevent the dagger from falling into the wrong hands.

While The Sands of Time is not a 1:1 recreation of its namesake, it does take the most essential elements, including the Dagger of Time and the Prince’s quest to undo a grave mistake, and does something new with them. This actually works in the film’s favor, since the original story, while well-written in its own right, likely wouldn’t have sustained a two-hour plot on its own.

Dastan is a little different from his game counterpart, but still has great character development in regaining the courage and integrity Sharaman saw in him as a child. I also found myself caring about the other characters, as they were written well enough to help serve Dastan’s arc and the themes of family and doing the right thing. Although the story takes itself seriously enough, there’s some great humor in the dialogue, especially from Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina), and the explanation of how the Dagger of Time works is woven very naturally into one iconic scene.

Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) must prevent the Dagger of Time
from falling into the wrong hands.

Creative and interesting camera work throughout the film helps maintain the feeling of a sweeping adventure story, including some zooms that mimic camera work from the original The Sands of Time game, as well as a subtle and clever nod to the franchise’s spiritual successor, Assassin’s Creed. Naturally, the film incorporates some CG and it’s actually done pretty well. The most impressive effect is the time rewind from the Dagger of Time, which sells the dagger’s power while including a visual nod to Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. In fact, the film has a few references to the franchise in general, mostly the different costumes that Dastan wears at different points in the story. Of course, there are also some great action set pieces, including an epic knife fight and the race to the Sandglass of Time during the film’s climax.

The film also has some great casting choices. Although he would later regret his role, Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job as Dastan, both in his emotional portrayal and the physical parkour stunts that are worked naturally into the action. Gyllenhaal also has great onscreen chemistry with Gemma Arterton, whose Princess Tamina plays well off of Dastan. Though pretty much everyone, including Ben Kingsley and Richard Coyle, turns in a good performance, Alfred Molina nearly steals every scene he’s in as Sheik Amar, who provides great comic relief.

Though video game adaptations have certainly improved since its release, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time still holds up as one of the better ones and is also a very solid adventure film on its own, with great action, memorable scenes and likeable characters. If adventure is in your veins, consider checking out this overlooked film.

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