Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell
Director: Mike Newell
Writer(s): Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro
Cinematography: John Seale
Original Score: Harry Gregson-Williams
Running Time: 116 Mins.
From the makers of Pirates of the Caribbean, screams the poster and all marketing for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, what this means is that it is from uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, quite possibly the only auteur producer! Auteur in that you know his films consist of, explosions, epic action, one-liners, stunning leading ladies and buff leading men, so it will not surprise you to learn he was not only behind Pirates but also Con Air, The Rock, National Treasure, Pearl Harbour, Armageddon, Gone In 60 Seconds…you get the idea. Though these all vary in quality there is no denying they are entertaining, it is the substance that the director must bring and most fail to muster up the requisite amount to offset the kaboom! Pirates just about managed it first time around and succumb to Bruckheimer-itis as they went on which leaves the prospects of Prince of Persia somewhat up in the air…
Alas I am pleased to say that director Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Four Weddings and a Funeral) manages to wield the tools at his disposal in such a way that he meshes the bombast of Bruckheimer with great characters and some inspired set pieces, that while not wholly original are reminiscent enough of the right films in the right way while not seeming like cheap imitations. Most shocking of all though has to be that this is a film based upon a video game, possibly the first great adaptation though it is easy to forget the roots which were cinematic in their original state and build on, rather than succumb to, the trappings of a computer game and its narrative.
Taking its lead from the Indiana Jones series, Prince of Persia takes a Saturday matinee tone and spins it out into an epic yarn involving secret assassins, evil uncles, sword-fights aplenty, and a mystical dagger, what really makes this combination meld is the lead performances though, Newell has alwasy been an actors director with a great affinity for drawing out hugely entertaining turns from his cast and this is no exception Gyllenhaal is a revelation in a role that asks much of him, more than merely being the action hero, he must become both the hero (usually the dull one, Luke in Star Wars or Will in Pirates) and the more comedic sidekick (Han Solo or Jack Sparrow) and delivers on both fronts with buckets of charisma, all this and a convincing British accent!
It really would seem that we have a new bona-fide action hero, but matching Gyllenhaal every step of the way is Arterton, always a joy in the film regardless of how poor (St. Trinians for example) she has found the perfect role here. Glamorous, sassy, and gives as good as she gets, independently they are great but together one of the best screen couples in quite some time, believable and fun to spend time with is a combination oft lacking in the modern blockbuster, even amidst any other success.
Having two turns this much fun would be a spoil of riches alone but when the support turns equal the level of glee it just gets better, Tobey Kebbell, Ben Kingsley are value for money but it is Alfred Molina that shines as brightly as Gyllenhaal and Arterton, providing proper belly laughs during a genius comedy/action sequence set amidst an ostrich race of all things! Though action wise this is simply the tip of the iceberg (or edge of the sandstorm!) stitched into the narrative each set piece arrives, not at the expense of the story, but rather to further or contextualize it, as all good action films should.
Oddly considering the fantasy elements involved in the games there is a real lack of obvious CGI, another big positive, with the creatures and sand monsters of the game forsaken in place of real people meaning that while most are still faceless (literally in some cases) assassins simply there to be stabbed they allow for a more grounded down to earth blockbuster albeit with its own distinguished flight of fancy, yes, there is one element that uses CGI to the best effect, and that is in the pressing of the dagger which turns back time. A staple power in the game it is one that transfers exceptionally well and is used sparingly enough to not overwhelm. If there is fault to be found it is in the slightly slow start, but once the characters are established there is no looking back, I can safely say a sequel is a more than welcome prospect and that this is far and away the best sand-set epic in some time.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time makes sure Gyllenhaal and Arterton are the stars of the show, but there much to treasure amidst Newell’s pacey, action packed and character led blockbuster proving that less can sometimes, certainly, be more.