As I walked out of the cinema after seeing Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a few mothers holding the hands of toddlers were gathering in the foyer. The kids were clearly a little upset, speaking in half-sentences about monsters and the volume of the film, and the mothers agreed that the experience had been mildly traumatic for the impressionable, clumsy little apple-cheeked tykes. Which is why the film has a 12A rating. All of the sand, sorcery and sexual tension brought me back to a similar moment in my childhood, when as a waddling barrel of confusion I left Disney’s Aladdin, dragging my mother to the toilets so I could cry salty tears over the intolerable cruelty of existence as played out in a stunning technicolour version of the Middle East.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry during POP:TSOT, if only because I expected to be mourning the death of another excellent gaming franchise at the hands of blundering Hollywood executives, headed up by super producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The result was arguably one of the best videogame-to-film adaptations ever. But that is like saying that Jedward are the best novelty pop act to come out of Ireland. Or that Gordon Ramsey is the most attractive TV chef. The competition is pretty minimal.
Jake Gyllenhaal is the street urchin-turned prince (of Persia) Dasan, whose luck changes when as a boy he impresses the local king by standing up to some guards and busting out some hardcore free running moves. We flash forward to Dasan as an adult Prince (of Persia). By now he is an acrobatic, smarmy warrior who spends his time larking about with his two adoptive brothers and his uncle (Ben Kingsley with autopilot engaged). The trio of bickering toffs are unleashed to expand the Persian Empire. After invading one holy city, whose princess-monarch Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is also the head of the church and seemingly the commander in chief of the army, Dasan picks up a sacred dagger, and is then framed for the murder of his father and forced to flee with said princess. Eventually they manage to crowbar in an apocalyptic event which the Prince must avert, shoehorn some romance and stuff sickly gobbets of ostrich-based comedy down the audience’s throat via the Persianed-up Alfred Molina, who is seemingly channelling Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow, with added cockney.
Despite sounding like a sloppy plot which is riddled with holes and clichés, which it is, the worst aspect of POP:TSOT is the dialogue. It lacks any kind of charm, wit or intelligence, and the actors deliver their lines with less skill than Danny Dyer on a bad day. It’s not that the actors are bad, it is just that the material has no polish and the directing budget seems to have gone into the main action set pieces, leaving characterisation and dialogue in its rawest, most generic form.
Many people will be perfectly satisfied with what Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has to offer. Its undemanding stuff, and some of the action sequences are well choreographed and vaguely reminiscent of the games upon which this film is based. But as a package it’s just a bit too dull, and Iron Man 2 is still the best summer blockbuster around this year.