Saturday, May 29, 2010

Din's Geek Reviews #8 - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Din's Geek Reviews.

Video games have been a major factor in geekdom for well over thirty years now. Older generations will remember the glory of Pong, the rise of the arcade, the crash of the 80s, and the revival of the genre under the home consoles.

A much darker chapter in our history comes from the disturbingly long line of video-game-based movies. Ever since the get-go people have been adapting popular game licenses into films, and not a single bloody one has been worth half a damn. From 80s crap like Super Mario Brothers all the way to the continued franchise-slaughter of the Resident Evil quadrilogy, video-game movies have never, ever worked, due in large part to an innate lack of understanding of the material by those attempting to adapt it.

Imagine my dread when I heard that one of my favorite games, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, was being adapted to the big screen. “Well,” I said, “here’ll be something else to despise.”
Well, did this film break all expectations, becoming the first good video-game movie ever, or did it rather continue the stigma, proving that games do not good movies make?
Well, it’s time to rejoice people: this movie doesn’t suck. It’s certainly not great either, but that’s beside the point.

Set in (of course) Persia, the movie follows the exploits of young Prince Destan (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a *~QUEST OF DESTINY~*.

Having nearly-single-handedly conquered the holy city of Alamut, Destan is then framed for the murder of his father. With the aid of the Princess/priestess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), he is able to escape, taking with him (purely by accident, mind you) the Dagger of Time – and ancient artifact with the power to reverse the flow of time up to one minute.
The plot is sadly linear from there. They try to get help, and are betrayed. It turns out the Nazim, Destan’s uncle (Ben Kingsly) is the actual villain (not a spoiler – for one, it’s in the trailer, and secondly his name has a “z” in it). They team up with a band of theives, try to return the dagger to its palce of origin, yaddayadda, and more fighting.
There’s some action and some questing, all culminating in a special-effects-laced climax of the ilk to make George Lucas drool with envy. All-in-all, a pretty predictable plot.

Fortunately, the acting is passable. All of the leads pull their weight well, with Gyllenhaal and Arterton both doing quite well. Their roles aren’t perfectly written, but they do well with them, giving an air of life to fairly flat, stock-ish characters. One performance I will applaud is Kingsly, who actually manages to do the near-impossible: he plays a convincing actor. It’s fairly easy to be given a character and play him. It takes massive, massive skill, however, to play a character playing another character. Nazim’s sly, conniving, murderous nature is concealed perfectly behind a mask of good-will, contentedness and love. If you want to see good acting in this film, Kingsly is really the only place you will find it. Everyone else does well, but not wonderfully.

But let’s face it – you’re not here for good acting. You’re here for action, swashbuckling, magical powers, and blood on the sand. Well, PoP gives you that. Tons of sword-fighting of various kinds, one or two explosions, and a fairly good mix of practical action and special effects. For every big, CGI-laced wide-shot you’ve got a fair number of actual hand-to-hand fights, which is good. Much better than Clash of the Titans at any rate.
Pace is good, visuals are nice, one weird scene with some ostriches, but hey, ya gotta deal, right? Over all, a passable action flick. Not great, not terrible, but solidly good.

Yep. That’s it… Pretty standard action movie.
Okay, fine, you knew it was coming.
I LOVE The Sands of Time game. That is one of only two games in my life where, while playing, I said to myself “Alright. This is art. No question – this is an artistic medium.” (the other, by the by, was Eternal Darkness)

So how does this film live up, not to Hollywood standards, but to the game? How’s it handle the source material?

Not well. If you’ve played the Sands of Time Trilogy, you will not be recognizing a ton, at least not directly. Okay, the Prince is there, and the Dagger of Time, but shy of that, you’re largely dealing with a whole new animal. Oddly, that animal isn’t a bad one, just utterly different. It’s almost as if they took the key elements of the Prince of Persia games, and then proceeded shuffle them, paint them different colors, and then put them back together. It’s not even remotely an adaptation of The Sands of Time, but you can see where they got a lot of things.
Biggest objections? No Hourglass of Time. Muslim context removed. Pagan context inserted (you don’t need “the gods” to have made the Sands, we will accept that “magic did it”).

My largest disappointment was the style of the action. Too much fighting, nowhere NEAR enough runny-jumpy-climby. I was expecting a movie full of freerunning, wall-walks, acrobatics and vertical wall scaling. Sadly, this was not to be.
So, final thoughts: as a reviewer, I encourage you to go see this film. Support the one good video-game based movie. You’ll have fun, stay enthralled, and enjoy it. As a fan, I was disappointed. I wanted more.
I suppose that’s my whole problem. I know this movie didn’t have to settle for “good” – this is one of the few titles that could have been really, really great. In the games, the dialogue was snappy, the characters enjoyable, the action killer, and the villain sinister. Here, you get a watered-down remix. Not bad on its own, but weaker than the original.
So go see it. It won’t wow you, but maybe, if Prince of Persia does well enough, a Metroid, Zelda, or Eternal Darkness movie will someday.

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