Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jake Gyllenhaal Is Not Johnny Depp And Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time Flops.

The Good: Good action/adventure feel and sequences, Special effects
The Bad: Light on character development, Obvious plot and character development, Disappointingly obvious progression, Disney conceits.
The Basics: In an attempt to rule the theaters with a new franchise, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer make a boring miscalculation with Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time.

I know that I am in the minority of reviewers when it comes to the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. Still, I stand by those reviews because they are basically overrated popcorn movies which have as much to do with merchandising Johnny Depp as they do with telling a decent story. I mention this at the outset of my review of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time because not only is the film produced by Pirates Of The Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer, it is also obvious that it is attempting to establish another franchise like Pirates, presumably to fill the gap until the next Pirates film is ready. However, they failed. And hard.

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is loosely based upon a video game franchise by the same name, much like Pirates Of The Caribbean was based upon a Disney World ride. Sadly, this film has about the emotional resonance of a video game and while the effects are worthwhile in most parts, the plot and character developments are so full of holes one could sail a pirate ship through them. This comes from two essential problems with the film: the time travel element and the emphasis in the film on parkour. Before I get too far into critiquing the film, let me address the latter point first.

For those unfamiliar with it, parkour is a current “phenomenon” sweeping people in urban areas who have too much time on their hands and a physical gift which is grossly misapplied. While some define parkour as the “art” of moving in a straight line, no matter the obstacle, I look at parkour as making one’s life intentionally difficult by forcing oneself to climb, jump and straddle when such movements are in no way necessary. So, for example, while one person might walk down a flight of stairs, through a turnstyle and around a fence to get into, say, a subway terminal, a traceur or traceuse (one who does parkour) might leap down the stairs or jump between hand rails to descend, leap over the turnstyle and climb over the fence to make the same journey. There’s a kung-fu movie feel to watching people perform parkour and while there’s a guy who is currently credited with “creating” parkour, it has clearly been around for decades before he put a name to it. The point of this little diatribe is this: parkour requires physical agility and strength, but at the end of the day seems to be a pointless waste of time and energy for most people. I long suspected that, like track and field events (or soccer) it is far more interesting to be participating in the activity than just watching others do that. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time went a long way to proving that thesis. Throughout the film characters, most notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dastan perform parkour and while it is initially interesting, it wears thin early in the movie and one is stuck watching Gyllenhaal run, jump and swing when he could use other methods of transport. Director Mike Newell seems to be desperately hoping that viewers will be so astounded by how Gyllenhaal and costar Gemma Arterton (known for her role in Clash Of The Titans, reviewed here!) do their own stunts that they will neglect to notice that many of the situations which require the stunts are utterly unnecessary.

It’s a popcorn movie, nothing more.

Dastan is living on the streets in Persia when he comes to the attention of King Sharaman who adopts Dastan as a Prince so his own sons might not fight for the throne. Raised as an equal and a son of Persia, Dastan is by Sheik Amar and aided by Prince Garsiv, the head of the army, Dastan prepares for the day when he might be called upon to lead or fight. That time comes when Dastan leads a military operation that lays siege to a neighboring land. There, he discovers the dagger with the Sands Of Time, which he learns about from its protector, Princess Tamina, who - as a captured subject - is to become the wife of one of the Princes.

But Tamina does not take her job lying down and when Dastan is framed for the murder of Sharaman, she and Dastan are forced to flee. Their running through the desert puts them in league with a rogue and swindler, Sheik Amar, and his knife-throwing lackey. As Dastan tries to keep possession of the dagger, Tamina leads him further into the desert to the source of its power, unwittingly leading its greatest enemy there as well!

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is exactly what we have come to expect of big budget special-effects driven summer blockbusters. Disney is betting heavily on this one and while the teenybopper crowd might find Jake Gyllenhaal, who was admittedly great in Donnie Darko (click here for that review!), to be a dreamy substitute for Johnny Depp, the flick is almost inevitably doomed to failure for two big reasons: 1. it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and 2. There’s no hook.

The first problem is the death knell of the movie. Nizam is as monolithic a villain as virtually any Disney villain and there is a pointless quality to him and his goals. Evocative of Jafar from Aladdin, Nizam is just monolithically bent on ruling the world and remaining alive, which makes his character very limited. Whenever I see such a character now, the first question I find myself asking is “what is motivating this person to want to rule everything?” If I can come up with an answer, my next question is “does it fit the character?” Nizam does not have any philosophy or idea to better anything, he just wants it all. And frankly, unrestrained greed is a motive that becomes harder and harder to watch the older I get. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time does nothing new with the concept and as such, the villain seems very one-sided in a way that is utterly boring.

As a result, Dastan comes to seem equally boring. While Jake Gyllenhaal does a decent job of looking shocked when he comes to realize how his dagger works, but beyond that he is remarkably white bread. I recognize the irony of characterizing the buffed up, tanned version of Gyllenhaal that way, but his character of Prince Dastan truly has no unique traits and just as Nizam’s monolithic evil sense seems over-the-top, the loyalty and bland acceptance that his mission is righteous falls flat as well. Dastan is not internally tormented by the power he wields and he never comes into his own as a realized character of any interest. In other words, he is important only because he is focused on the most and the viewer is told he is important.

This leads us to the hook, or lack thereof. While Pirates Of The Caribbean had Jack Sparrow who was mumbling crazy things and doing his own thing much of the time, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time has no such catch, no such unique or defining quality. As a result, this becomes a pretty bland and straightforward hero narrative and because the protagonist doesn’t inspire the viewer or amuse them, the film flops into a rut of action films that is actually likely to alienate the teen girl audience which made Pirates so big.

As for the Sands of Time, within the dagger they create a 10 second to one minute time playback option for the person with the dagger (usually Dastan) and that is mildly amusing, but more an excuse to make a special effect which is at times nauseating and others mildly intriguing. This effect-based and stunt-based work does nothing to negate the fact that the film is disturbingly dull to watch and for those looking for something new, they are likely to be disappointed. Instead of wasting one’s money seeing this in theaters, they might as well go back and rewatch The Mummy. At least that effectively mixed humor and action. This does not.

The acting in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time never sparkles. Sir Ben Kingsley is never given enough to work with as Nizam and Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting in this consists mostly of running and jumping and slashing at people and computer generated things. As for Gemma Arteron, she is easy to watch, but is hardly a shining gem of acting in this work.

In other words, there’s no reason to hold your breath for this latest Disney cashgrab.

For other Disney films, please check out my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
The Little Mermaid
The Nightmare Before Christmas


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for an organized listing!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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