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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

As video games have evolved, so too have video game movies. Early video game movies, quite frankly, tended to suck, because of the difficulties of translating an interactive story (or lack of one) for the console or PC to a coherent, noninteractive story for the screen. This is why there will never be a Pac-Man movie – it just wouldn’t translate well. However, modern video games have been inching closer and closer to what amounts to interactive movies, it has become easier and more logical to translate these stories and universes to the big screen. How does this one fare? Let’s find out.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a movie adaptation of the 2003 video game of the same name, itself a continuity reboot of the Prince of Persia computer game series originally developed for MS-DOS and the Mac. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Ronald Pickup, Richard Coyle, and Toby Kebbell.

Dastan (Gyllenhaal) is an orphan adopted by King Sharaman (Pickup) in the Persian Empire. His royal foster brothers, Tus (Coyle) and Garsiv (Kebbell) are planning with their Uncle Nizam (Kingsley) to attack the sacred city of Alamut, suspected of providing weapons to Persia’s enemies. Alamut is also home to a massive sandglass stated to have mystical properties. During the initial attack, Dastan manages to claim a dagger as treasure; Princess Tamina is also captured and agrees to marry the eldest brother Tus in order to keep peace. Sharaman, however, rebukes Tus for attacking the city and gives Tamina’s hand in marriage to Dastan instead. Tus gives Dastan a robe to present to King Sharaman, but when the King dons it, it turns out to be poisoned, killing him and laying the blame on the unwitting Dastan. He flees with Princess Tamina, who reveals to him that the dagger he found can reverse time. Now on the run from his own people, Dastan must find out who would want to murder his father, and why the Dagger of Time seems to be the key to everything…

Okay. I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same thing: Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia? He’s about as Persian as John Wayne is Mongolian (not that that stopped the Duke from being cast as Genghis Khan, but I digress). Fortunately, Gyllenhaal seemed to take the role seriously, buffing up to play the athletic former-street-rat-turned-royal-traceur, and he offers just the right amount of mischief to the role to capture the spirit of his video game counterpart. Ben Kingsley, as Nizam, plays his usual ambiguously lawful neutral self, and Gemma Arterton is beautiful, enigmatic, and argumentative as Dastan’s unwilling travelling companion and rebellious Princess Tamina. The other two princes, regrettably, are not well fleshed out, and King Sharaman seems to exist solely to get killed off and kickstart the main plot.

And what a plot it is! I’ve seen previous video game movies, with the flashy effects and big-name actors tacked onto a flimsy facsimile of the core material’s premise, and most of them have fallen flat. with Prince of Persia, the filmmakers clearly wanted to avoid this trap and therefore took key elements of the Sands of Time Trilogy and built a largely fresh plot around it. The story is well-fleshed out and multilayered, with new angles on otherwise tired twists and enough stunts and effects to enhance the story without drowning it in the shiny. The fight scenes are thrilling and action-packed, and the time-reversal effects are well-rendered, translating a video game mechanic rather tidily to the big screen. This movie could have fallen hard, and it soared instead, proving that Disney is apparently getting is groove back in the live-action market.

Even if you’re not a video game nerd, if you enjoy action-packed adventure films, I recommend Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It’s what every video game movie has been trying to be, and it also stands alone as a thrilling desert adventure.

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