You got sand all over my Persian! ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, May 28, 2010

You got sand all over my Persian!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
My rating:

Apologies if you've been breathlessly awaiting my Kidnapper review - I scored last-minute tickets to a preview screening of this movie, and I couldn't pass it up. It's one of the year's big summer blockbusters after all, which is totally my kinda movie; yeah yeah, I'm a pleb, so sue me. It's also the first big studio adaptation of a video game (unless you count Silent Hill, which I don't), which is of interest to me as a (lapsed) gamer. (I only played the first two 8-bit and 16-bit DOS-era installments of the series. Retro gaming FTW!) Considering the huge marketing push Walt Disney Pictures is giving to it, this looks like it could be the first truly successful video game movie.

Frankly, in my book, it isn't. But I wouldn't mind if the box office proves me wrong.

King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) rules the Persian Empire wisely, aided by his brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) and his three sons Tus (Richard Coyle), Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former street urchin whom he adopted. The princes are deceived into invading the city of Alamut, believing it to be supplying weapons to their enemies; in fact, it is part of a plot to obtain Alamut's greatest treasure - the mystical Dagger of Time, guarded by Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). The Dagger has the ability to turn back time, and it falls into Dastan's hands; he is then framed for murdering the King, and he flees with both the Dagger and Tamina. They must now prove Dastan's innocence, expose the conspirators, and keep the Dagger out of the hands of those who may inadvertently use it to destroy the world.

Holy God, the editing on this is terrible! This is the second movie in a row that was clearly badly chopped up in post. (Do these things always happen in twos?) The whole movie feels like it's racing pell-mell to get to the end, making time only for the action scenes - which, similarly, are so badly cut that they're virtually incoherent. What's worst about the editing is that the story has no time to breathe. This film is partly a family drama, and there's some juicy emotional stuff going on here. A beloved father tragically dies before his sons' eyes. Brothers bicker, turn against each other, then attempt to reconcile. Betrayals amongst family members abound. The film just glosses over all this, impatiently moving on to the next plot point and/or action scene. Any potential for genuine human drama is completely undercut by the breakneck editing.

And no, I don't for one second believe that genuine human drama does not belong in a summer blockbuster fantasy action film adapted from a video game. Dastan's older brothers do not start out hating the peasant boy whom their father plucked off the streets. Nizam does not start out as the evil vizier, already plotting to wrest the throne for himself. The Persian royal family is a genuine family, who are warm and loving to each other; even Garsiv being quite a dick to Dastan seems like typical brotherly rivalry. There are real familial relationships between these characters, which should make it all the more impactful when the inevitable betrayals occur - if it weren't for the stupid editing. (And yes, I was somewhat unnecessarily coy in my plot synopsis; Nizam is played by Ben Kingsley, so obviously he's the bad guy behind it all. Not smart of the movie to spend its first half pretending he isn't.)

It doesn't help that, for a film based on a video game with a rewinding-time mechanic, there are precious few cool uses of the Dagger's powers; in fact, it wastes one of them on a meaningless (and lengthy) scene in which Dastan demonstrates its time-traveling abilities to someone... who then gets killed, without helping in the slightest. In a nod to the game's nature as a 3D platformer, Dastan performs plenty of acrobatics, running and climbing and leaping across medieval rooftops - but, y'know, we've seen parkour chase scenes before. Admittedly, the action sequences are quite well-staged - not well-edited, but well-staged. At one point Nizam engages the Hassansin (the what?) to hunt down Dastan, and they have some cool weapons, but the fight scenes are so choppy and spastic that you can barely even make out what those weapons are.

And it doesn't help that the dialogue is often cheesy, nor that most of the cast aren't talented enough to deliver it with any conviction. Jake Gyllenhaal tries, and he makes a great action hero at least - and I'm sure the ladies will cuci mata on his buff bod. Gemma Arterton is also better here than anything else I've seen her in, and she does generate some sparks with Gyllenhaal, despite the script's lame attempts at flirty dialogue. Alfred Molina plays a Sheikh Amar, the comic relief of the film, which means he gets all the funny lines; he also has a henchman named Seso (Steve Toussaint) who gets a cool fight scene all to himself, which would've been cooler if his character had been developed better. And Ben Kingsley is one of those veteran actors who can deliver cheesy dialogue with conviction. Though I find it interesting that they gave their villain the perfectly common Muslim name of Nizam, apparently because it starts with "n" and has a scarily exotic "z" in it. (Names that start with "d" on the other hand are just good ol' boys.)

The friend I watched this with, who also got me into the preview screening (thanks Viv!), offered this verdict: "Two stars would be generous." But I'm giving it three. It's a mess, but an entertaining mess. It's just about okay as a summer blockbuster; it delivers on the promised thrills and eye-candy, and I'd love to see Gyllenhaal get more A-list matinee idol roles. I wouldn't even mind if it makes lots of money and we get a (hopefully better) sequel. It's just that it could've been much better, and that it was clearly and badly marred by a lot of lunkheaded decisions the producers made. One of which - and this is something that occurred during its opening minutes, and possibly prejudiced me against the movie from the outset - was a mention that the mythology of this world involves "the gods". The gods? Of Persia??

NEXT REVIEW: Kidnapper
Expectations: let's see how hard they try


jfook said...

I gonna watch it soon!

profwacko said...

agree with u TMBF, the editing in this movie suck!!

Didnt like it when i feel they cut parts that i think worth to know or watched in detailed.

Anyway, i still enjoy this movie.

McGarmott said...

Noticed who one of the editor was? No less than Spielberg's former editor! I had the same thought too, that the editing was too fast. But I also blame the DP for the action scenes. He could have pulled the camera further out, just a tad. Medium wide instead of medium CUs.

As for Dastan showing Tus the dagger's powers - where got? Damn meaningful what. That was the first moment I realised with certainty that Tus isn't a betraying (nor foolish) character. It was sad that he died. (Just as it was sad that the father died. If only Dastan's reaction wasn't so quickly edited.)

And there's nothing wrong with the gods of Persia - considering the length of the Persian civilisation, most of Persia's history is set in pre-Islamic times.

By the way, I would have mentioned the modern political parallels that the filmmakers slipped into the movie - attacking Iraq so that they can 'look for WMDs', tax evasion, etc. That, is a blockbuster movie after my heart.

The Wan And Only said...

I often felt the casting of a movie sometimes spoils the movie. Big shot actors or actresses getting cast for a seemingly secondary role would later prove to be the main antagonist or something like that.

Case in point: Charlize Theron in Hancock or The Rock in Get Smart or Demi Moore in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.

You'd know immediately that Ben Kingsley would be the villain of the piece.

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: Michael Kahn is an old man, he doesn't edit like that. ;) I think he did the first pass and delivered a 2-and-a-half-hour cut - that's why they brought in the other two fellas.

No, I don't think that scene with Dastan and Tus worked. It might have if Tus did turn out to be the villain, but the movie isn't that smart.

Yes, I looked up the Persian Empire in Wikipedia, so I know it has a long pre-Islamic period. I just felt that their throwaway mention of generic "gods" was such a cop-out.

k0k s3n w4i said...

All my friends told me this movie is a great fun summer flick to see - and some liked it enough to see it twice.

Goodness, my friends have such abysmal tastes.

Aside from all the problems you mentioned with the editing, I have beef with the dialogues as well. Too much exposition! That scene where Tamina explain to Dastan about the dagger's powers, Dastan immediately extrapolated everything the dagger can do from the little she disclosed in a long, awkward monologue. My friend and I laughed out loud watching that scene.

The fights were also mediocre in their choreography. Usually, i lament the shortage of action scenes in movies like this, but POP managed to make it a chore for me to watch them. The one scene I did like did not even involve Dastan (it was that knife throwing contest between the token black guy and the spiky baddie; quite tense).

And the CGI was just plain bad.

I feel in love with Gemma Arterton after i saw here in the Tamara Drewe trailer, but here she acted as if she had a log up her fanny at all times.

Ben Kingsley is, as usual, irreproachable.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Oh, and Alfred Molina ftw!

sgold73 said...

How did they get Ben Kingsley in this? I mean seriously. Why would he be in a picture like this when he could be working on better stuff?
Leave your popcorn machines boxed for this one.

TMBF said...

@sgold73: Ben Kingsley? This is the man who also did BloodRayne and The Love Guru, yes? ;)

chicnchomel said...

Ben Kingsley was in the Love Guru meh?

ArtForAuction said...

Hahaha..the love guru, I love it!
btw, Hassansin is the original word for Assasin. And Nizam means Vizier.

beleive it!