Monday, November 3, 2014

Rewatch: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

2010, Mike Newell (Enchanted April, Donnie Brasco) -- Blu-ray

It was my birthday and I was still having coughing fits from the remaindered lung infection, so no guilting myself about rewatching something; I just needed some fun. Prince of Persia sits in my collection of fantasy movies that I enjoy again and again. The collection evolves with technology, with many of the VHS tapes of years past yet to be replaced. They are rarely considered good movies but they are ones I enjoy.

This is of the swords & sandals sub-genre but like most, is more straight fantasy movie than historically accurate. That said, in my mind, ancient Arabia and ancient Persia have always been merged. They all include the cliches of minarets, carpets, djinn and world conquering empires. It is possible I don't have any real pop culture references for Persia. Sinbad? Maybe. But it matters not because a Disney movie based on a video game, starring entirely western actors is not going to even try for accuracy.

I never played the game it is based on (The Sands of Time), the platformer from the PS2 era of gaming. OK, I might have started it, but in my core memory, its the original side-scroller game from the 90s that stands out. The running, jumping and pre-parkour of the game was astounding for its age. So, its not surprising that the recent games and movie make use of the running, jumping, swinging and dodging that so often dominate parkour centered action scenes. Personally, not enough was used in the movie but that would have required an entirely city based movie instead of one with sweeping desert travel scenes, as anyone would expect in swords & sandals.

Its a dumb, standard movie, in the style of many Disney adaptations. That the Pirates.... movies rose above that standard is amazing, while this one keeps to the low expectations. As I already said, we have western (i.e. white) actors playing Persians: Ronald Pickup as the Persian king, Ben Kingsley as his brother, Richard Coyle & Toby Kebbell as his sons and Jake Gyllenhaal as his adopted son, the Prince of Persia in question. And of course, Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina. The amusing thing is that Gyllenhaal, as the street rabble kid who is adopted by the kind king, affects a London street accent to offset the BBC English of the other actors. I always wonder when British English became the de facto representation of people speaking "another language".

Ahh Gemma Arterton. In a world where "the list" actually applies, she would be on My List. She has an unearthly beauty in this movie, smooth skinned and perfectly toned, that fits the role she is playing as the fabled beauty of Alamut. Amusingly though, I often mix up her role in this movie with her role as Io in Clash of the Titans. So, not so defining a role. She is to be beautiful and antagonistic towards the Hero, and she does that well enough. I wonder if a movie, where the hero and heroine bicker like old crones for most of the running time, has ever ended with them just disliking each other, instead of eventually falling in love/lust?

If there is one thing I actively dislike about this movie, it is the whole comedic addition of Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar. With his complaints about taxes and his love for his racing ostriches, the whole addition annoyed me. Still does. But he provides some additional supporting characters for our hero to draw upon when needed, a trope commonly used in fantasy movies. I feel I should trace that one back to find an origin, and suspect it starts entirely outside the fantasy genre.

You would think that if I state that there is one thing I actively dislike, I would have at least one example I actively love, as I rewatch these movies over and over again. But no, nothing of note reaches out from this movie. Its more an overall collection of magic and swordplay, visual notes and costuming, that catches me. The background shots of Alamut are fantastic, so broad and sweeping and carrying actual distance. You can see the money in this movie, in large sets like the celebration after the fall of Alamut, which even in the worst of movies, always lends a bit of a thrill for me. I just like BIG scenes, full of details and background notes.

With this movie rewatched, I almost feel I have to rewatch Clash of the Titans if not because Gemma is in it, but also because these sit side by side in my mind, very similar in structure to me, if not a bit more serious toned.

One last comment. I believe, that if there was ever to be a movie adaptation of the Uncharted series of video games, Newell could do a good job. The humor of the games as well as the big action pieces are familiar to him.