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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 116 minutes

OK for children.

This is what the movies used to be, an action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and is a lot of fun. The plot, based on a video game, uses as its McGuffin a magic knife that can reverse time and, allegedly, allow its possessor to rule the world. Naturally, everybody wants it (remember the Maltese Falcon?). A prince, Daston (Jake Gyllenhaal), reluctantly joins forces with the princess of Alamut, Tamina (Gemma Arterton), whose kingdom he has just conquered, and while romantic sparks flow they work together, and at cross purposes to get it, or retain it, or, whatever. Dastan is being chased by his brothers and their army for complicated reasons. The point is that it makes just enough sense to be entertaining.

Gyllenhall is a handsome dude, who laughs at danger, always with a smile upon his face. Arterton is gorgeous, also with a slight smile that indicates she’s laughing at Daston and her fate, regardless of the impossible situations into which he thrusts her. To top it off, they are both good actors. Gyllenhall’s parkour puts one in mind of Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), and others. The difference is that Fairbanks, a trained acrobat, performed all of his deeds of derring-do himself without modern aids. Gyllenhall is aided by wires and special effects to do the impossible things he’s pictured doing.

There are a lot of enjoyable visual effects in this film, but perhaps the best is the creation of the fictional city of Alamut. Production designer Wolf Kroeger took Tamesloht, a dusty, unpaved village, twenty kilometers southwest of Marrakesh, consisting of a few shops, a few dwellings, and walls of an ancient kasbah estimated to be 700 years old. Kroeger turned this into a huge city containing a magnificent square with a Taj Mahal–like palace rising 50 feet above the ground. Streets abound with mind-blowing architectural and decorative detail. I thought this the most amazing effect of the movie. It’s hard to believe that it was all computer generated. There are lots of shots of Alamut and they were almost as enjoyable as all the shots of the gorgeous Arterton, who was clearly photographed with great attention to detail to enhance her already formidable beauty.

The film is admirably directed by Mike Newell with a cast that includes Ben Kingsley, who plays Dastan’s uncle, Nizam, and Alfred Molina, who plays the charming Sheikh Amar. 

This is a lot of fun.

May 27, 2010