Movies: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time * * *
A film based on a video game is hardly a new concept. Disney even managed to spin four films out of their Pirates of the Caribbean theme-park ride, and will be hoping for similar success with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
An action film with a kind of Arabian Knights mood, the film follows the extraordinary fortunes of a street urchin called Dastan, whom fate brings to the attention of the mighty Persian empire's king.
King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) is riding through the streets of his capital when he witnesses an extraordinary confrontation. An urchin has caused one of the king's entourage to fall from his horse, and the outraged knight is about to beat the child when another kid, Dastan, pelts an apple at him and then leads the king's troops a merry dance across the rooftops before being captured.
Instead of punishing him, King Sharaman rewards his extraordinary courage by adopting him as his son.
When he grows up (into Jake Gyllenhaal), Dastan becomes a dashing but impetuous young warrior who shares an uneasy rivalry with his adoptive brothers, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell).
Tus is next in line for the throne, and is commanding the Persian armies in his father's absence when they reach the gates of the holy city of Alamut. Reports have reached them that the people of Alamut have been making weapons for the Persians' enemies, and Tus is unsure whether or not to attack.
Dastan is against it, Garsiv for, as is their influential uncle, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), and eventually Tus decides to storm the walled city. Inside they find no weapons, just a very irate Princess called Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and a fancy dagger with a strange glass handle.
When King Sharaman arrives, he is furious with his sons for having attacked a holy city, and they rush to assuage him with gifts. At Tus's suggestion, Dastan gives Sharaman a sacred holy robe, but when the king puts it on it burns into his flesh and kills him. Dastan realises he's been double-crossed and escapes to the desert, taking the furious princess and the dagger with him.
As they encounter a series of trials and perils, Dastan realises the dagger is magic and has the power to turn back time. And he also figures out that the weapon and its power are the reason why whoever double-crossed him wanted to attack Alamut in the first place. And the dagger will prove a vital ally as he tries to clear his name.
Every bit as daft as it sounds, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a breezy but quite well-paced action adventure that remains fairly entertaining throughout and doesn't outstay its welcome.
Veteran director Mike Newell might seem an odd choice for this type of film, but he has directed a Harry Potter in the recent past and makes a pretty good fist of this yarn too.
The CGI flies at you thick and fast, but there are some good stunts and fight scenes as well, and a solid cast fleshed out with English stage actors.
Prince of Persia does worst when it's trying to be funny, this despite the best efforts of Alfred Molina, who plays one of those dodgy desert horse thieves.
Miss Arterton is a very pretty woman, but the Gravesend girl is a bit rough around the edges to be cast as royalty, and at times comes across more like a Billingsgate fishwife than a princess. Gyllenhaal, though, seems perfectly at home in the fantasy genre, despite the fact that he has tended to stick to serious dramatic roles until now.
He attacks his role with gusto, has bulked up to make a convincing action hero, and in fact would not look out of place as the square-jawed protagonist of your average video game.