Prince of Persia: The Film of Fun
(Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Mike Newell, USA, 116min)
(Note: This review reveals the fates of some of the characters.)
Disney’s stylish action-adventure, based on the 2003 computer game and directed by Mike Newell, is a fast-paced, exciting film that is closer to Disney’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ than ‘Cinderella’. Rated 12A for copious amounts of violence, although not as explicit as in many films, Prince of Persia has a fluid plot which successfully involves the audience due to the acting talents of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina and Gemma Arterton, and the stunning visual effects.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Prince Dastan, adopted by the King of Persia as a penniless orphan boy who grows up to be a strong, fun-loving fighter. When he is older, his eldest brother Tus, set to be king, invades the holy city of Alamut due to the reports of a spy and encouragement from their uncle Nizam, played by Ben Kingsley. Soon after this, the King is burned to death by a robe given to him by Dastan, who actually received it from Tus, and he is forced to go on the run, following the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who had been captured in the holy city. What follows is a fun, special effects-fuelled story surrounding the dagger Dastan found in the city, which can turn back time.
The chemistry between the main characters, as well as the amazing CG effects, make the film worth watching. Dastan and Tamina’s sharp-tongued banter, Tamina’s fierce antagonism towards him and her skill with a sword serve to both develop their romance in a non-clichéd way as well as to portray Tamina as a positive, independent female role model, something that is rarely seen in films these days as pretty much all female characters ultimately end up relying on men in order to be happy. Although Dastan does, admittedly, end up saving the day, with Tamina almost bestowing her destiny onto him, she is the one who ends up sacrificing herself in order for Dastan to save the world. This is a heroic, if somewhat melodramatic, act, which cements her character as being about more than looking beautiful, something that is unnecessarily commented on by many characters in the film.
Alfred Molina’s role as Sheik Amar, a man who arranges ostrich races and hates taxes, is tremendously amusing without being too contrived, and his banter with Dastan further establishes Gyllenhaal’s likeable prince. Ben Kingsley’s turn as the master villain also works well, with his intense stare and quiet cunning successfully played off against Jake Gyllenhaal’s wide-eyed, courageous innocence. Although the revelation that he is the true villain does not come as much of a surprise, this does not affect the pace of the film at all, and is therefore only a minor downfall in an otherwise seamless film.
Another slight downfall is one for which Western film-makers have come under fire for before, most recently for The Last Airbender; the use of race. Unsurprisingly, most of the ‘goodies’ – Dastan, Tamina, Tus – are played by fair-skinned, blue-eyed British or American actors (although Arteton admittedly has dark eyes), while the ‘baddies’, or those considered to be immoral – Nizam, Dastan’s other brother Garsiv, Sheik Amar, the soldiers chasing after Dastan – are all either slightly darker-skinned or have dark eyes and dark hair, and all in all look more realistically Persian than the ‘goodies’. Disney itself has been criticised for this racial stereotyping before, particularly in ‘Aladdin’, where it has been said that Aladdin did not really look that Middle-Eastern and talked like an American boy, while his enemy Jafar had an accent and looked more typically Middle-Eastern.
Although Dastan’s journey throughout the entire film appears to be centred on the idea of ‘destiny’, culminating in Dastan’s serious claim that ‘we make our own destiny’ near the end of the film, there is little focus on this topic in the film itself. While Tamina does stress the importance of herself as the guardian of the dagger numerous times, the fight-filled action scenes and fast-paced Persian music mean that much more focus is devoted to fight and chase scenes rather than the message about lives being linked across times, which is repeated at the beginning and at the end of the film, presumably to achieve a well-balanced effect and to convince the audience that there has been one main message all along.
It is clear, however, that the film aims to be an exciting adventure with impressive special effects and non-stop action, rather than a serious, reflective film which accurately reflects past Persian times, and in aiming to do so, it succeeds. Prince of Persia encompasses action, horror, gore, romance, humour and visual effects successfully, the above components intermingling without overshadowing the main plot, which makes the film a very watchable, if somewhat superficial, experience.