‘PRINCE OF PERSIA’ IS A GOOD TIME

In a summer that so far has been disappointingly devoid of good films, it is refreshing to come across one that offers enjoyable escape entertainment for the entire family. And that’s exactly what we get in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” based upon The  Prince of Persia video game created by Jordan Mechner in 1989.

Although I’ve never been a big fan of movies spawned by video games, I really enjoyed this one because it achieves a very nice blend of action, drama, humor, and romance, and that’s something that is all too rare in films these days. And after having endured sitting through the horrendously pathetic “MacGruber” last week, this movie was a very pleasant change of pace.

Set in Persia during the sixth century, the film begins in the city streets where a young boy rescues another youngster from the wrath of a Persian Army captain. The youth’s bravery impresses King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) so much that he adopts the boy named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) on the spot and raises him with his two true sons, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). As the boys grow into manhood, a natural rivalry develops because both Tus and Garsiv aspire to be king one day and believe that Dastan has no right to the crown.

In an attempt to show is loyalty, Dastan spearheads an assault on the holy city of Alamut, where some villains are supposedly collecting weapons for Persia’s enemies. However, the big secret in Alamut is not weapons but a magical dagger with the power to alter time. With the help of Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the princess Alamut, whose family guards the dagger, Dastun secures the sacred weapon, but when Sharaman is murdered in a most imaginative manner, Dastan becomes the prime suspect and must somehow prove his innocence.

This film is a good, old-fashioned swashbuckling fantasy with plenty of action, some stellar sword fights, and some superb special effects. It also delivers an important message about familial loyalty and living up to one’s potential. In the film’s production notes, Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley, who is terrific as Dastan’s Uncle Nizam, offered some insight into the film’s meaning.

“What appealed to me about the story is the notion that everybody has great potential. And this is where I thought it would be a very affirming film, particularly for young people—to realize that whilst you might be a child of the streets, it doesn’t mean that your potential is any less than that of a child from the palace. Our film is an examination of the potential of a child coming into adulthood, and the choices he has.”

Gyllenhaal delivers a wonderful performance as the feisty, rebellious, fun-loving Dastan, a role demanding a number of athletic stunts that the actor did himself. In the production notes, he offered some interesting insight into his role.

“I thought that creating an iconic character like Dastan could be both fun and a huge challenge. I’ve always loved movies in which the hero has the capability to do almost anything, but still be a human being, and not a superman. The development of the character was massively physical at first getting in shape and learning parkour, sword-fighting and the mentality of a warrior. I knew that if I got through that, I’d be halfway there. And when it was decided that Dastan would speak in a standard British accent to be consistent with the rest of the performers, I worked hard at that as well with a dialect coach named Barbara Berkery.”

Because Gyllenhaal and Arterton share so many scenes, it was imperative that they have a good chemistry to make both the romantic and comic elements of the film work. The two of them are excellent together, and their repartee throughout the film is consistently amusing. Here’s a quick sample of what I mean.

At one point, Dastan saves the princess from a dire situation,T and she says sarcastically, “Such a noble prince leaping to assist the fallen beauty.” And he replies, “Who said you are a beauty?” Tamina fires back, “There must be a reason you can’t take your eyes off me.”

The special effects in the film are great, and there is one scene involving the attack of some vipers that will literally make your skin crawl. It begins quite slowly and then escalates to the point that I actually lifted my feet off the floor. The scene ranks right up there with the one in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when Indy first peers into that massive hole in the ground. The battle scenes also are nicely choreographed and don’t seem to rely on too much computer generated imaging. And the musical score is simply magnificent.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (Let’s give it an eight.) succeeds beautifully in offering the kind of family entertainment that has been sadly lacking in so many films this summer. It’s about time!

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