Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I love a good time-travel story.  From the Terminator films, Back to the Future series, and ripping yarns like the 2000  film Frequency, there is something alluring and exciting about the past and future colliding.  Even the recent Star Trek reboot found a few wormholes.  Time travel will always come across in film as a tricky contradicting device full of paradoxes.  In Prince of Persia, the film bases its premise on the possibility that time travel and its power may fall into the wrong hands (as all films of this sort do), but it presents time travel in a limited arrangement.

The plot introduces the Persian empire at the height of its power.  Its king is paraded through the streets where he comes across a defiant young boy who seeks to protect another young man from punishment as a result of thievery.  In fact, it feels very similar to a live-action version of Disney’s Aladdin.  This protective boy, Dastan, stirs up the king’s heart, and the orphaned boy is taken into the royal family as a young prince.  Later on he grows up to become the adult Jake Gyllenhaal, bulked up with flowing dark hair and bronzed skin attributed to multiple trips to the tanning salon.  He is a trained warrior, and trusted commander in the nation’s army.  Dastan’s royal brothers are set to capture the peaceful city of  Almut.  Though Dastan’s skills as a fighter are commendable among his siblings, they feel he is not ready for such a massive attack.  To prove himself worthy, Dastan scaffolds the wall of Almut and lays siege to the city, leading a small band of soldiers to victory before the royal brothers arrive.  Dastan becomes a hero, and as such, takes a handsome dagger from Almut—one with mystical powers. 

During a celebration, the ceremony is interrupted when a prestigious cloak, laced with an acidic poison, is offered to the king and kills him very quickly.  Dastan, having been asked to offer the cloak before the ceremony, appears to be the traitor with the intent of taking the throne.  Quickly afoot from his own people, Dastan escapes with a princess of Almut, Tamina (Gemma Arterton) captured shortly following the attack.  Tamina’s sole interest is in protecting the dagger Dastan carries and returning it, as it has the power to rewind a minute (or roughly so) in time.  It soon becomes apparent to Dastan that someone, most likely his eldest brother, must have been after the dagger for its power.  The story eventually expands the power of the dagger in revealing an underground stone ruled by the gods that can ultimately lead to a total reversal of history and mankind’s complete destruction.  What else is new?

Caught in this storm of chaos, Dastan seeks out his uncle (Ben Kingsley), the only man he can trust to clear his name and restore order in the kingdom, as well as return the dagger to safety.

Regarding the dagger and its power, I love how the story has found a way to eliminate the paradox of time travel.  The dagger holds a button on it, that if pressed with the proper sand in it (dopey, I know), simply rewinds time back about a minute.  Only the holder of the dagger knows that any change has taken place.  So in essence, there really isn’t any traveling in time—time is simply rewinding itself, and this is the limit of the dagger.  I like the premise, and the limited power there.  But of course the premise takes things to a new level once man’s history is revealed.  The gods apparently had wiped out all of humanity but one young girl who pleaded to live and was granted her survival.  She was given this dagger of power and it has been kept in secret… blah, blah, blah.  The narrative makes a huge leap to potential world annihalation, and once this happens, the story gets incredibly sloppy and stitched together, when it could have stuck to this dagger’s original limit of power.  I’m sure that would have been more enjoyable.

Prince of Persia is based on a video game series I haven’t played, nor ever will I’m sure.  And of course, this coulda-shoulda-woulda blockbuster film from Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (hoping so desperately to turn this into a Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) delivers a very expensive product.  You can see it onscreen, even if a few of the digital shots look a little hammy.  With a lot opportunity here, the film turns to silliness to try and exact the charm of that Johnny Depp adventure.  The problem is that Gyllenhaal is no Depp.  And as much leaping and jumping around as Gyllenhaal’s stuntmen do, as muscle-bound as the actor has become, it doesn’t bring natural charisma or wit to his performance as a side effect. 

The story doesn’t help Gyllenhaal’s cause.  Pirates was silly, yes, but the characters carried the plot.  Once Prince of Persia evolves into a history lesson on the gods’ wiping out humanity, and their intent on doing so again if the dagger is misused, I felt the story crumbling in on itself, as if I could see the writers in the background trying to staple ideas together.  Ultimately, the film gets too big, too silly, and too careless for any of its original ambitions to prevail, and the filmmakers should have realized that a mammoth production wouldn’t sell itself.  Pirates of the Caribbean certainly didn’t.  Bruckheimer had his ace in the hole after all was said and done—Johnny Depp making an icon out of Jack Sparrow.  Unfortunately he failed to repeat that process.  While Persia still isn’t quite the mess that the third Pirates film became, it’s still about as silly and unpolished.  As a marginally enjoyable big-budget diversion, I found this film to be watchable, but I can’t heartily recommend it.

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

gobletJ.K. Rowling’s universe furthers its limitless boundaries, and with ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, the series’ translation to film continues to impress.  Harry’s world represents endless possibilities, part of the series’ undeniable fun and excitement.

This time, the schools of magic are apparently international, spanning other nations and bringing these different institutions together for one slam-bang tournament known as the ‘Triwizard’, in which three 17-year-0ld students are chosen by the Goblet of Fire (much like the magic hat that selects students’ housing) to compete in a Battle Royale of Magic sort-to-speak; not battling each other, but against tumultuous threats, a competition I can’t wrap my brain around. These kids are put in life-and-death situations that test every ounce of their capabilities in the world of magic. With this knowledge, the school has an uproar when Harry Potter’s name spits out of the Goblet as an illegal fourteen-year-old fourth contestant.  He is shunned by his classmates, especially his best friend Ron, which really made no sense to me. Hermione tries to reach out to him, but Harry keeps his distance. His nightmares of the Dark Lord are getting to him again, and whoever or whatever rigged his name into the goblet seems to spell doom for Harry.  It doesn’t help that the Yule Ball is approaching for the youngsters either, forcing the kids to learn to dance and for the boys to ask out at a date. This could prove more complicating for Harry than anything he faces in the Triwizard Tournament.

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This installment finally reaches a pivotal point in this remarkably rich saga. The story in particular finally revolving around the character of Lord Voldemort, which was briskly touched on in ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone’, gets into the thick of the encompassing story.  With the Triwizard tournament, and another new director in the british Mike Newell, the movie has a lot more action than the previous films, lending this particular film a much swifter pace, and more exciting and scary threats for Harry. I could’ve done without the snotty Ron Weasley all up-in-arms over his suspicion of Harry somehow sneaking his own name into the cup. So what if he did? I also can’t quite comprehend how these competing international schools would allow such a tournament to go on. I suppose a lot of the magic performed at Hogwarts, including the fast-paced games of Quidditch, could prove about as dangerous. But Harry has to take on giant dragons, save his own classmates from an underwater obstacle course filled with evil creatures, and then has to wander through an endless, isolated maze that apparently can drive its occupants completely mad. This school takes the threats in the previous films quite seriously, so I guess I can’t understand why they would promote such a dangerous tournament where students could easily be killed.  I also wondered what would happen to the students placed at the bottom of the lake in the second challenge. Harry finds Ron and Hermione among others down there, and wants to save more than one student when his task is to save only the sole selected. Would the remaining student(s) die if left there? Such questions puzzled me, but sort of became a bit irrelevant amidst the film’s excitement and proceedings.

The action here is a doozy. And the darker tone and return of Voldemort (played by a deliciously serpentine Ralph Fiennes) really help the series take a great leap forward. The cast again, redundant as it may sound, continue to take the reigns of their characters, though at times I felt a bit annoyed with Rupert Grint this time around. I think that’s solely because of how whiny his character is in this particular film.  Otherwise, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson continue to impress.  Brendan Gleeson is a welcome new addition to Hogwarts as a Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman (my favorite supporting character) may be getting a bit shortchanged, but that is to be expected.  All in all, the film is a marvelously fun accomplishment.  ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is a dazzler, an action-packed installment that continues a thrilling series that miraculously dodges audience fatigue with endless surprise and invention.

-MJV & the Movies

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Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)