Take three parts “Indiana Jones”, add two parts “The Mummy”, mix in some “National Treasure” and then toss in a little Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort and even a little Anakin Skywalker, and you’ve got yourself PRINCE OF PERSIA - A Roller Coaster Ride for the Ages!! Based on Jordan Mechner’s highly successful 1989 video game, “Prince of Persia”, uber producer Jerry Bruckheimer has assembled the preeminent technical artisans in the industry today, a world class cast, an imaginative mythical story filled with action and adventure, mysticism, brotherhood and betrayal, exotic locales, horses, ostriches and outrageously dangerous stunts, all combining for another of his patented high octane thrill rides. The only thing missing is a magic carpet. PRINCE OF PERSIA is one E-Ticket ride you don’t want to miss.
The Persian Empire was one of the greatest ever known. Spanning the globe for centuries, its history is rich and legendary both in fact and myth. As our story opens, we meet Dastan, a young street urchin with keen instincts, bravery and fierce loyalty. Showing great valiance at such a tender age, the reigning King Sharaman sees something remarkable in the boy and adopts him, turning this beggar into a prince.
Fast forward 15 years or so and we see Dastan, now a prince by adoption, still as plucky, defiant and fiercely loyal as ever, but also an accomplished street fighter who more than holds his own; an image one would not expect for a future king. Devoted to his father, but feeling the brunt of great sibling rivalry with his two older brothers, Garsiv and Tus, Dastan likes to seize opportunities from his brothers, clearly with the intent of pleasing his father as well as making a name for himself among his family and his people. Information has come to Sharaman that residents of Alamut are making weapons and selling them on the Black Market for an uprising against the King. Placing his eldest son Tus in charge, against calmer recommendations from Dastan, Sharaman orders an attack on Alamut. Thanks to the cunning of Dastan (and in defiance of his brother’s orders), Tus and Garsiv are able to not only take the city, but capture and forge an alliance with its princess, Tamina, a woman of holy descent who, we soon learn, is charged with preserving the fate of mankind.
But with every victory there comes some loss and in this case, it is the murder of King Sharaman with Prince Dastan as the prime suspect. Knowing that he must clear his name and find the true murderer, Dastan flees Alamut. But hot on his heels is Princess Tamina who has a peculiar interest in a crystal hilted dagger which Daston recovered in a fight.
With his brother Tus now king, and Garsiv and his army pursuing Dastan across the blazing desert, it is through sheer wit, cunning, determination and amazing inner fortitude that Dastan and Tamina, with their own individual agendas also at play, encounter obstacles and adventure and almost certain death at every turn. Amidst sheikhs, slaves, ostrich races, mystical Hassansins, sandstorms, snakes and even time travel, Dastan and Tamina press ever onward, leading to game changing alliances, unusual friendships, life-altering betrayals and Dastan’s discovery that there is something more important than even proving his own innocence.
I admit, going into PRINCE OF PERSIA I had HUGE doubts about Jake Gyllenhaal being cast as Prince Dastan. Never thinking him an athletic warrior type, having now seen his performance, let me say, he puts me to shame. His performance is incredible. He has great comedic flair and his timing with one liners is impeccable. And as for his riding and stunt performance, so much of which I could see he did himself - he just blew me away! To prepare for the film, Gyllenhaal had to study parkour, sword-fighting and horseback riding, the latter of which director Mike Newell describes “as if he were glued to the back of it.” Topping off the physicality and characterization of Dastan, being the non-Brit in the main cast, Gyllenhaal even had to learn to speak in a standard British accent which, to my surprise and pleasure, he consistently maintained throughout the film. The one downfall with Gyllenhaal, however, is that there are occasions where he is so intently invested on the physicality of the role and the performance of stunts that he suffers from some visible emotional disconnect with the character of Dastan.
What can one possibly say about Sir Ben Kingsley? Is there any role at which he does not excel, not embrace, the character? I don’t think so. As Nizam, brother to King Sharaman, Kingsley embodies all that legend and lore and "The Arabian Nights" has ingrained in western civilization as being"evil", yet balances this was a kindness that we eventually discover belies Nizam’s true nature. Adding in the black under eyeliner that is applied to Kingsley, one is given pause from the start of the film with a curiosity for this character.
A virtual unknown, as Princess Tamina, Gemma Arterton holds her own with Gyllenhaal. And I have to say, this is the woman people should be talking to as a replacement for Megan Fox in "Transformers 3." Determined, sincere, emotional, stubborn, strong-willed and able to pull her weight with the physicality the role of the Tamina demands, she was a welcome surprise. And her chemistry and head-to-head repartee with Gyllenhaal has a fury and spark to match the action of the film. She reminds me of Rachel Weisz’ work in “The Mummy.”
Whoever cast Richard Coyle, thank you. Not having seen him since “The Libertine”, I was pleasantly surprised to see him as Tus. A powerful presence on screen, he is both commanding and gentle. A terrific counterpart to Coyle is Toby Kebbel as Tus’ brother Garsiv. Kebbel brings a loose-cannon intensity to the role providing for some great familial sparring. A fantastic addition to the cast of characters is Steve Toussiant as one of Amar’s followers, Seso. Toussiant brings an emotional aspect to Seso and the film as a whole; an aspect of the story that appears to take a back seat to the action.
The real gem though is Alfred Molina as Sheikh Amar. He is hysterical! Stealing every scene, his character is superbly written. Playing Amar as the comic relief with character traits of “screw the tax man and the government” and his love for entrepreneurial illegal ostrich races, Molina reminds me of Joe Pesci in "Lethal Weapon 2", whose performance was so wonderful and so well received, he became a "Lethal Weapon" fixture. I see the same with Molina should Disney and Bruckheimer elect to do a sequel (and I seriously hope they do). I would have liked to see more of him.
Written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard based on Jordan Mechner’s story, the plot is easy to follow with fun characters, some fantasy and plenty of action which buoys the core theme of the mystical dagger, time travel and disaster. Yakin (who I shall forgive for “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” ) and team, especially Miro who scripted the intense drama, “The Great Raid”, have created a world guaranteed to entertain all ages.
Director Mike Newell, probably known best for “Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire”, has really put together another winner with PRINCE OF PERSIA. The technical complexity of this film is astounding and Newell clearly helmed it all with the ultimate vision ever in sight. Shooting in various locations Morocco (including ancient cities and outbacks in North Africa) during July and August in triple digit temperatures, cast and crew faced the rigors of not only a very physical shoot, but mother nature. Sandstorms and intense heat were the bane of existence for cinematographer John Seale. But despite the challenges, Seale’s cinematography is as beautiful as ever. Working his own magic, and key to the film’s thrill-a-second pacing, is the editing of longtime Spielberg editor Michael Kahn, and his team of Mick Audsley and Martin Walsh. The visionary meld that they create with this film is mesmerizing. I see Oscar on the horizon for this team as it is pure brilliance and only enhances the action and fury of the story.
I am more than enamored with the Persian weaponry that was created - more than 3500 pieces based on an amalgamation of sixth-century design and fantasy, most of which was made by local Moroccan artisans. Likewise for the costuming and set construction and production design. Many of the “ancient” cities were built from the ground up for this production.
And of course, in a film such as this, how can I not mention the stupendous stunt work headed by stunt coordinators George Aguilar, Greg Powell and Stephen Pope, fight coordinators Thomas Dupont and Ben Cooke, parkour choreography David Belle and their respective teams. Each stunt and fight scene is more spectacular than the last with many of the principal actors doing a large portion of their own stunts. In addition to the challenges of combining various skills of horseback riding, hand-to-hand combat, multi-disciplined weaponry, sword-fighting and parkour (jumping from buildings, climbing buildings on foot using bodily energy as thrust), they faced the daunting task of performing at 8000 feet above sea level, an altitude that is limiting on oxygen.
While a true king may follow the advice of his council, but listen to his heart, a true movie-lover will listen to the advice of their film critic. Get swept away in time with PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME. I can't remember when I've had this much FUN watching a film.
Prince Dastan - Jake Gyllenhaal
Princess Tamina - Gemma Arterton
Nizam - Sir Ben Kingsley
Sheikh Amar - Alfred Molina
Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard based on a story by Jordan Mechner.