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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (review)

Generic Videogame Action Movie, Exotic Ethnic Locale Type

I know I went to the movies last night. I distinctly remember it: I had purchased my ticket in advance on the Web but the ATMs at the multiplex weren’t working so I had to go up to the box office to pick up my ticket, and I remember being relieved that, obviously, the midnight showing of whatever it was I was seeing couldn’t be sold out because there was literally no one on line. And yet the kids “working” behind the counter still were too busy — goofing around — for a good two minutes before they would help me. And then all the other midnight moviegoers — there were more than I expected — and I were left waiting, without explanation, for a full half an hour past the posted start time for the movie to start. We sat there watching the same asinine slide-show “trivia” questions that a brain damaged hamster would have thought were insultingly easy and/or stupid. We didn’t even get any trailers to watch.

So I know I was at the movies… Was I kidnapped by aliens who left me with one of Fox Mulder’s missing-time blanks in my head? That would be kinda cool. That must be why I can’t remember a damn thing about whatever movie it was. But wait… I have the ticket stub. Ah, yes! It was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

I saw Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? Why can’t I remember anything about it?

Something’s coming back… Oh, yeah: Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s cute. He’s really cute. But how could he be a Persian prince? That’s just silly. And why did he — yes, yes, this I remember — why did he have an English accent? He’s not English. Ancient Persians didn’t speak English. Jake’s accent is suprisingly good, in fact. Could I have been so blinded by Jake’s supercuteness and the fact that his accent actually pushed my Anglophile button — instead of making me groan in sympathetic embarrassment for him — that I blanked on the rest of the movie?

No, that can’t be. He’s not that cute.

Wait: I took notes…

Oh, right: now I’m remembering. Not that there’s much to remember. Generic Videogame Action Movie, Exotic Ethnic Locale Type. Not exactly offensive, as such, just sort of rote and tired before it even gets started. Hard to write about, in fact, because there’s hardly any there there.

For a while, as I sat there being bored out of my skull, I tried to find a videogame angle to latch on to for my review: You know, “In the Valley of the Slaves level, watch out for thrown knives” and “During the Hassansin attack at the Sanctuary, don’t stop to kiss the Princess unless you want to get killed.” That got old really fast, and stopped being fun about half an hour in. (No, seriously, though: If you play the game in Banter Mode, trade quips with the Princess will build up your Parkour Power. Then hit the B button while jumping to get extra power in your leaps.)

Then I tried to work on an faux outraged, “no they didn’t!” pose. Did the usual ball team’s worth of screenwriters — Boaz Yakin (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights); Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (who together wrote The Uninvited and The Great Raid); and Jordan Mechner (who created the game and contributed to the story) — really try to make this disposable summer popcorn junk “relevant”? Because the plot, such as it is, revolves around a scheme of King Whatever (Ronald Pickup: Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil) to invade some other city ruled by Princess Pretty (Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, The Boat That Rocked), because they’ve got hidden weapons of mass destruction — or swords, at least, that they’re supposedly supplying to King Whatever’s enemies. But it’s all just a ruse to get at that city’s real resource: a mystical knife that, if you put some of the magical Sands of Time into the hilt, lets you rewind time. But as “commentary,” it departs as quickly as it arrives, so it would have been hard to get angry about it.

I had started to work up quite a head of steam on a “Fuck You, Persia” theme, an in-character rant by a Hollywood exec against the fine people of the Middle East (whackjobs aside, of course — hey, we’ve got more than our share of whackjobs, too). It probably would have gone along these lines: “Fuck you, Persia! Hell yes, we will invade your countries and appropriate your heritage for our summer blockbuster entertainment. And hell yes, and we’ll cast white actors in Persia roles. Sacred knife, sacred Sanctuary, sacred Princess: it’s all gonna look great on a lunchbox!” But that didn’t really work, either. Yeah, Hollywood has a long history of cultural insensitivity, but we’re supposed to be more enlightened these days, aren’t we? And we weren’t always occupying Persian countries at the same time. But mostly Prince is too cheerful in its tactlessness to be worth getting angry about, like your Uncle Joe who won’t shut up about how the Jews and the blacks are ruining his lawn — he doesn’t mean any harm, he’s just a moron.

I even tried to figure out how I could get the Time Lords outraged over the Sands of Time thing: that’s simply a temporal hazard that cannot be allowed on in a developing Level 2 civilization. I couldn’t make it work. I just couldn’t get excited enough about anything connected to Prince of Persia. Nothing about it is energized.

This is the kind of movie it is [spoiler!]: Cute English-accented Jake (Brothers, Rendition) spends half the movie trying to figure out who the villain is. Is it the “good” prince (Richard Coyle: The Libertine, Topsy-Turvy) or the “bad prince” (Toby Kebbell: RocknRolla, Alexander), who are both his brothers, since he was adopted by King Whatever, though on such spurious grounds that it’s impossible to imagine that even the lowliest peasant would accept him as royal, no matter how cute he is and how good his accent is. Or maybe the king is the villain?

It takes him way too long to realize that it’s his uncle, the king’s brother. Even if Jake has never seen The Lion King, he really should know: If Ben Kingsley (Shutter Island, The Love Guru) is in your cheesy popcorn movie, he’s the villain, dude.


Watch Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.


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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2013)
US/Can release: May 28 2010
UK/Ire release: May 21 2010

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
BBFC: rated 12 (contains moderate violence)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Andrew

    I thought it was fun. Fun’s enough.

  • doa766

    it’s funny how 60 years ago the notion of casting a middle-eastern actor to play a persian prince would’ve been considered insane

    and yet so few serious movie goers can admit that 99% of the movies made more than 40 years ago are awful

  • MaryAnn

    I thought it was fun. Fun’s enough.

    Fun is enough. I didn’t find it fun.

    and yet so few serious movie goers can admit that 99% of the movies made more than 40 years ago are awful

    Sturgeon’s Law is timeless.

  • Unknown

    Terrible review.

  • Daniel

    the reviewer is at least as much of a moron as she talks about other people being. this movie while not great is fun and does have an actual decent story. it isn’t anywhere near a fuck you persia movie. it actually is kind of respectfull. yeah the casting could be considered kind of insulting but even on that count it’s not that bad. it has at least as much dont invade other for personal gains stuff as avatar. maryann johanson you apparently have such an incredible ego that you didnt even watch the movie you were supposedly reviewing. sure you probably went to it by you didnt pay any attention. you arent so much elitist and condescending as overly self involved in your belief that you are just so clever. i wonder how many experiences you cheat yourself out of by confusing your ego with actual thought?

  • daniel

    ok so what i just said might have been kind of harsh unfortunately there is no edit comment button here. maryann i see that youre a huge doctor who fan so you cant be all bad. but really, you couldnt bother to actually watch the movie you were reviewing? cause what i saw and what you say you saw in no way resemble each other.

  • Kathryn

    Daniel, did you actually read Maryann’s review?
    (See what I did there?)

    She saw the movie. She was so bored out of her brain by it that she spent her time in the cinema trying to come up with amusing ways to write about it.

    If she’d enjoyed it, if she’d been captured by storyline and by character, her attention would not have wandered.

    Thus, her review of the movie is: I saw it, it bored me silly. Jake Gyllenhaal is cute in it, though, so if that’s enough for you then go see it.

    It’s just that she found a more inventive and amusing way to say that, because she’d a professional writer.

    By the way, I liked the Timelord idea, Maryann!

  • Mathias

    Um, MaryAnn, don’t you have to be rich to be elitist?
    I mean, how else are you supposed to avoid the unwashed masses?

    As for the film, yeah i’m sure you’re right. I’m probably gonna be bored as well but i’ve been talked into seeing it with friends this weekend. :(

  • amanohyo

    Yeah, MA’s so elite she doesn’t have to drive her own (nonexistent) car.

    There’s an f missing in the last sentence. Normally I would fight my typo nazi urges and not point it out (please feel free to delete this comment), but it’s the last sentence in a well written review. I’ve seen the “so bland I couldn’t even think of an interesting way to review it” angle used before with limited success (often it comes off as laziness), however it works here because it’s clear that you really did give it your best shot(s).

    If this tanks at the box office, I wonder if the movie based on The Last Express (another classic Mechner game) will be canned. I hope not.

  • MaryAnn

    There’s an f missing in the last sentence. Normally I would fight my typo nazi urges and not point it out

    Fixed.

    I don’t mind if readers point out my typos (though if you don’t have any other comments, I’d appreciate an email instead, so comments don’t get cluttered up). I do the best I can, but I’m not perfect, and I don’t have any editorial assistance behind the scenes here. Even the best editors — and, all modesty aside, I’m a very good editor — miss things, and it’s especially tough to edit your own work.

  • Ryan

    I…actually enjoyed this movie. It’s not incredible, and it doesn’t quite live up to the game it’s named for…but it’s a solid enough action flick. I’m not certain that ‘boring’ would have been my review. Inconsequential, maybe, but then that could apply to Iron Man2, Avatar, et al. as well.

  • Lisa

    Richard Coyle should be the next Dr Who – shame he and Moffat apparently alledgedly fell out.

  • MBI

    I think there is an angle that you missed — this is one of the most incompetently edited movies in recent memory. Scenes begin and end and have nothing to do with the one before it or the one after it. Lines of dialogue don’t flow together. If there’s one area where it fails most of all, it’s editing and pacing, there’s no cohesion or transition whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    Its a small point, but worth noting Mary Ann;

    There’s only one Persian country, and no one is occupying it. Persia is simply the old name for Iran, which the Shah changed relatively recently. The other countries on the Persian gulf are no more Persian than everywhere on the Gulf of Mexico is Mexican, or the Sea of Japan is Japanese. Iranian’s ethnicity is Persian, which is extremely distinct from the Arab ethnicity of most of the rest of the middle east, and distinct again from the Afghan, Pashtun and so on of the further east.

  • MaryAnn

    There’s only one Persian country, and no one is occupying it.

    Talk to the people who made the movie, then. They appear to believe that Persia includes all of what today is Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, at a minimum.

  • DKM

    There’s only one Persian country, and no one is occupying it.

    Talk to the people who made the movie, then. They appear to believe that Persia includes all of what today is Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, at a minimum.

    Persia used to have an empire that included all of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • MBI

    Yeah, they clearly show as much on the map screen that begins the movie.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Persia used to have an empire that included all of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    They also fielded an army of ninjas and troll and ogres, and liked to name people with giantism as their god-king.

    I learned all that in a documentary. What was it called?

    Oh, I remember. 300

  • AsimovLives

    So this movie is bad like JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK IN NAME ONLY: retard stupidity spearheaded by an inept filmmaker (this case producer Jerry Bruckheimer instead of director Jj Abrams) who can’t undertand the most basic notions of cinematic storytelling, intelligent plotting, good entertaiment values and the least miminal respect for the intelligence of the paying audience who are helping makingthem rish.
    Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have the JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK IN NAME ONLY movie of the year: Bruckheimer’s PRINCE OF WHITEBREAD PERSIA.

    Truly, INCEPTION cannot come soon enough.

  • AsimovLives

    DKM, just one empire? There’s, at the very least, 5 empires that can be called persian through history.

  • boz

    I’m a gamer, I’ve been playing video games as a hobby for almost 20 years and original “Prince of Persia” was the first x86 computer game I played. That game was revolutionary for it’s time and it has a nice story to tell (for a computer game in 90s).

    Recently Prince of Persia series got a revamp. They made a new trilogy using a “Sands of time” mythos. And it was a huge success. Jordan Mechner (creator of the original PoP) decided long ago that he’d like to follow another career (writing). This movie is the product of that.

    This movie is made for me, my kind of people. The people who buy PoP games and liked it. When ordinary people look for editing and directing I look for authenticity to series’ mythos.

    For me your review is pure blank. Apparently you have no idea about the game or it’s fan base. You are looking to a shadow from a cave, oblivious to the fact that there may be other caves who can see that shadow in a different perspective.

  • Muzz

    Sounds like you might as well just stick to the game there boz. Since you don’t really care if the movie is any good, why watch it? Stick with the cutscenes.

  • JasonT

    I knew how this would go. I knew you would hate it, just as I knew the movie would be stupid. Sometimes I just look forward to you making fun of dumb movies =p

  • MBI

    “When ordinary people look for editing and directing I look for authenticity to series’ mythos. ”

    Yeah, see, some of us went to watch a movie.

    I have no idea of what use whatsoever “authenticity to series’ mythos” could be to anyone. That is as close to the least important aspect of the film I can imagine.

  • CB

    This movie is made for me, my kind of people. The people who buy PoP games and liked it. When ordinary people look for editing and directing I look for authenticity to series’ mythos.

    Hey I loved Prince of Persia on the C64 and the Sands of Time remake. That game was damn good. But what made it so good was that in between the pretty decent story line there was a lot of great gameplay.

    I still see zero of interest to me in this movie. Take the deep-for-an-action-game-story skeleton, and replace the meat of the game with Bruckheimer action sequences… *yawn*

    I don’t care if it’s a game or a movie, or if it has Prince of Persia on it or not. All I want is quality entertainment. I think Mary’s review is relevant to me because if it was the kind of movie I was going to enjoy, Mary would have found one redeemable quality. “Is kinda like the game” doesn’t really count.

    On that note I do have to ask: Did they at least keep the semi-downer ending? Or did they Disney-fy it?

  • MaryAnn

    So this movie is bad like JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK IN NAME ONLY: retard stupidity spearheaded by an inept filmmaker (this case producer Jerry Bruckheimer instead of director Jj Abrams)

    We get it, AsimovLives: you didn’t like *Star Trek.*

    Change the record, or quit commenting here.

  • MaryAnn

    Did they at least keep the semi-downer ending? Or did they Disney-fy it?

    Downer of an ending? Bwahahaha! No, it’s totally Disney-fied.

    Apparently you have no idea about the game or it’s fan base.

    Indeed, I haven’t a clue. If the movie can be appreciated only by the fanbase of the game, then it has failed as a movie.

    You are looking to a shadow from a cave, oblivious to the fact that there may be other caves who can see that shadow in a different perspective.

    I am well aware that movies can be seen from many different kinds of perspectives. Alas that I am not psychic, and can review films only from one perspective: my own.

  • CB

    Downer of an ending? Bwahahaha! No, it’s totally Disney-fied.

    Ha! Of course! I was silly to even entertain the notion. :)

    So much for “authenticity to the mythos”! Hahaha!

  • boz

    Sounds like you might as well just stick to the game there boz. Since you don’t really care if the movie is any good, why watch it? Stick with the cutscenes.

    Muzz do you realize the fact that you are effectively telling me “you are not like us so shut up”?

    I have no idea of what use whatsoever “authenticity to series’ mythos” could be to anyone. That is as close to the least important aspect of the film I can imagine.

    MBI, ok let me elaborate. Think about Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Superman, Picture of Dorian Gray. Their stories are told in different medias before their movies are made. You dreamt of their worlds, their lifes. And then you compare your dreams with moviemakers’. When somebody reconstructs a universe you love, you usually care about differences.

    I could understand your viewpoint. If I haven’t played the games, I could even think like you or MaryAnn.

    Then again, what is the point here? Watching a video game movie made for kids (pg13 and disney are pretty big hints here) and take that for something else than it’s face value?

  • CB

    I could understand your viewpoint. If I haven’t played the games, I could even think like you or MaryAnn.

    I’ve played the games extensively.

    What did you think about the changed ending?

    Is it seriously enough that the movie has the same name as a game you loved, even if the movie is awful?

    I mean I love D&D but that movie was awful, I love Super Mario Bros but that move was awful, Resident Evil is a great series of games and a decidedly mediocre series of movies (except for the Laser Hallway With a Sense of Humor in the first one).

    I also love Tolkien, but would have hated the movies had they not been, you know, good movies unto themselves.

    Then again, what is the point here? Watching a video game movie made for kids (pg13 and disney are pretty big hints here) and take that for something else than it’s face value?

    The point appears to be that the movie is bland, boring, and bad.

    These are not necessary nor ubiquitous traits of a movie for teenagers. It’s not surprising that it’s bad — I mean, I could tell from a mile away that this movie was a stinker — but that doesn’t mean badness is okay.

    Should a reviewer not say a movie is bad merely because it’s what we all expected from a Disney-produced Bruckheimer-directed video game adaptation?

  • Robert M.

    This movie is made for me, my kind of people. The people who buy PoP games and liked it. When ordinary people look for editing and directing I look for authenticity to series’ mythos.

    Prince of Persia was literally my first computer game. I’ve also played all of the recent revamps; I even enjoyed Sands of Time. That is to say, my geek resume is at least as impressive as yours.

    So, with that established, why does the movie get a pass because it’s appropriating the costumes of a franchise you care about? I love Star Wars considerably more than any sane person ought, but that doesn’t blind me to the fact that the prequel trilogy is dreck. I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so many times as a kid that I literally wore out the VHS tape (and I played that video game, too…) but that doesn’t make me think the recent Shia LeBoeuf vehicle is anything but a pale imitation.

    This movie, despite its relationship to a venerable platform/puzzle game, is still a piece of art to be digested and evaluated and criticized on its own terms. It’s simply not enough, from either an artistic or a marketing standpoint, to trade in on people who will buy anything with the “Prince of Persia” label: they needed to make a good movie, too, and they simply didn’t.

  • Maurice Depestre

    Some of these comments are making making me laugh…
    MaryAnn, next time you go to the movies (not the theater…) may I suggest you wear a full-on Scaphander and specially-adapted blinkers for your brain. That should ensure 2 things:

    a) you will not be able to smell the “unwashed masses”
    b) your thoughts will no longer roam free.

    P.S. Bored does not even begin to describe my feelings watching that piece of…trash???

  • boz

    The point appears to be that the movie is bland, boring, and bad.

    …why does the movie get a pass

    Why does anyone assume that “I liked that movie” or “I am giving it a free pass”? I didn’t say that, as far as I can see I didn’t even imply that.

    Let me explain it for the unenlightened in two sentences:

    “I look for authenticity to series’ mythos.”
    “For me your review is pure blank.”

    Am I protecting the movie or criticizing a review here?

    Her review didn’t got any relevant information for me or anybody like me. I won’t bother anymore. Bad movie is bad, so is bad review.

  • CB

    “I look for authenticity to series’ mythos.”
    “For me your review is pure blank.”

    Am I protecting the movie or criticizing a review here?

    Her review didn’t got any relevant information for me or anybody like me. I won’t bother anymore. Bad movie is bad, so is bad review.

    Okay, I see now.

    I got that you were saying the review didn’t have the information you wanted, but I thought you were taking issue with it’s conclusion that the movie was bad on the basis of your different criterion.

    It honestly never occurred to me that you could be saying that it was a bad review because it didn’t include information that is a) impossible for the reviewer to include without going off on a 20hr mission to play the games and on that note b) completely ludicrous to expect from any reviewer who is aiming for a mainstream audience and not specifically targeting your niche.

    I don’t know how big that niche is, but “anybody like you” doesn’t include all gamers/Prince of Persia fans, I assure you. Sounds more like the Trekkies who care more that new episodes don’t contradict any previous episode than they do if it tells a good story.

    I’m not going to tell you that shouldn’t be important to you, though. I’m just saying that not catering to those specific needs doesn’t make the review bad, and you should seek out a reviewer who caters to those needs. That this reviewer, or the majority of reviewers, would not review the movie from the standpoint you wish is so unsurprising that it really needs no comment. Just, “this isn’t the review for me”, and move on.

    Though I can’t help but still wonder: If you believe the information than is in the review, and that the movie is bad, how can you possibly still care whether it’s authentic or not? Bad movie is bad, no?

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