I used to play a bit of ‘Prince of Persia’. No, not the one on the PC, though I did give it a decent whack at an Internet cafe some years back when it first came out. A big part of that is the curiosity: the PC version was the first time the game was available and rendered in 3D. That’s a big step up from my Mega Drive days. Having said that, I was never that into ‘Prince of Persia’ even when I did play it on the Mega Drive. I found it interesting enough; apparently, the first generation of the game was one of, if not the first to actually feature a plot in a game. For my part, though, it didn’t do enough to tear me away from ‘Sonic’ and ‘Road Rash’. I find that kicking and whacking other people’s bikes at high-speed is a lot more intoxicating than swinging swords and avoiding big spikes. Perhaps that’s why I never really got into bikes; I’ve already exorcised my rempit demons before I even had any chest hair.
So yes. ‘Prince of Persia’.
I still managed to watch it, partly because I was curious as to how it would be adapted. Partly because video game films do not do well at the box office, if ever. Exceptions, like ‘Tomb Raider’, trump the rule, like…err, ‘Max Payne’, which I thought could have evened things out a bit. Also, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s first proper (and I do mean proper) role as a bankable, leading man. The one that everyone’s banking on to bring home the fish and chips and more. Far more to the point, I’m also extremely curious about this project, because one of my favourite scriptwriters, John August, is onboard at least as an executive producer. It brings to mind one of the eternal mysteries of filmmaking: what the f*ck does an executive producer do? I mean, I know what it says on the tin, someone not connected with the technical side of the film’s making, but who is still involved in the production.
That’s what it says on a number of sites, including Wikipedia. It’s never good form to quote Wikipedia directly, a mistake I now realise after having advised my juniors to the contrary many years ago (sorry, Melody. But you still got a high distinction, right?). Nevertheless, that’s the gist, but in my somewhat-limited experience, I’ve not come across an executive producer who’s made himself useful on a production. Then again, I’ve not been involved with something like ‘Prince of Persia’, so perhaps the fault lies with me. Coming back to the point, though, being a big fan of the man August, whose blog I follow religiously (although curiously there’s not that many posts with regards to the movie), so I went into the cinema with relatively high expectations.
Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a young orphan taken into the royal house by the king of Persia, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). As a young man, he has already shown his propensity to jump off walls and buildings. He grows up with his adopted brothers, Garsiv and Tus, under the watchful watch of their king father and his brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley). Renowned warriors, they march with their army towards the city of Alamut, under the strong allegation that they are aiding and abetting their enemies. In the aftermath, they come face to face with the princess of Alamut, Tamina (Gemma Arterton). She reluctantly agrees to marry Tus, who led the attack, but at the official ceremony, King Sharaman was assassinated. Dastan was immediately named as the suspect, but he escaped with Tamina, determined to clear his name and find out who truly killed his father.
That, in short, is the only version of the story that you really need to deal with. It sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? Alas, I deliberately left out the Dagger of Time, a nifty little knife that has the ability to turn back time. Time travel is a dodgy thing to be playing around with in Disney films, even ‘serious’
big-budget ventures such as these. Number 1: there is a chance that you end up detracting, rather than add to the emotional value from the scheme of things. Though there are no real surprises, I still won’t name people who did die in the course of the film. I will, however, confess to being more than just a little disappointed at their further reappearance within the film due to time being twisted back. It detracts more than just a little from the emotional investment you have made in a death (a character died, for goodness’ sake). Number 2: it’s a Disney film, and one that hopes to build a whole new franchise for the company while we wait for Captain Jack Sparrow to dock once again in the next ‘Pirates’ film.
It’s unfortunate that ‘Pirates’ hangs in the background like a big shadow that just wouldn’t go away. Any idiot could have said that attempting to replicate such a success of the trilogy (though it was only the first movie that really took the cake, while the rest didn’t quite match it) was a fool. It was like catching lightning in a bottle. In many ways, it was a fluke; you’re never going to get as charismatic and mature a leading man as Johnny Depp for the price you did back in 2002. Jake Gyllenhaal has many good qualities as an actor, and in fact, I thought that he grasped this chance well. Here is an actor who for many years toiled away in the background like the good and professional character he is, waiting for the chance to lead the charge. It was somewhat cruel that he lost the chance to headline the second Spiderman film, and it is somewhat ironic that I find myself thinking more of Peter Parker than Captain Jack in Prince Dastan. Dashing, handsome, but slightly naïve as well. In that regards, then, I reckon he got the nail square bang on the head. I like him. His is a charming performance, and if ever I get a chance to watch the movie again, it’ll be mainly because of him.
And Gemma Arterton as well, come to think of it. What a beauty. I loved her in ‘Casino Royale’, but I love her even more in this one. Classic English rose. What the hell does that mean, actually? I don’t know, but it fit, somehow. She was once voted the most beautiful lass of the north-east of England, I read somewhere. What a journey it must have been to come from Geordieland to Amalut.
Speaking of which, that is one thing I want to raise here. I may not be entirely turned on by a lot of the elements of the films (music, CGI, stunts, script and editing – which I’ll get onto later). The movie did turn on my interest in what inspired the story behind the game behind the movie. A few minutes spent on Wikipedia will reveal that Amalut is a real place in Persian legends. Dastan may well have been inspired by Rostam, whose stories of courage and bravery would make for a fine Joseph Campbell analysis. Garsiv was inspired by a real legend. Hassansins sounded absolutely ridiculous when I heard it in the cinema. “Hassan must’ve sinned a lot,” I whispered to my friend, which inspired even more giggles. If I can say the word ‘ridiculous’ once again and make you hear it, it might sound something like ‘rid-DICK-kulous’! Such a stupid name for a group of highly trained assassins…but there you go, it also existed in real-life. It intrigued me, because it’s not an everyday occurrence, Persian (and by some extension, Muslim) myths influencing Hollywood blockbusters. I clicked and read, consumed and subsumed by this new-found interest. There could be something here, so watch this space.
Music, somehow not inspiring enough. Reminded me of Hans Zimmers’s ‘Black Hawk Down’. Stunts – parkour was so last decade. It’s still brilliant, mind you, and they did have the master, David Belle, teaching them how to do it, but damn it, why bother paying for highly paid, highly skilled operatives, amongst the best in the world, to teach your stars how to jump if you’re cutting away at the key moments. I felt as if there’s a bit more that could’ve come from the editing. We jump away to another angle midway through a jump, for example. The cut doesn’t last long enough on Dastan’s face when he realised his father died. In fact, we get no close-up shots of the king in his last moments, and this was immediately preceded by him pulling
Dastan closer to give him some advice. There we have it, a two-shot of the once and future king, side by side, as intimate as you’re likely to get. The bond is built, however briefly, but we didn’t get much of a chance to mourn for the king when he died. This is it, the main crux of why I felt this movie didn’t go the distance for me. We didn’t get the chance to [fill in blank here]. Not to mourn for the characters who pass. Not to enjoy the splendour and hardwork of the jumpy jumpy stuff. Not to get involved in the story. Everything was chop chop chop.
We did, however, get plenty of time of Dastan and Tamina flirting the pants of each other. “Difficult, not impossible,” said Dastan. “All the more proving you’re insane,” came the smart reply. Dastan smiled on the inside, but coolly shot with, “Then why do you look so impressed?” It’s enough to make me roll my eyes. I enjoy flirting, but even I don’t go that far. Going beyond the banal, we get the obvious: “All the pain in the world will not help you find something that does not exist.” Really? REALLY?! I had no freakin’ idea. Wow. What a revelation. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud at these parts. And there were plenty of them. I had thought that with John August on board, he might have lent a helping hand with the lines. What does an executive producer do? Not to meddle with the script, as it turns out. There is one that was cool, though, one that really stood out amongst the dross: “You had what every man could dream of. Love, respect, and family. But that wasn’t enough for you, was it?!”
In many ways, ‘Prince of Persia’ would have been enough. It ticked enough of the right boxes, but in the end, in the shadows of the competition, as well as the niggly things I’ve mentioned above…you’re right, Dastan. This film had a lot, and I wouldn’t mind going for a second round, but it wasn’t enough.
If only there were more time for the parts that make up the whole…