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May 27, 2016

VGFlicks: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Part 1)

Have you played any game from the Prince of Persia series? I have. It belonged to a friend, it was the SNES port of the very first game, which was originally made for the Apple IIe in 1989. That was before I had much gaming experience, so I sucked in every possible way, and was unable to even get past the first level. Well, in my defense, this game did have a pretty innovative attack-block-attack-block system for the time, which I never mastered… The franchise itself saw a reboot on PC, starting with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, followed by Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, with an interquel in 2010 titled The Forgotten Sands. And that interquel came out around te same time as this movie, which is based on the first game of this reboot trilogy/quadrilogy, and it was a way to capitalize on the release of the film – gotta have tie-in merchandise, am I right? This disregards the second reboot that happened in 2008, and… Just give me a second, I need to get my story straight.

Anyway, before I get lost again in a desert of years, dates and titles, I’m gonna talk about today’s movie. It was released in theaters on May 28th, 2010. While it bears the name of the first title in that reboot trilogy, it actually incorporates elements from all three games. It features Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Prince Dastan. You might remember him as a teenager dying in a plane crash in the comfort of his own home. Or perhaps, as an older teenager in that time Roland Emmerich froze New York City solid. Or maybe you remember him from that confusing and nonsensical but nonetheless awesome film Source Code (It’s right there, on my giant list of guilty pleasures!). Or maybe you know him from Brokeback Mountain? Either way, you probably know him from somewhere, and that’s all that counts.

Unfortunately, with my lack of knowledge on the series, I cannot properly judge this movie as an adaptation – but hey, it’s an adaptation, I can still cover it on my site. I mean, I wanted to do Ender’s Game, but then I remembered my copy of the DVD wasn’t working right ever since my mom put it silver face down on the table (some time later, she did the same to my copy of Just Dance 2015, unlucky me). So Prince of Persia it is.

Okay, enough time wasted. Let’s jump right into this!

You better run from those guards, young Dastan. You'll
be doing that a lot in 15 years.
The film starts with ominous text on an ominous décor of a sunrise in the desert. Something about destiny, because of course it is about destiny. Then we see the Royal city of Nasaf, in Persia, where the Persian King Sharaman reigns with his brother Nizam (played by Ben Kingsley). The king had two sons, but the Gods decided it was not enough (That sounds like an awfully weird request, even coming from deities...). Still, to be sure that the Gods would not be pissed at him (godly tantrums can kind of be dangerous for the planet), he tried to have a third child. Then. One day at the marketplace, King Sharaman saw a young child taking the defense of another kid stealing an orange and subsequently be chased by a whole group of royal guards, outsmarting most of them. The kid gets caught and is almost punished (and back then, let’s just say stolen oranges costed a whole arm)… but the King interrupts and shows mercy for this child, taking him into the royal family. And thus this orphan, young Dastan, became the third prince.

Wow. I need to keep a souvenir of this. Where's my camera?
...What do you mean, it hasn't been invented yet? INVENT IT!

Left to right: Tus, Nizam and Garsiv. Dastan had more
important matters to take care of at the moment...
namely, fanservice for the ladies.
We cut to 15 years later, where the Persian army is on its way to the holy city of Alamut. They are planning to invade in order to find the weapons the people of Alamut are apparently creating and selling to Persia’s enemies, as was told to the Persian empire by its most trusted spy. Everyone marvels at the sight of this city: Tus (Played by Richard Coyle), the first son of the King and heir to the throne; Garsiv (played by Tony Kebbell), second son and leader of the Persian Army; Nizam, the… chancellor? Advisor?; and of course Dastan, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Oh wait, my mistake; Dastan isn’t marveling at the sight of the city, he’s fighting some of the soldiers of the Persian army. For fun. Oh, I see he went to the Sherlock Holmes School of Bare-Chested Combat. The brothers plan their assault on Alamut’s castle. Meanwhile, Alamut’s Princess Tamina (played by Gemma Arterton) goes to pray for the Gods as she sees the offensive approaching.

The bare-chested one is Dastan. The one on the left,
nobody cares what his name is.

Choosing not to follow his brothers’ plan, Dastan and his own group launch an attack and manage to climb the castle walls, get in, and open not only the east gate, but also the gate after that, which could only be opened with a mechanism located higher. Well gee, this Prince of Persia has got to be one of the best climbers I’ve seen! He was doing Parkour centuries before Parkour was a thing! The Persian army hurries to the east gate while the Alamutian armed forces run there to defend their city, but Dastan again uses his wits and his incredible climbing talents to rain an inflammable liquid set ablaze on them. The Persian army gets in, and war ensues. Dastan himself combats multiple enemies. Meanwhile, Princess Tamina orders one of her loyal servants to take a sacred item and hide it where the invaders will never find it… Well, that could have been a good plan, but while on his way to hide that treasure, said servant encounters Prince Freaking Dastan. Although their fight is pretty impressive, the prince wins and takes the treasure: A dagger with some sort of recipient as its handle. And it’s all engraved in symbols. Hm, I wonder if it says “He who dares profane the Holy City will pay with his life”, or something more mundane like “Hands off, you twat!”?

"This old blade looks cheap, it can barely cut and I'd be afraid
to break the glass handle if I used it in battle. That's junk.
A nearby merchant might just give me two coins for it.
...Nah, it can wait until after our victory is complete."

The Persian army wins the battle and charge into the Princess’s quarters, When Prince Tus makes the offer to marry Tamina as a political solution to this turmoil, she replies she’d rather be dead. Then she sees Dastan and, well, I hate to say that it’s like love at first sight, but it checks out many of the trope’s boxes. However, she notices the dagger on him… The Persian army celebrates its victory, and Prince Tus sees that his adopted brother, who allowed this amazing victory, is to be properly rewarded. Then Advisor Nizam comes in and explains that King Sharaman is coming to Alamut. Contrary to what you’d think, the King is not exactly in a happy mood. As it turns out, Tus led the army into this battle over the spy’s words, which mostly consisted of clues and hearsay, and this “victory” may cost them greatly on a political level due to the sacred status of Alamut. Tus, to get in his father’s good graces again, promises to search for the supposed weapons himself in the newly-conquered city.

"Son, whatever happens nex, you'll stay in my and
everyone's good graces." Just wait 3 minutes...
That evening, the Princess is escorted to the victory celebration held by the Persian royalty. There, King Sharaman congratulates his adoptive son on his exploits, without forgetting that all three brothers had a part in the taking of Alamut; and that brotherly bonds are one of the strong foundations of their empire. The King ends by saying that while Dastan was, indeed, pretty awesome (I’m paraphrasing here), he would have been even better off stopping the attack had he had a chance to.

Like I said. All it took was three minutes.
Shortly afterwards, Dastan offers to his father the holy praying tunic of Alamut, which is then put on Sharaman. The king then decides to offer Princess Tamina’s hand, not to his oldest son Tus (who already has more than one wife – hey, those were the values of the times, as sad as it may be), but to his youngest, as a reward. But shortly after he says this, the tunic on him starts burning over his body and he struggles to take it off, unable to – and everyone who tries to help also gets burned! The King falls and fights for dear life, while the guards move forward to arrest Dastan on the basis that he was the one to offer the tunic to his father. Wait, a burning tunic? It was fine three minutes ago. Is there something about chemicals I don’t know about? I mean, I’m not stupid, but I never heard in real life of a piece of clothing that somehow starts burning its wearer. I know it’s a part of many ancient legends, but I really wonder; is there really a chemical basis for this? Maybe it reacts to sweat? I’m just trying to make sense of this! Okay, enough with this tangent!

In the ensuing fight, Dastan’s unnamed friend gets killed (ah, Bis, we hardly knew ye – I even had to look up your character’s name to know who you were), and Dastan manages to flee on a horse with the Princess, who knows the way out of the city. So everyone at Alamut believes Dastan did it; yet a moment later we see him telling Princess Tamina that the tunic was given to him by his brother Tus, Sharaman’s successor. Yeah, I’m not one to make bets on who’s the real villain in a story, but my money’s on the Advisor. I’ve seen enough stories of chancellors or viziers trying to “become Caliph in the place of the Caliph” to know where this is going.

Either this is magic, or I've done too much opium.
Tamina tries to get a kiss from him, but that’s a diversion as she tries to take the holy dagger in his belt. When he realizes this, he pushes her, only for her to grab a longer sword and attack him. In the spur of the moment, Dastan presses the bizarre button at the end of the dagger, and has an out-of-body experience where he sees the last 10 seconds rewind before him, after which he reintegrates his body exactly where the situation was at that moment. He tries to stop Tamina again, but this time she slashes him with the sword, and badly at that. Taking a risk, he presses the button again, which heals his wound and brings him back, once more, to 10 seconds earlier. Oh, by the way, the effects in the time-rewind scenes are awesome. This is like the player who saves before a battle and reloads when he’s about to lose; this is the cinematic equivalent of save scumming! This time, Dastan stops Tamina before she can grab the sword, and when he shows her the dagger she notices that all the magical sand in its compartment has been used. Dastan figures out that the city was invaded so that someone, in the Persian Empire, could get their hands on this very dagger and its time-rewinding powers!

Dastan plans to go to his father’s funeral to stop his brother, which he still believes to be responsible, and of course he brings Tamina along with him, despite her very cold attitude towards him. Well, it’s kind of understandable: Her city taken over, her enemy discovered her most valuable artifact, she’s on the run with a man accused of murder… yeah, I wouldn’t be in the best of moods either. Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned, especially a woman who actually knows how to use a sword! On their following journey, Dastan explains to Tamina that unlike his brothers, he was born in poverty and only later he was adopted by the royal family (up to that point, the princess treated him like he had always been a prince).

Dastan's Cranium, meet Mr. Bone. Have a nice sleep!

Yeah, even Persian princes tend to get cooperative when
a single command can make them not alive anymore.
The two soon reach abandoned fortress walls, the Valley of the Slaves; when Tamina falls from dehydration, Dastan worries for her, but it was a trick and she knocks him out cold with a nearby bone. Ah yes, a princess that actually fights, I like that! When the prince wakes up, he’s surrounded by horsemen led by Sheik Amar (played by Alfred Molina). He learns that he is in a part of the desert where a tribe called the Ngbaka, who were known as very talented knife-throwers. And Amar’s most trusted combatant is an Ngbaka, so Dastan is better off following them if he doesn’t want a knife where it hurts – that is, on 99% of his body. What, you thought I was gonna say his genitals? Have you ever been stabbed? Doesn't matter where, it still fucking hurts! He’s forced to follow them back to Sheik Amar’s camp grounds, and on the way they pick up Tamina.

Incoming stream of ridiculous birds! And that's not the only
stream of ridiculous birds we see these days!
At Amar’s camp, after the sheik’s men dress Tamina as a waitress/entertainer for the masses, she brings Dastan away to explain to him that the dagger and its magic were meant to be hidden, because they are key elements in a godly struggle. But obviously, we don’t learn more just yet, even though the Gods messing with the mortal world in any way is kind of a big deal. Films like to do that, don’t they? Amar then takes Dastan away to show him the main form of entertainment in his camp: Ostrich races. No, really. That should be an indication of the character’s sanity. Wait, can you really ride an ostrich? Is it easy?

"I would like to stick around, but I don't want a blade
through me."
Hm, apparently not. Then again, a mall might not have been the best place to try this out. Amar adds that his camp’s reputation as a home of rebel slaves was invented, so that it would be a place for him and for anyone else to hide from something that is dreaded, even to this day. Death? No, nothing so grim; it’s actually taxes. Hey, you may disagree with their avarice, but you have to admire the efforts of cheapskates when they try to avoid parting with their precious money. Amar is even using Tamina as a waitress of sorts, to amuse the male masses! However, the Sheik is not as friendly as he seems, as he quickly notices that Dastan looks a lot like that prince on the run, and he thus decides to keep Dastan captive to get the large reward. Thankfully, Dastan and Tamina retrieve the dagger and manage to escape.

The two then reach Avrat, where King Sharaman’s funeral is being held. They disguise as a Caliph’s slaves in order to get into the city. Using his skills, the Persian prince writes on a piece of paper what he believes the situation to be, and hides that paper in his uncle Nizam’s pocket, arranging for them to meet in secret. When they’re away from indiscreet ears, Dastan explains to his uncle about Tus giving him the tunic, then him finding the dagger, and Nizam demands to see the magical item; however, Tamina took it from him before the meeting. As he wonders how she could have done that, Dastan notices his uncle’s hands are burnt, possibly from when he tried to get the poisoned tunic – my mind still wants to have these two words make sense next to each other – off the King. But wait, Nizam didn’t actually join in the people’s attempt at taking off the King’s tunic while it was burning him… Dastan is then assaulted by guards with arrows, and realizes he’s been tricked. Once again, he uses his mad acrobatic skills to escape from the guards…

I enjoy a fast-paced swordfight with shaky cam and
quick editing like everyone else, but it's such a pain
to pick images from fights like that!
This is the best I could get!
…well, until his own brother, Garsiv, joins the guards to find and capture Dastan. Yeah, Garsiv has never been known for his subtlety. Or for his silence, either. Don’t you hate characters who seem to always SCREAM ALL OF THEIR LINES LIKE THIS? LIKE, ALL THE FREAKING TIME? DOESN’T IT GET ANNOYING AFTER A WHILE? Thank God Garsiv’s role in this movie is still pretty minor. Dastan keeps escaping, avoiding the arrows thrown at him, culminating in a 1-on-1 fight between brothers. Neither of them dies, though, as the adopted prince gets to run away after harming his brother just enough.

The one at the bottom is Zolm, the leader of the
Hassansins. His thing is snakes. Because snakes are
the go-to symbolism for villains, since the dawn of time!
Back at Nasaf (Gah! Historical fiction uses so many names, so many dates, it’s so complicated to report on stories like those! Can you tell I was not a fan of history classes?), Advisor Nizam explains to the now King Tus that Dastan tried to kill Garsiv and him. Oh, I knew it! The “good” uncle is behind the whole thing! Nizam tries to convince Tus that the runaway murderer needs to die, but Tus instead chooses to put Dastan on trial. After all, they may be a warmongering kind that encourages the use of slaves and multiple wives, and leaves its people in poverty, but they’re not barbarians! Later, Nizam goes to see a group of elite fighters known as the Hassansins (A group that truly existed, although you’d be excused to think that the writers made them up since they were simply known by the more mundane term “assassins”). Whoa, one of them has knives, one has bombs, one has swords, one has an axe, one has whips, their leader is using snakes… They’re like their own little squad of bosses! It would be adorable if they weren’t so deadly. The Advisor strikes up a deal with them, sending them to find and kill his adoptive nephew.

"Crap, we didn't build this tent fast enough to protect
ourselves from the sandstorm! I have sand in my hair!

Storytelling time with Princess Tamina.
*grabs popcorn*
Dastan retrieves Princess Tamina in the desert and explains what he deduced about his uncle, then states that for Nizam there would be no point in going back a few seconds in time; there has to be something even more powerful that he is looking for. Thus, our hero asks Tamina to tell him what she knows: Under Alamut, there’s a large pillar known as the Sandglass of the Gods. It was created by them as the source of all life on Earth (part of me wants to yell BS at this, but I'm rambling enough about this movie as it is). One day, angered by the arrogance and avarice of humans, they tried to wipe the world clean of them, but a young girl implored the Gods to give humans a second chance; this girl became the first guardian of the dagger of time, and Tamina is her descendant. The Sandglass itself is filled with a near-endless quantity of the special sand needed for the dagger to allow one to travel back in time, and the dagger is the only thing that can break through the Sandglass. Dastan explains that when they were young Princes, his father Sharaman and his uncle Nizam were attacked by a wild lion and Nizam saved his brother; Dastan concludes that his uncle is trying to get the dagger, plant it in the Sandglass, go back to that time and let Sharaman get killed then, in order to get the throne of Nasaf, radically changing the present. In return, Tamina explains that breaking the Sandglass of Time would unleash the wrath of the Gods again, causing the extinction of mankind… Got all that? Good! It’ll be on the test Thursday.

Well, this has been long enough, I say we take a break until Monday. See you in three days for Part 2.