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May 30, 2016

VGFlicks: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Part 2)

Alright, so we’re back to this review of an adaptation of a game I’ve never played, with a fantastic edge given to a piece of the world’s history (changed quite a bit, of course, to allow the fantasy to exist and to make the story interesting). Go read Part 1 to know what happened so far. I just hope I can remember all the names.

Alright, so we’re still in the year… uh… I don’t know. Prince Dastardly, of the royal family of Nasal is on the run with Princess Danika of the Holy City of Alamo, after he has been wrongly accused of killing his adoptive father, King Shaman, with a poison tunic (I still can’t make sense of that). Therefore, his brother, the now King Tut, and his second older brother Gareth, have put a bounty on his head. However, Chancellor Dazeem is actually the one responsible for this murder. The two are captured by Sheik Homer and his men, and after they escape, then make their way to King Shaman’s funeral in the city of Everett, where Dastardly also finds out about his uncle’s machinations involving the magical time-manipulating dagger found earlier. And thus, Dazeem heads out to find a guild of assassins to chase down his nephew and kill him; we also know that Dazeem’s plan involves letting his brother die at a younger age so that he can access the throne in his place. So Danika and Dastardly hurry back to Alamo.

…Wait, I think I got some names wrong. Give me a moment, I’ll rewatch the movie up to now….

(A hour later) Okay, I’m ready. Wow, I got ALL the names wrong in that recap.

This moment of horror was brought to you by Disney,
the happiest place of Earth!
By this point in the story, Tamina warms up to Dastan, and the two head back to Alamut, but on the way get ambushed and captured by Sheik Amar and his men; the revolt started by the runaway prince resulted in Amar losing most of what he had at his old camp. That night, Amar’s camp is attacked by a bunch of snakes sent by the Hassansin-in-chief, and Dastan kills all of the reptiles using his own combat prowess and some sand of the dagger of time. Tamina manages to convince Amar and his men to escort them to a sanctuary, on the promise that they’d be allowed to take all of the gold there.

At the sanctuary, they find the villagers living nearby have all been killed by the Hassansins. Dastan and his group are attacked by Garsiv’s squad, and Dastan finally manages to explain the situation to his brother, finally getting him back as an ally. As Garsiv is about to call off the attack, the Hassansins come out of the fog and kill him and his squad. This was your friendly reminder that our heroes are now going against threats even greater than the armed forces of Nasaf. Also serves as a reminder that in fiction, if you’ve somehow put on the shoes of a villain, no matter for how long, your redemption will just make you die faster than if you’d stayed a villain. The more you know!

Farewell, brother. May a flight of ostrichs squawk thee to thy rest.

Oh my God, backflips too? Is there one thing this
character can't do? Who did they get to teach him
In the ensuing battle, many of Amar’s men die (while Amar himself hides behind a chicken coop, which is way too obvious a pun for me to even state). Tamina runs into the sanctuary to give the dagger back to the Gods, which would also require her sacrifice, and her unlikely ally Dastan follows, but a Hassansin follows them inside and the Persian prince fights the guy, while a snake steals the dagger from Tamina and takes it back to the leader of the assassins. She finds out only after the elite group of killers has left. After burying his brother, Dastan decides to head back to Alamut. While Amar’s men are taking all the gold they can find, Amar’s right-hand man Sosu Ngbaka (the expert knife-thrower, who only speaks when he has something important to say) manages to convince his boss to help the Persian prince. By not saying a single word. THAT is some presence, right there.

That bad guy proves to be a problem to a secondary
hero, Seso (pictured here), who is from an entire tribe of
people who excel at throwing knives. If that isn't a boss,
then I don't know what is.
The group gets to Alamut, where they find out where the dagger is (the problem is to get to it), and they also see that the city is now a digging site, as Tus is looking for hidden weapons while Nizam is looking for the Sandglass of the Gods. Sosu enters the sacred place and gets into a fight with the Hassansin knife-tosser, fight where he kills his enemy but also gets killed, though he has time to throw the dagger towards Dastan outside before his death. By the way, that fight was awesome. Moved by the death of his friend, Sheik Amar ditches the cowardly attitude and decides to act like a damned hero.

"Hey, what's up? How was the weather here in Alamut?"
With the dagger in his possession, Dastan manages to reach his brother and talk to him in private, explaining Nizam’s machinations and the myth of the Sandglass under the city. Tus… obviously doesn’t believe him, until the runaway prince explains how the dagger works and then kills himself with it. Nizam comes in to find Tus on his knees near the body of his brother, and Nizam’s words of insult directed at Dastan lead Tus to press the button on the dagger, reverting time before Dastan’s suicide, and stops his brother just in time.

This effect still looks impressive, even with Tus using it.
This is after Dastan gets back up in reverse and pulls the dagger out.

Oh great, this movie is turning into a bloodbath. I never
thought this review would become a collection of
screen captures of corpses.
This convinces Tus on the legend being real, but Nizam comes in and, seeing Dastan, kills Tus (HOLY CRAP!) while a guard comes in to immobilize our protagonist. Nizam takes the dagger and leaves with a victory pose, then Tamina creates a diversion that allows Dastan to kill the guard, who is revealed to be a member of Alamut’s priests; Nizam corrupted them, too. Wow, that evil plan must have taken years to prepare. And we still have no idea whatsoever how he may have heard of the dagger in the first place.

"And now I've got sand in my pants! This day just
keeps getting better and better!"
Tamina brings Dastan into secret passageways leading to the Sandglass while Nizam is trying to get a rudimentary elevator to take him down there quickly. The room leading to the Sandglass is trapped, and the parkour expert has to follow in Tamina’s footsteps. However, the digging work around that room weakened it, and debris fall outside of the path, causing the whole place to start crashing down. He barely makes it into the Sandglass’s room. The Hassansin leader was waiting there, and a fight ensues between the two men. Dastan is about to get bitten by the guy’s snake just as Tamina arrives on the scene; she redirects the snake to bite the guy in his fucking ugly face, allowing Dastan to kill him with a saber. Ah, finally! That’s what I hate with a squad of bosses: They don’t die fast enough. Good riddance! Dastan and Tamina kiss, because nothing turns a male hero on more than killing a villain in front of the female lead, and the two hurry to the magnificent Sandglass of the Gods, just as Nizam’s elevator reaches it.

This thing looks like an eternal flame. Like another reference
to religion. Not that I mind... here, it's justified.

This is all goddamn depressing.
Dastan and Nizam struggle but Nizam wounds his nephew; then, the instable place starts tearing apart again, and when Tamina tries to stop the Advisor, he just throws her into the abyss below. Dastan grabs her arm before she falls, but to let him fulfill his destiny she lets herself fall down (in an effect that doesn’t look as good as all the effects that came before but)- Damn, another main character dying? Christ, the body count just keeps on increasing! Even if Dastan wins now, it’ll be nothing else than a downer ending! Oh, by the way, Nizam finally reveals that he never liked Dastan, since the adopted prince is not of royal blood…

Nizam plants the dagger in the Sandglass and pops the button off, unleashing a constant stream of time sand. Dastan tries to stop him by grabbing the dagger, while the Sandglass shows flashbacks to the adventure up to this point, which is a pretty cool effect, I'll give it that. But now, the Gods are PISSED, and they unleash the biggest storm the world has ever seen, reducing Alamut outside to rubble, while Dastan and Nizam struggle. Dastan pulls out the dagger, causing the two of them to get caught into the storm surrounding them just as the entirety of the world around vanishes…

...And next thing he knows, Dastan finds himself back in the conquered Alamut, after the Persian army got in but before they entered the royal castle, near the beginning of the story. Well, that was two or three weeks earlier; not as impressive as traveling many years back, but still impressive nonetheless. So, it’s like a reset button? Advantages of the reset button: Everybody who died in the story is still alive, including King Sharaman, Tamina, Tus, Garsiv, even that guy who was the prince’s best friend, you know, the one nobody cared about. Dastan has the chance to avoid this whole plot. As a bonus, he keeps his character development and his memories of the adventure. Disadvantages: The story we saw technically never happened – or, well, Dastan’s quest now is to make sure it never happens. Since the deaths were negated, the Hassansins are still alive. However, since his travel in time brought him to just after the conquest, most of Alamut’s soldiers are still dead. Sheik Amar will stay a stealing coward hiding from the taxes in his little criminal haven, hosting ostrich races. Oh, and Princess Tamina will still be resentful towards the royal family of Nasaf, never getting the character development she had through this film. Yeah, not the best thing, but I’ll take that over a downer ending any day!

Farewell, Nizam. As for you, Ben Kingsley, I look forward to
seeing you soon in Ender's Game.
As the Persian army is about to enter the castle, Tus and Nizam at the front, Dastan intercepts them and exposes the treachery, that the Persian spy was paid to lie about the weapons and cause this invasion. Forced to choose between the words of his brother and Nizam's, who of course tries to save his sorry ass, Tus decides to get the truth from the spy himself. Nizam knows this means trouble, and besides any course of action would lead to his defeat anyway (he remembers that the Gods almost destroyed the world when he carried through, and will do the same if he tries again), so the advisor just attacks the adopted prince. Dastan fights the guards and manages to hurt Nizam, but when Nizam tries to attack his adoptive nephew by surprise, Tus stabs him fatally.

"Please keep that edge you had in the original timeline."
"....................I said nothing. Now if you'll excuse me,
I got sand in my nose."
Prince Tus presents himself to Princess Tamina and, in an attempt to apologize, suggests to strengthen the bonds between Nasaf and Alamut by marrying her to Prince Dastan. As a gift following the wedding proposal, Dastan hands back to Tamina the dagger of time. He even manages to sway her over. Well, they’re starting off on a much better tone than in the original timeline, that’s for damn sure! The dagger is put back where it belongs, and we can suppose Dastan and Tamina lived happily ever after and had many children, and maybe they adopted one of them. The end.

Incidentally, this was the second time Jake Gyllenhaal
was part of time shenanigans. And not the last one, either.
I’m glad I saw this. It’s not the kind of movie that transforms cinema by how good and ground-breaking it is, but when it comes to film adaptations of video game series, it’s definitely better than most. The best? No, but a standard that game-to-film adaptations should learn to follow. Adaptations are usually made to ride the coattails of what’s popular at the time, but that’s not an excuse to release something awful; on the contrary, more effort should be put into the film. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has more than a few flaws: A story that tries to be compelling but winds up being a little too complex. Nearly no actor of Middle-Eastern descent despite being entirely set in that region of the world. Too many additions to force fight scenes (though being an adaptation of a game, that one is partly justifiable). The pacing is off and the dialogue is nothing to write home about. The quality of the effects tends to fluctuate, some are really amazing, some others aren't as good. And the Hassansins are too over-the-top to be credible, though I guess that can also be justified as their way to give the film a bit of the "video game" impression.

Also, Molina is a lot of fun as Sheik Amar.
But, you can feel the effort put into the effects and the direction. Many plot elements are lifted from the trilogy itself, though the movie thankfully avoids using the more controversial elements of the second game in the series. One panning shot of Alamut before the conquest, at the start of the movie, is even an homage to similar camera work in the games when the Prince is about to enter a new town. Tamina is a composite of the female characters in the trilogy, and remains interesting with her cold attitude towards Dastan and her sharp wit that doesn’t disappear in the new timeline, making her stronger than many female characters out there.

The relationship between the brothers is believable, and Ben Kingsley is excellent as Nizam (I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the offer just to have fun – and frankly, if the actors are enjoying themselves, it can help a film). Molina as Sheik Amar adds some levity, though while he quickly becomes credible as a begrudging ally pulled in it for the money, he starts off also quite credible as a villain. In fact, the humorous scenes in this movie are pretty good too. So is the action, however silly it may get. In fact, I'd dare say that despite the heavy plot, this movie doesn't take itself all too seriously, so it feels lighter than many adaptations of games into films.

Also, poisoned tunic. Nope, I still can’t figure out how that works.

I guess in the end, it’s just another popcorn film that will not please everyone, but it’s just good enough to be above average when we’re talking about putting a video game world to the big screen. I know it’s not much of a praise, but game-to-film adaptations need to start getting better. And this movie was a step in the right direction. Should you watch it? Um… I’ll leave it to you, really. It’s an interesting watch, but don’t go in expecting high cinema, just something to entertain you for two hours. Now, I heard there were talks to make a sequel for this film; all I can tell Disney is, if you do carry through with this idea, “don’t screw it up”. Try to make that potential sequel even better than the original. Who knows, it could happen. In the meantime, I’ll hope that the Assassin’s Creed movie, coming out soon, will be of similar or even better, quality to this one.

Next Friday… something else, I guess.