"Difficult, not impossible."
Making a good movie based on a video game is "difficult, not impossible," but sadly Prince of Persia doesn't quite manage it. The movie had a few high points and the plot wasn't all that bad, but the screenplay left much to be desired and the lack of chemistry between the two leads really lowered the tone of what really could have been a great movie.
The plot is in no way based on the game, except for the fact that there's sand the dagger can control it. No, in the movie Dastan (the Prince) is actually an orphan who was adopted by the King (rather conveniently) and later leads an army contingent with his two brothers. Shifty Vizier, and brother to the King, manipulates the eldest brother, named Tus, into attacking the Holy City of Alamut, against the protestations of Dastan. Well the invasion comes off pretty smoothly and along the way Dastan comes into possession of a strange dagger, which he 'accidentally' discovers can turn back time. It transpires that the princess Tamina is a member of an ancient order who are sworn to protect the dagger and the associated Sands of Time. Well she's none to pleased about the occupation of her city or the fact that one of the oppressors now holds their most sacred relic. Which leads to a fine mess when she is forced to go on the run with Dastan when he is framed for the murder of the King.
Jake Gyllenhaal did a pretty good job as Dastan, in my humble opinion. I saw a lot of the Prince from the video game in his performance, he clearly was giving it his all and trying to connect to the fans. Gemma Arterton on the other hand wasn't all that great as the princess, though she certainly performed the role of 'eye candy' to perfection. She had next to no chemistry with Gyllenhaal, which made the inevitable romance seem a tad forced. I also think that she figured out her lines were rather goofy because she seemed to have a hard time delivering them convincingly. The writers do have to take some heat for that though, I think I'd have a tough time saying "Secret Guardian Temple" with any kind of conviction too. The elder brother Tus (played by Richard Coyle) was sadly a pretty one dimensional character, perhaps because he wasn't really on screen that much. Far more interesting was the younger brother Garsiv (played by Toby Kebbell) who was playing an antagonist to the hero sure, but still managed to show some level of humanity in his performance. Ben Kingsley as the Vizier, Nizam, was really rather bland too. It's not too much of a spoiler to say he's the villain of the story, Ben seems to gravitate towards such roles. Kingsley really goes all out on this character to make him as shifty and sinister as possible, which worked out pretty well. There's really nothing better than a villain you love to hate. Finally a quick shout out for Alfred Molina who had a small supporting role in the movie as Sheik Amar, who in addition to becoming a reluctant ally of the prince, races ostriches. He added some nice comic relief to the movie along with his trusty sidekick Seso (played by Steve Toussaint).
The problem with the movie, as is so often the case with video game adaptations, is that they completely disregarded the story of the game. Sands of Time (the game) has a very solid, and well thought out story, so I really can't imagine why they felt the need to change it as much as they did. The new story isn't terrible, but it does seem rather strained at times. There are some actions taken by the characters that just don't make a lot of sense. Initially the goal is to take the dagger to the aforementioned 'Secret Guardian Temple' but when that doesn't work they instead go back to Alamut - the same city they started all this nonsense in. After the inevitable show down with Nizam......SPOILER ALERT...... Dastan succeeds in rewinding time all the way back to the aftermath of the invasion of Alamut (I think that point is about 20-25 minutes into the movie). Well if that was possible, why didn't the princess just tell him to do that in the first place, why did they go on a trek across the desert, because that would have made for a pretty short movie I guess...... END SPOILER. The other problem is that the whole motivation for Dastan is the murder of his father, something that we should be pretty invested in no? Well there lies another problem, the King himself has so little screen time, much less screen time with Dastan, that we really don't know him. Not knowing him, or anything about the relationship between him and his sons, it's hard to really feel anything for the character when he dies. It's not all doom and gloom though. The stunts and fight sequences were satisfying and the special effects (especially the rewind time effect) were absolutely spot on. If only they had invested such time and energy crafting the screenplay as they did on the special effects.
The single biggest issue I had with the movie is that it had the potential to be great, I wanted it to be great, but instead it falls way short of average. So while it may be somewhat entertaining at times, the movie really doesn't hold up to that much scrutiny. Of course I can't assume that everyone will scrutinize the motivations and actions of characters the way I do, so your mileage may vary.
Final verdict on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: