Thursday, June 10, 2010
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time *
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton
Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Reece Ritchie
Richard Coyle, Steve Toussaint
At first glance Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is yet another shallow video game adaptation meant to entertain youngsters with its giant set pieces, special effects and numbing loudness; but look closer and you will find a distasteful "oh well" approach to American foreign policy and media brainwashing.
Set in ancient Persia, it centers on Dastan (Gyllenhaal) an orphan of humble origins adopted by the king (Ronald Pickup) and raised like a prince.
As the movie begins, Dastan and his brothers (Kebbell and Coyle) prepare to invade the scared city of Alamut on the grounds that they have been manufacturing weapons for Persia's enemies.
Not long after they have invaded the city, Dastan figures out it was all a trick devised by the story's actual villain (quite easy to discover considering the makeup artists all but put a "villain" sign on his face). He also discovers the actual reason for the invasion was to find an ancient dagger that has the power of turning back time; but before he can become a hero, he's been framed for murder, becomes a fugitive and finds himself traveling with Princess Tamina of Alamut (Arterton) to reclaim his rightful place.
The problem with the movie isn't how miscast it is (Gyllenhaal has absolutely no hero potential despite the bigger muscles) or how badly it uses its good actors (Arterton could've been iconic and Molina just remind us that a brilliant actor can make almost anything seem better than it is). The problem isn't the action sequences either, although their Aladdin with ADD aesthetics continue to highlight the same brand of flashy, quick editing Jerry Bruckheimer's productions have become known for, which shows even less than it says.
The biggest problem with the film is how it uses all these elements to thinly disguise it's "let's move on" views on the Iraq invasion.
At first, the story seems to be taking a critical aim at how the Bush government (and its allies) handled a situation that quickly got out of their hands. We are presented with facts that almost entirely resemble the search for weapons of mass destruction led by the American army on Iraqi soil and how a few government people quickly created an entire war as diversion from their real aim (the dagger in the movie, oil in real life).
It's not even necessary to mention nepotism and the similarities between powerful political families and royalty to see how much the main plot drew from history.
But once the central dagger comes up, viewers are provided with the sort of device that could work in two ways.
Its ability to go back in time enables the audience to fantasize about a world where things can be undone and evil is quickly fixed. In a way this could provide some sort of escapism from the already brutal reality raging outside the theater.
But why then, introduce this element of correction into an allegory that had such recent effects? If it doesn't want to deal with reality why then remind us of it?
It's only then when the movie's real intention seems to come out and by suggesting mystical artifacts can fix our wrongs it's empowering the video game generation to think of technology as their own way of escaping reality and consciously grant themselves absolution.
What's the difference between the dagger and digital video recording or personalized online content? In the same way that Prince Dastan can simply rewind and fix the past, we now have the power to control the information we get and simply fast forward through the news or ignore a disturbing article and conceal the world from our already limited perception.
Prince of Persia isn't about entertaining as much as it's about creating a false idea of our involvement in the world.
The only magical thing about this movie is that very few seem to notice it's essentially propaganda.