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YONDAH LIES DA KESSLE OF DA CALIPH, MY FADDAH


Reel Time
Dale Hill
www.flickwitch.com

            Let's chat about summer blockbusters, and about expectations.

            This is going to be very simple: what do you expect from a summer blockbuster? Right off, you expect a few things that have nothing to do with the quality of the movie, such as two air-conditioned hours out of the heat (not always a concern in Maine). You also expect rousing, splashy trailers of the further blockbusters that will arrive before school starts again.

            Then you can settle back with your popcorn and ponder what you're expecting from your major feature.

            First off, you expect money. That is, you expect the producers to have spent A LOT OF MONEY on this movie, and you expect to see most of that cash right up there on the screen. Nowadays that means you want lots of eye candy, mostly in the form of computer-generated special effects.

            Then you hope that a little of the money has been spent on a reasonably competent cast, some of whom you might actually recognize, and some of whom are reasonably attractive. Farther down the pay scale, and therefore of less importance, lurk those inconsequential will-o'-the-wisps, the Coherent Plot and the Literate Script.

            Going by this allocation of funds, “Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time” is the perfect summer blockbuster. The leads are cute, there's a recognizable villain, there's a huge amount of CGI sets and effects, loads of action your eye can't follow, and none of it makes any sense.

            Can I help? Probably not, but let's see:

            In the 6th century (BC or AD is not specified) Persia rules the Eastern world “...from the steppes of China to the shores of the Mediterranean.” Fair enough, and the King of Persia (a noble Ronald Pickup) has three sons, one of whom is Jake Gyllenhall, an orphan the king adopted in the marketplace, if you can believe that. The king also has a brother, Nizam, played by Ben Kingsley, who has made a great career out of narrowing his eyes.

            The brothers, out on a frat-boy weekend with about 20,000 pals, end up destroying the holy city of Alamut, home to Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, with a lovely speaking voice), who guards the Sacred Dagger.

            This is the dagger with the glass hilt full of the Sands of Time. If you press the ruby on the pommel (the button on the mouse?) all sorts of special effects come out of the blade and time goes backwards for about half a minute. This makes the dagger very valuable as well as dangerous to the survival of the world.

            I'm going to let you discover the rest of the plot for yourself, with this digression: the ostriches appear to be real, and just as adorable as the ballet dancers in “Fantasia.” More ostrich cameos! And I want to know how much extra they payed Alfred Molina to kiss one. And the snakes are computer-generated, because you may be able to charm snakes, but you CANNOT choreograph snakes. I'm sure about this.

            The first “Prince of Persia” video game was created by Jordan Mechner in 1989. Mechner revised the game a number of times, and the movie is loosely adapted from the 2003 version.

            Mike Newell is an odd choice as director, being a veteran of pleasant little comedies such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Into the West,” and “Enchanted April.” But he did direct “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” an authentic blockbuster that also happened to have solid literary footing.

            Basing your move on a video game, even more so than a graphic novel, seems to be how it's done these days. Unfortunately this leaves us with lots of twists and turns to explain that don't exactly count as plot points. That's why the dialogue that should speed along the romantic development of the Cute Couple is reduced to variants of “Uh, you can't do that because it's, uh, cursed.”

            Though Gyllenhall and Aterton's reparte never quite rises to the level of Nick and Nora Charles, it'll do to get you out of the heat for two hours.

 

P.S. –  Actually, Tony Curtis never said the line in today's title.