When Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a young boy, he committed an act of bravery that changed his life forever. He was in the market when he overheard a commotion and saw another boy accidentally frighten a horse being ridden by one of the King's soldiers, causing the man to fall off. He was furious and made to punish the waif, but Dastan distracted him by throwing his apple at him; a chase ensued and Dastan was nearly parted from his hand when the soldier caught him, but then the King (Ronald Pickup) himself intervened - and adopted the orphan as his own son...
Prince of Persia was a popular line of computer games so it was obvious, as with so many of its contemporaries, that it should be adapted for the big screen. There wasn't exactly a great tradition of such things making the basis for truly excellent cinematic entertainment unless you wanted empty action sequences and lots of them, and sad to say this was little different, reflected in its mediocre box office, though it was not a complete flop internationally by any means. Still, it didn't represent anything much to further the advancement of the fantasy style that Clash of the Titans capitalised upon the same year.
Of course, the Clash remake wasn't much better, although it had the right idea in looking to Ray Harryhausen as the ideal way to approach a historical fable type of story, and his Sinbad movies were excellent examples of what the makers of Prince of Persia could have taken as a template, or at least an inspiration. Sadly, not only were there no great big monsters to be seen in this of the stop motion variety, as after all they might have brightened things up a bit, the skill that those vintage movies had with pacing out the thrills was lacking as well. Tackling an English accent, Gyllenhaal was trying to reinvent himself as an action hero, but similarly fell short, no matter how many hours he had spent in the gym.
Although his lack of personality merely underlined the colourless nature of everything else, all sound and fury signifying the effects budget trying to make up for the dearth of substance in the rest of it. We follow Dastan as he conquers a city for his father, accompanied by an army naturally, which is where he meets Princes Tamina (Gemma Arterton) who swings between two emotions, grumpy and bossy, with little variation. She wants the special dagger that turns out to contain the sands of time of the title, but one thing leads to another and Dastan is framed for the assassination of his adoptive father so has to go on the run, with Tamina as his not entirely sympathetic guide.
At the point when we discover that the special dagger has magical properties that involve the manipulation of time you begin to suspect the way this is going to play out, and you'll probably be right. Basically it can enable the user to go back for however many grains of sand are used, which results in a finale that pretty much leaves the whole of what you've seen pointless, as if the computer game concept of having a number of lives for your character informed the screenplay - not something that is quite as satisfying for a movie. In fact it looks like a cheat, leaving the main source of amusement to be found in Ben Kingsley essaying the role of Dastan's uncle, and as you'd expect he's a wicked relative of the sort that often turn up in such fables. Sadly, there's the problem that recently invented faux fables never feel as authentic as the real thing, but none of Prince of Persia feels the same way either. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.