It’s not because I’m in India, and very few English-speaking films of any merit are released here.
It’s not because I’ve played the game, ’cause I never have.
It’s not because the special effects were very nicely done and not over-wrought.
It’s not because of Jake Gyllenhaal (although, he in no way, shape, or form is offensive to mine eyes).
No, I liked this movie because it moved (the plot never lagged for me), it made me care about the characters, it was exciting to watch, and it had action–FEMALE driven action.
Princess Tamina, played by relative new-comer Gemma Arterton (who ironically portrayed Io in the re-imagining of Clash of the Titans, which I reviewed here), who is more than just a pretty face. Arterton’s Tamina is womanly, but she is not frail.
**WARNING: SPOILER ALERT**
When we first meet the Princess, her peaceful city is under attack from the Persian forces. She commands her advisers to take action and tells them she will be in the chapel praying. Truth be told, I groaned inwardly at this scene. “Oh Christ,” I thought to myself, “here we go–princess in her tower in need of saving.” So the princess prays as her city’s walls are breached, and a special, assumingly mystical-magical door of light opens. More fighting, cut to the princess handing something wrapped up tightly in cloth to a man servant with orders to get it to the temple.
But then… the movie turns the whole shrinking violet/princess in a tower trope on its head. Sure, the princess becomes war booty (pun intended, tho truth be told there is no sex, only a little kissing (this IS a family friendly Disney movie after all) and not until much later in the movie). The eldest of the three princes of Persia wishes to marry her in order to create an alliance between her people and his.
She’s all set to refuse–goes so far as to say she’d rather die than marry a Persian–until she sees that our hero has some-how acquired the Magical Mystical Object.
But our princess is no idle idol, oh no. She has a plan.
She goes to Persia, allows herself to be presented to the king, making snide, snarky comments to her captors the entire time (in fact, the banter between her and Dastan, the hero, is razor sharp and full of little goodies!), impresses the king with her sharp wit and he “gifts” her to his youngest adopted son.
(Stay with me, people, I know the idea of “gifting” an unwilling woman is repugnant, but stay with me.)
And then all hell breaks loose. The king dies through nefarious means, the young prince, Dastan, is accused of the murder and must flee for his life.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
Right off the bat, Princess Tamina takes charge. As they’re fleeing the city, SHE directs traffic (go this way if you want to live!). Granted, its her city, but still. Better yet, he LISTENS to her. He doesn’t just bullheadedly gallop his way through the city, he follows her orders. In another scene, when our hero and heroine have been captured by the smarmy ostrich-loving desert bandit (portrayed hilariously by Alfred Molina), and she’s forced to work as a racetrack bar wench, it’s Tamina who comes up with a way out of that particular mess and NOT Dastan (he’s too busy trying to figure out how to get a daggar out of his sleeve to see the necessity of a mob-based diversion).
Second point: She has a mission and, despite the fact her people are a peaceful people, she will do ANYTHING to complete that mission. Even if it means sticking around a dude who she really doesn’t like. Even if it means going places she won’t (and doesn’t like). Even if it means she has to pick up a sword (or dagger, or whatever–cause SHE DOES, and with a decent ability to do so) to fight. Even if it means she has to do things she doesn’t want to do (such as the aforementioned serving wench “job”–which, kudos to the writers for not making THAT particular moment into a sex-slave harem moment). Even if means she has to kill. She has a job, she sticks to it with a determination that I don’t think is often attributed to female characters in fantasy based movies. Furthermore, she doesn’t need no stinkin’ man to help her. Sure, she’ll let him come along–but mostly because he wont’ give the damn magical article back and he is, by virtue of male physiology, stronger than her.
But lets pause here a second. Sure, Dastan may be stronger than her, but she’s smarter. She dupes him at LEAST twice, if not three times throughout the movie. She plays on his honor induced hero-complex once–pretending to faint under the hot, hot sun, only to konk him on the head, knock him out, and escape with the magical object. She later TAUNTS him:
Tamina: Such a noble prince leaping to assist the fallen beauty.
Prince Dastan: Who said you are a beauty?
Tamina: There must be a reason why you can’t take your eyes of me.
Prince Dastan: [stutters] You’re… I…
Furthermore, her taunting kind of calls him on the “maleness” of his gaze–which is pretty cool if you think about it.
Lastly, and MEGA SPOILER ALERT, the ending.
In the penultimate moment of the movie, our hero and heroine face the Mega Baddie in battle. This was another moment, to be honest, I was prepared to slap myself on the forehead. I mean, seriously, these are the moment in which the princess is *usually* put in peril just so the hero can save the girl, save the world, and secure the happily ever after.
Except no. After some nifty special effects in which there is a lot of sand and crumbly buildings falling into the sand, we find our hero grasping the edge of a precipice with one hand, and Tamina with the other. We expect our hero to haul her up and then himself.
Tamina tells Dastan that she does not matter–the fate of the world does. If the Big Baddie goes through with his plan, the sacrifice that the small girl child made eons ago to protect the world will be for naught. She tells Dastan to let her go. And when he won’t, SHE lets go. She sacrifices herself, willingly, to save the world. And Dastan doesn’t even get to save her.
While, on the one hand, I can see how this is repugnant to some–I mean my God, why doesn’t Dastan sacrifice HIMSELF so TAMINA can save the world!– but in the end, its not HER story, really (the title would be Princess of Persia: Sands of Time if it was). But hang in there, there’s one more scene.
So, naturally, Dastan wins, Baddie fails, the world is righted. Dastan is changed by his journey–which no one but he remembers as he righted time. He confronts the Baddie once again, emerges victorious once again (though it is not his hand that fells the Baddie, but rather his brother’s WHICH is a nice development of one of the side plots), and once again finds himself in the position of being gifted a bride: the Princess Tamina.
However, rather than approach her and be all “I love you, don’t you remember me?” the writers actually did something pretty neat here. He approaches Tamina as though she is his equal vs. some prize to be won. Better yet, there is no ZIP! ZOWIE! moment of remembrance on the part of the princess, but rather a moment where it is clear that theirs will be a partnership. Indeed, the movie does not end with a kiss but rather a handshake.
Which, again, is pretty cool if you think about it. It implies that there is time for them to learn about each other, grow as a couple, and rule as equals.
Overall, I gave Prince of Persia: Sands of Time 3.5/4 out of 5 stars. I was prepared NOT to like this movie: it’s an adaptation of a video game (which rarely come out well), it’s set in a time when women weren’t treated well, and I couldn’t buy Jake Gyllenhaal as “Persian”. But I went, I saw, I LIKES. And sure, it has its moments of “Oh Lordy!”, and it definitely is not 100% true to the Persian/Arabian culture (Gyllenhaal speaks in a weird Cockney-American accent for parts of the movie). Its not an Oscar contender by any means, but its fun, funny, and *mostly*gender fair.