A first stab at bringing an Arab tale to the silver screen is yet to be tested but its trailer may say a lot.
Pirates with sand, old boy
If the trailer for medieval epic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is anything to go by, the forthcoming Hollywood action film will have little or nothing to say about the culture and history of the Middle East. As well as sandstorms and snakes, the three-minute clip shows the American actor Jake Gyllenhaal with long hair, bulging muscles and flowing robes, as an ancient Persian action hero. And his accent? English public school, of course.
From the trailer, the film seems to resemble a desert-based version of the swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and for good reason - both live-action features are the work of Disney and the blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer. It will see Gyllenhaal playing Prince Dastan, who teams up with a rival princess to stop an angry ruler from unleashing an apocalyptic sandstorm. The film also has shades of the dire Mummy series, which treated Egyptian myth with the same lack of reverence that this will apparently afford the legends of what is now Iran. Not that Iranians have had a very fair deal from Hollywood in recent years. Their Persian forebears appeared in the recent swords-and-sandals epic 300 simply to be massacred in numerous gory ways by Spartans.
Unsurprisingly, the film originates in the world of computer games - which has hardly been a mine of successful film adaptations, as anyone who's seen Doom or Hitman will testify. Still, Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme-park ride, so nowadays anything goes. In keeping with the Pirates trilogy, there's a former darling of US indie cinema-turned action star in the lead role. Far from making an attempt at Cockney as Johnny Depp did, however, Gyllenhaal has gone more for the James Bond approach.
Also in keeping with Pirates, the female lead is remarkably plain. The trailer shows the Quantum of Solace star Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina, in a performance that looks as though it was channelled directly through Keira Knightley. Everyone else is strikingly Shakespearian. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the bearded antagonist Nizam, who looks like a Ming the Merciless impersonator. There is also the British heavyweight Alfred Molina, playing Dastan's mentor Sheik Amar, and the rising film star Toby Kebbell as his brother.
Prince of Persia's trailer has elaborate and expensive-looking visual effects in almost every shot, but the most striking thing about the clip is the accents. Seeing Gyllenhaal backflip over a precipice in slow motion is not nearly as jaw-dropping as hearing him, and his fellow "Persians" speaking like the cast of Brideshead Revisited. English upper-class vowels have long been Hollywood's default accent for almost every nationality other than American. Hearing British accents come out of the mouths of everyone from Nazis to ancient Romans may be jarringly inauthentic, but it is possibly preferable to a poor approximation.
The Scottish accent is also becoming a popular choice for a number of different nationalities, not just Sean Connery in every film, including his role as the Soviet submarine commander in The Hunt for Red October, but also Spartans in 300. Perhaps the most striking recent abuse of accents came in Valkyrie, where Tom Cruise appeared to play a Nazi from New York and everyone else played English Nazis (except Eddie Izzard who fancied giving the German accent a try).
If somehow, Prince of Persia manages be a half decent film, it looks as though there will be plenty of other opportunities for Hollywood to mine the legends of the Middle East in the future. In fact, with an announcement last week that that timeless work of literature, The 1001 Nights, is being prepped as a 3D adventure movie, it seems that the bandwagon may already have started. Apparently the film, which starts shooting next spring for a 2011 release, is not a reduced version of the many stories, but "a new spin" on the tale, which will see a military commander join forces with Sinbad, Aladdin and the Genie of the Lamp to rescue the legendary Persian queen Scheherazade from the dark forces that murdered the king.
The capable hands behind the adaptation? None other than Chuck Russell, director of The Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Oh dear.