Disney // 2010 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 10th, 2010
Defy the future.
Jerry Bruckheimier, eager to strike Pirates of the Carribean gold once again, turns his attention to source material beloved by video gamers; does this Prince of Persia have what it takes to kick-start a new franchise, or is he destine to fall off a ledge and land on some rotating spikes?
In a fictional, far-away, magic land that we'll call "Persia," there lives a just king, his shifty brother (Ben Kingsley), his two sons and a third son named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko) who he adopted from the streets.
After Persia pulls off a successful invasion of a kingdom that's suspected of supplying weapons to their enemies, Dastan ends up with a magical dagger that has the ability to manipulate time in his possession. Turns out that a lot of bad guys want to get their hands on this item and if that happens, the world could end or something, so it falls to Dastan and his beautiful sidekick (Gemma Arterton) to repel evil and exchange smoldering looks at each other's awesome hairstyles.
The straight dope: I enjoyed Prince of Persia. My expectations weren't in the stratosphere, to be sure, it being both a video game adaptation and a fairly obvious Bruckheimer attempt at franchise-building, but by the time of the end credits, I was smiling.
There are missed opportunities and CGI-induced headaches. And the "plot twists" are spoiled by one glance at the Blu-ray case. Also, I'm still not entirely sure why the "Sands of Time" want to kill us.
No matter. Prince of Persia largely accomplishes what it sets out to, put forward an entertaining popcorn movie that flies along a brisk pace and sports a genuine sense of adventure.
To be more specific:
Stuff I Liked
The guy can bring it as an action hero. He's got charisma and physical presence (the guy must have been rocking the P90X workout something fierce).
The bad guys are cool
They're the Hassasins, inspired by an actual Persian black ops force, though I doubt the real guys could control snakes and shoot rapid-fire spikes out of their wrists. Regardless, they make fine adversaries and it's a joy to watch them die!
It feels like the game
I'm a fan of the video game series, and while the film adaptation lacks the whimsy of the work that shares its namesake, Sands of Time incorporates enough of the elements (setting, acrobatics, magic dagger) to do the source justice.
The comic relief is actually funny
Aside from some snide one-liners from Gyllenhaal, virtually all of the humor comes from Alfred Molina's character, a black market entrepreneur and proto-libertarian that is distrustful of the government.
Most of the Prince's action is delivered via free-running segments (assisted by District B13 star David Belle). What's here is fun to watch, although...
Stuff I Didn't Like
Not enough acrobatics
That's the bread-and-butter of the video game. How cool would have it been to see the big-screen Prince negotiate even a handful of traps? I'd gladly take a death-defying leap above a column of spikes over the overwrought sand-slide sequence that acts as the film's big action centerpiece.
Distracting visual effects
The finale gets caught up in the number-crunching, tossing bigger and noisier computer wizardry at the screen, hoping that something sticks. Nothing does.
A stiff female character
Some day, there will be a female lead in a big-budget popcorn flick that isn't a walking cliché. But it is not this day.
Better use of the dagger
The dagger time-travel is used sparingly, twice by accident, once to evade a snake and lastly for some plot exposition. Zzzzz...It would have been nice to see a fight scene or two incorporate some time rewind.
Disney's Blu-ray is a winner, starting with its dazzling 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, a beautifully detailed, vibrant treatment that presents the magical, sand-swept setting with great success. And though the abundance of CGI annoyed me, it looks solid in high definition (save for the Sands of Time cluster-F at the end). Since the DVD version of the film accompanies, it's easy to witness the upgrade in visual fidelity from standard definition. This is a film whose bombast demands high definition. The sound makes for an appropriate complement, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz/24-bit) working hard during the multitude of action scenes. Harry Gregson-Williams' non-descript score gets lost in the shuffle.
Extras are fronted by an exhaustive selection of behind-the-scene featurettes, covering everything you could want to learn about: setting, castings, set design, special effects, stunt work, Parkour training, even ostrich herding. You can access these segments via in-movie experience (by triggering a magic dagger when it comes up) or through a traditional index. The only other extra is a grisly deleted scene that was wisely pitched. On the DVD, you get an abridged making-of documentary, which pieces together segments from its Blu counterpart. You also get the obligatory digital copy for movie fans on the go, and a link to Disney's BD-Live portal.
I had heard this mentioned in theatrical reviews, how there's a veiled criticism of the Iraq War woven into the story, what with the Persians looking for weapons in a neighboring country and not finding any and realizing they had been manipulated. Look, I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to the writers that they were just looking for a plot hook and aren't total morons.
What could have been a cold, calculating cash-in, turned out to be a fun, disposable piece of summer adventure. The Blu-ray is the way to go.
Not Guilty. Good luck against those Spartans!
Review content copyright © 2010 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scene
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* D-Box Enabled
* Cinema Verdict Review