DiscWatcher Blu-ray movie review: Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time

REVIEW: It’s always fun when all the summer movies start to hit Blu-ray, DVD, and pay-per-view earlier and earlier each year. Used to be, I would have to wait practically until Christmas to see the movies I skipped going to the big-screen theaters to see during “blockbuster” season. Last month the first crop hit the home market, and the rest rolled out right before or right after the calendar says we’ve moved into fall.

REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Generally, one cannot expect too much from a film based on a computer video game, but to get to the heart of it: Prince of Persia isn’t too bad. It’s a rip-roaring adventure in a make believe place, with great special effects, great set pieces, locales, and a good looking cast. Once you get past the conceit of western movie makers using pasty white British actors for many of the leads, along with their “exotic” U.K. accents, it’s a fairly enjoyable film.

When I’d heard that Jake Gyllenhaal would play the male lead, I was skeptical as he will always be Donnie Darko to me, somehow. But, he buffed up nicely, and his diverse catalog of work the past decade allows him to believably play this kind of action character, even if almost everything in the film is unbelievable. He is likable, and carries the story in places where it verges into a bit more comic book than Arabian Nights territory. Since it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, one can generally presume high entertainment value, and this film doesn’t disappoint. If you want to compare it to any of Bruckheimer’s other recent projects, I have to say the script and story are better than the second Transformers movie, but take that statement however you wish.

The story: Gyllenhaal’s character is an orphan boy (Dastan) who is adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), and becomes part of the family along with two other sons and heirs, and the king is tricked into invading a neighbor for the purpose of acquiring an ancient dagger that can release the sands of time, a gift from the gods that can allow the possessor to reverse time. Dastan falls for the dagger’s guardian, Tamina, played by always lovely Gemma Arterton. Together they banter and flirt across the desert, avoiding the bad guys, ruffians, and the local equivalent to ninjas, while trying to reach the source of the sand in the dagger and stop the big baddie from hatching his evil plot of revenge and world domination. Sounds silly, but it actually works pretty well.

The $200 million budget really raises this above the typical “B” movie that this genre would have fallen into a few years ago and there is a lot of that money on-screen, and not just in CGI. It reminded me a little of the Jolie Lara Croft movies in tone. However, while it wants to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean, Gyllenhaal is not Johnny Depp although director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) does keep the story going and focused on the characters and not an overload of special effects creatures that made the last Mummy film a disappointment due to the disconnect with the live actors.

For the supporting cast, Ben Kingsley is good, but he is so typecast now as the bad guy, that you immediately suspect him of being part of the conspiracy that causes Dastan to be accused of killing his adoptive father and then having to make a run for it along with Tamina. Alfred Molina is playing true to his past work, even if his character is an amalgam of similar characters we’ve seen many times before.

I was surprised to see Richard Coyle as one of the king’s sons, Tus, who takes over the throne upon the king’s murder. Coyle is a great actor, and he definitely brings some depth to his part.

The film does try to keep some of the elements of the computer games (I recall playing one version of the game on my Mac SE30 circa 1994) such as Dastan’s wall hopping and climbing, almost to the point of parkour. There were a few moments in the opening scenes where the juvenile version of Dastan steals some food and is running from the authorities over the roof-tops that I couldn’t help remembering the very similar opening from Disney’s Aladdin – but thankfully there was no singing or overly aware monkeys.

The story develops nicely, shifting from big screen action, to small scenes, then political machinations, then back to “on the road” with the main characters. There are some slow parts here and there, but relationships do develop, and evolve. So, if you like fantasy-adventure films, and can completely suspend your disbelief, it’s entertaining enough. Special effects are really nice, and – again – the story is much better than I was expecting, with a happy ending that utilizes the power of the dagger to resolve more than one story line. If you go in expecting nothing, you may be pleasantly surprised, especially if you enjoy genre films.

My only quibbles really stem from Arterton’s spray tan changing a bit from scene to scene, as she is really pale in most of her real life appearances, and the overall dearth of Middle Eastern actors in a film which resides in a part of the world which generally is not particularly happy with the western world at this time (Iran is the current incarnation of Persia, in case you are clueless about world history). It seems like an odd time to be making a film based in a place that really existed, but which has been fictionalized by western writers into something else. But, that would be Disney for you. To get my meaning, imagine if an Iranian filmmaker did a movie about Native Americans loosely based on a couple of mythic oral history stories.

I do feel this contributed to the lower box office than might be expected for this “big budget” film ($90 million domestic, as of Sept. 2010). Compare that to Clash of the Titans, which cost $125 million, but grossed $163 million in the US. But, regardless, I liked it.

On disc, the picture looks amazing, and the DTS sound is also good.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is rated PG-13; 116 minutes. Director Mike Newell. Writing credit: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, screenwriters; Jordan Mechner, screen story.

Article is copr. © 2010 by Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved. No fee or compenstaion was provided for composition of this information. Article originally appeared on CitizenWire.com.