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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

September 11th, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, DVD & Blu-ray Combo Pack

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was set to become one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer. It cost $200 million to make, it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer who has made countless $100 million hits, and it was opening on the Memorial Day long weekend. It had all of the right ingredients, so how could it possibly fail to become a huge hit?

The Movie

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan, who as a young orphan saves a young boy from being beaten by a guard. The King of Persia, Sharaman, sees this act of bravery and adopts the boy. Although he is now Prince Dastan, because he has no royal blood, he can not inherit the throne. Even so, as an adult, he still has a competition with Tus, the eldest son and heir to the thrown, and Garsiv, the most warlike of the three.

The plot begins with the three sons leading the army on the march towards the city of Alamut. Alamut is a holy city and under the King's orders is not to be touched. However, the King's uncle, Nizam, sent spies that intercepted a caravan carrying weapons made by the craftsmen of Alamut that were on their way to the enemies of Persia. While Garsiv lays siege to the front gate, Dastan takes his small band of men to the side gate and manages to quickly subdue the guards, and jump around a lot, while getting the gate open so the Persian troops can invade. In the ensuing fight, he recovers a finely crafted dagger that is covered in writing. Victory is theirs, and to the victors go the spoils, including the hand of the beautiful princess, Tamina, whom is to be wed to Tus, thus bringing about peace. However, the King has a better plan: Tamina is to marry Dastan. Tus has too many wives as it is, while Dastan has none, and the King hopes having a wife at home will make Dastan more cautious in battle. But before the King can celebrate, he is killed by a poison and Dastan is framed for the murder.

Dastan escapes the city, with the help of Tamina, but his luck hasn't improved much and she only did so to get him alone and take back the dagger. In the fight, Dastan unlocks the magic of the dagger: it can turn back time. He figures out that the invasion of Alamut must have been about the dagger and now he has to figure out who framed him and why.

And that's about as far as we can go without entering unacceptable spoiler territory.

This film is mess in practically every regard. It's utterly generic, despite the time travel elements, and there's little in the plot or tone that sets it apart from any number of Sword & Sandal movies. Time travel is the only element that is even partially unique, and it is not used enough. It's far too clean and polished, both in terms of visuals and with a lot of the story elements. It looks like it was made inside a computer rather than in fantasy world, which of course it was, but is also feels like it was churned out at a corporate meeting instead of the result of any creative spark. Finally, while Jake Gyllenhaal is a great actor in most regards, I didn't buy him as an action star, but this could have something to do with the uninspired staging of the action scenes. The action scenes were repetitive with just a series of jumping in many cases and relied too heavily on slow motion shots. The big twist was telegraphed way too early. I didn't buy the romance between the two leads. There's literally nothing in this movie that worked to its full potential.

Alfred Molina's performance as Sheik Amar is arguably the only part of the movie that has any real life to it. However, even here the character is distracting in his personality quirks. Were his anti-tax, conspiracy theory remarks supposed to be a political statement? Regardless of why they were there, they seemed out of place.

Warning: Major spoilers ahead. I will spoil the ending of the movie. Highlight to read.
I mentioned how the surprise was telegraphed too far in advance, but there were two main twists. Firstly, who the bad guy was, and there were hints right from the beginning, (Nizam complained that his most important task was making sure the King had enough wine, for instance). Secondly, because the movie was called Sands of Time and it was about a time traveling dagger, it was obvious as soon as the King was murdered that Dastan was going to use it to travel back in time and undo everything that had happened. Since you knew this, it was hard to get emotionally invested in any of the events, because you knew they won't happen that way in the end. I'm not sure there's any way to get around this problem.

As a two-hour time-waster, you could do worse, but there are better options available.

The Extras

While there are three versions of the movie coming out this week, I only received the one copy. Fortunately, it is the DVD & Blu-ray Combo Pack, so I can review everything. The only extra on the DVD in a 16-minute making of featurette that covers the look, the cast, the stunts, etc. The Blu-ray takes this and upgrades it into a CineExplore version of the movie. However, instead of being 16 minutes long, it practically doubles the length of the movie. Very in-depth, but I would have liked an option to just watch them all without having to sit through the movie again. There is also a single deleted scene.

The video presentation is amazing, for the most part. There are some issues with some of the special effects looking at little fake, more so in High Definition, but one can't fault the transfer for that. Also, I think whoever was in charge got a little carried away with the color corrections. As for the audio, if I were to choose one word to describe the track, that word would be, "Loud". If I were to choose two words, the second would be, "Immersive", but apparently that's not really a word. Excellent use of surround sound speakers, while the bass gets a workout.

The price of the Combo Pack is not bad compared to the other two. It would be like buying the DVD and getting the Blu-ray / Digital copy for $11 more. Or buying the Blu-ray and getting the DVD / Digital copy for $4 more.

The Verdict

Since this film did so poorly at the box office, I wasn't expecting a lot from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I was just hoping for a fun popcorn flick with an element of romance and a few action sets that stood out enough to be memorable. I didn't get that. In fact, within a few days, I expect to have forgotten nearly everything about this movie. If you do want to check it out, the DVD is only worth a rental, as it is nearly devoid of special features. While the Combo Pack is worth the upgrade over the Blu-ray. Personally, I think it's just worth the rental, no matter what format you choose.

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Filed under: Video Review, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time