Written by Caballero Oscuro
Like clockwork, summer inevitably brings the return of super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer to the local multiplex with at least one bombastic action film. This year’s first attempt didn’t fare particularly well at the box office, and now that it has reached home video I finally took up the quest to examine its merits or lack thereof. It looks like Bruckheimer and Disney were hoping for another Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon, and as such there is plenty of that similar breezy action flavor in this effort, but unfortunately this one fell a bit short.
The first strike against the film is its basis as a video game, usually not fertile grounds for box-office success. Sure, this particular video game property is relatively long-lived, with origins dating back over 20 years, but even in the gaming world it’s simply not a triple-A franchise. That may have kept average viewers away, but the filmmakers actually did a decent job of translating the property to the big screen with its gaming trappings intact, incorporating lots of the wall-jumping acrobatics and supernatural shenanigans that have populated the latest game releases.
The second and biggest strike is the preposterous casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as a Prince…of Persia . It sounded like a joke when first announced, and looked like a joke when the first set pictures of him with his long hair surfaced, but ultimately he put about as much credibility as he possibly could into the role with his beefed-up physique and heavy action-scene participation. I still didn’t buy him as an action star, but he didn’t really embarrass himself. The script even offers an explanation of sorts for his apparent racial incongruity. You see, he’s not really a prince by blood, he’s just a homeless street rat named Aladd…um, Dastan…who was adopted by the king when he was a boy. Of course that doesn’t really translate in movie posters or trailers, so the public perception persisted that the casting was hopelessly insensitive and frankly ridiculous. To further the cultural trespasses, everyone in the film including Gyllenhaal utilizes a British accent, for no discernible reason other than to make the film seem classier. Unless Persia used to be ruled and populated by Brits and I missed that day in my History class.
As for the plot…well, this is a Bruckheimer film so you’re not really here for the plot. There’s action aplenty, epic vistas, lush sets, and top shelf effects, firmly defining this effort as a popcorn movie. Its point A to point B is entirely the Prince’s efforts to track down his father’s killer while simultaneously clearing his own name of the crime. Along the way, he teams up with spunky young Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) against villain Nizam (Ben Kingsley) and learns about mysterious sands that can rewind time when used in a mystical blade. Arterton is fine in her role, while Kingsley shows up for another paycheck, an alarmingly recurring fault of his in recent years.
So is it worth watching? If you want to turn your brain off for a couple of hours and veg out with some harmless and largely forgettable action, there are certainly worse ways to spend your movie time. I enjoyed the ride for the most part, when I wasn’t agog at the silly casting and accents. There’s nothing in the film by itself to warrant multiple viewings or further adventures, but it suitably honors the game property and moves at an agreeable and mostly logical clip, so it gets a passing grade from me.
The film shines on Blu-ray, not only for its pristine 1080p picture and DTS-HD Master Audio but for what is perhaps the most complex and immersive bonus feature I’ve ever seen, called appropriately the “Sands of Time”. At first glance, there appears to be next to nothing available in the bonus features section, but closer examination reveals that the film can be watched in its entirety with breakaways to a plethora of featurettes on its production that can be accessed whenever an hourglass appears on screen. That’s not a new idea, but there are so many featurettes (over 40!) on so many aspects of the production that it completely invigorates the viewing experience and offers viewers a true backstage pass. Topics range down to minutiae such as how they trained the ostrich jockeys to Bruckheimer’s personal set photographs, completely immersing viewers in the production and offering real insight rather than just the typical actor lovefest of how great it was to work with everyone else. Also, all of the bonus footage is presented in full HD, offering further evidence that the production team put a great amount of forethought and care into delivering a truly special Blu-ray experience.