From the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the summer box office fizzle and latest attempt to turn a video game into a live action picture coming to DVD and Blu-Ray this Tuesday. Action there is aplenty, but the movie spends too much time trying to be like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy rather than to define itself. Still, as stupid as it is, Prince of Persia is mindless entertainment that has more than a few enjoyable moments.
Prince of Persia is one of those movies I decided to pass on during its theatrical run, mainly because it looked horrendous. Starring the talented but inappropriately cast Jake Gyllenhaal, the movie is full of acrobatic stunts, glitzy special effects and Aladdin-style action. The previews made it look like it was trying to be the next Pirates - and surely studio Disney was hoping it would be just that - but it also was marketed as an idiotic, poorly written and over-the-top ham-fest. It is, but as long as you know what to expect Prince of Persia is surprisingly fun.
Check your brains at the door and jump on board is the best advice I can give. Prince of Persia barely stops to breath - which may be a fault but given the film's straddling of the line between deliciously slick and horrendously bad, it's probably better director Mike Newell and the cadre of screenwriters (Disney paid more than one person to write this?) didn't bother dwelling on such simple things as character development and enrichment. As soon as the action starts it rarely pauses, except for some PG-rated moments of sexual tension between the two leads, the fairer side played by up-and-coming (but still not convincing) Gemma Arterton.
As poorly cast as Gyllenhaal is for this movie (couldn't you have found a guy who at least looks Arab?), he holds his own, as does Arterton. Neither are spectacular, but given the production they're not the problem. The supporting cast is fine but tremendously wasted. Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina are given very little interesting things to do; Kinglsey, as the villain, isn't very nefarious, and Molina, in comic relief, isn't very funny. In fact, the worst part about Prince of Persia is that it isn't nearly as witty as it thinks it is; Gyllenhaal and Arteron spar words throughout the picture but their exchanges rarely click the screenwriters clearly think they do.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is one of the best of the franchise, so it's a shame to see Newell go so overboard with Prince of Persia. The action in the movie is fine but not impressively so; there isn't a single memorable sequence in the entire picture. The climax gets caught up in a CGI orgy, which is neither interesting nor exciting; if you've seen the previews, you've seen most of it, and it's just as underwhelming within the frame of the story as it is in the actual movie. Once again, the filmmakers clearly thought this big sequence - which probably accounts for a third of the film's budget - was more compelling than it actually is.
Also, for a movie that deals with time travel, Newell and his screenwriters make very little use of it. I was expecting some cool action sequences where Dastan (Gyllenhaal) uses his gift to take down an army of soldiers with his advanced knowledge, but the closest we come is seeing him dispatch of a few venomous snakes.
Prince of Persia could have been a lot better than it is, but it's still entertaining. As long as you go into it expecting nothing more than mindless, over-the-top fluff, you'll find it worthwhile. Unfortunately, the filmmakers intended it to be much more than that. That's the curse of video game adaptations.
As for the video release, the 3-disc combo pack, which includes the movie in Blu-Ray, DVD and digital formats, doesn't have a lot of bonus features readily accessible. The Blu-Ray comes with an in-movie collection of bonus features, but those are annoying and not easy to get to so I won't bother going into specifics. There's also a deleted scene, which was deleted for a reason. The DVD comes with a making-of featurette, which makes me wonder why the Blu-Ray doesn't have that feature as well. Lastly, to cap off the underwhelming Blu-Ray experience, little things randomly popped onto my screen during normal playback - without activating the interactive features. Prince of Persia is a rental, and the Blu-Ray set does little to convince me otherwise.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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