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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Blu-ray Review

I was very happy to get this movie to review as I had missed it in the theaters and I was excited to see what Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney could do after their last swashbuckling effort resulted in the Pirates of the Caribbean series which I loved.  You see, I have a serious weakness for these types of films as I love the old Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks movies and nobody seems to make those kind of films anymore.  I’m hoping with the success of the Pirates trilogy, the National Treasure series, and now this, that the studios will start making adventure films again. After all, this movie did make over $335 million and is currently ranked as the most successful video game adaption ever, having surpassed Lara Croft – Tomb Raider.  That record is even more impressive you take into account that it didn’t have a mega-movie star like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, or Harrison Ford headlining it.  Jake Gyllenhaal is no stranger to big budget films as he’s been in movies like The Day After Tomorrow, but this is the first time a big movie rests on his shoulders.  Let’s take a look at how he did…

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

When the movie started, I felt as if I was watching a live action version of Aladdin.  A young homeless boy evading guards in a marketplace with acrobatic skill was just a little too similar and I kept expecting Abu the monkey to join in and help.  Actually, come to think of it, there were many flashes of Aladdin in the movie but I guess that’s ok since Disney put this movie out too.  Like Aladdin, young Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a diamond in the rough and the King of Persia notices it when Dastan defends another boy from an abusive guard.  The King is so impressed that he adopts Dastan and welcomes him to his family.  Fifteen years go by and we learn that Dastan has a competitive relationship with his two step-brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) who is first in line to inherit the throne and Garsive (Toby Kebbell).  He also has an uncle named Nizam (Ben Kingsley) who might as well wear a sign that says , “Yep, I’m evil.”
The royal family has brought the Persian army to attack the holy city of Alamut because Nizam’s spy said the city was working with Persia’s enemies by providing weapons to them.  As there are no fact-checking services in the sixth century, Tus gives the order to attack despite Dastan’s reminder of their father’s wishes to leave the city alone.  Once the decision is made, Dastan is on board immediately and even successfully invades the city with his ragtag division.  Once inside the holy city, they come across the Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and Dastan inadvertently intercepts her courier that was trying to smuggle away the city’s holy relic – the Dagger of Time.  Dastan later learns that the Dagger of Time allows the user to flow backwards in time to correct or change events that have just occurred, as long as the sands of time last as each trip back in time consumes some of the mystical sand.

With Alamut captured, the Persians bring Tamina back to their father as a prize and things go well until their father catches fire from a poisoned cloak.  Dastan who was told to give the cloak to his father is the prime suspect and he has to go on the run along with Tamina. The effort to clear his name and discover who was behind his father’s death leads Dastan to many adventures and he encounters con men and assassins along the way.  It turns out that long ago Persian leaders used to employ fearsome assassins called the Hassansins but after becoming more enlightened, they got rid of the assassins, leaving them broke and unemployed which made them even nastier.  Fortunately for them, they are offered a job that matches their skill set so they give it their all, using all of the means available to them to kill Dastan.  That includes snakes, arrows, explosives, and good old-fashioned swords.  However, they soon learn to never send a snake to do a man’s job when Dastan uses the Dagger of Time to go back in time to defeat the snakes before they can attack.  There is of course a final confrontation between Dastan and all of the villains against him and it is an extravaganza of special effects.
Now…my summary was tongue-in-cheek, but it kind of sums up my feelings about the movie because the movie never seemed to take itself seriously either. 

This is a big fun action movie and it doesn’t pretend to be anything different.  The script was pretty formulaic and very predictable but I’m still giving it four stars because as I mentioned earlier, I have a weakness for these kinds of movies.  I love big action set pieces and this movie had a ton of them.  I also enjoyed most of the cast as well, especially the always reliable Alfred Molina who played a con man and the owner of an ostrich racing team (no really) and Jake Gyllenhaal did a fine job as Dastan.  Gemma Arterton was lovely as ever but it would be nice to see her as something other than a breathy heroine in ancient times, especially after a similar role in Clash of the Titans.  Ben Kingsley did his usual good work but he honestly couldn’t have made Nazim’s intentions any clearer to the audience.  I would have preferred to have been surprised by the dénouement at the end.  I also loved the special effects which were done extremely well as well as the superb production design for this movie.  Just like all Jerry Bruckheimer productions, this movie looked fantastic and whatever money this movie cost, I think it was all on the screen.  The decision to film the movie in Morocco gives the movie even more authenticity and adds quite a bit to the lush visuals.  This is a great summer popcorn movie and if you watch it with that expectation, you will have a good time.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

This is another incredible release by Disney! Every time I review one of their movies, it seems like the picture quality gets better with each release!  I didn’t notice any compression, DNR, scratches, or any other issues with this pristine print of the movie. I’m willing to bet that this looks better on Blu-ray than it did in the theaters.  The detail is always fine and the clarity of the picture is very impressive.  I know at least one person who will be happy to see Gemma Arterton in a movie that looks this good on the screen.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

As good as the picture quality of the movie was, it was insignificant next to the power of the Force of this audio track. Simply put, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is one of the best tracks I’ve ever heard.  I’m talking reference quality here people.  I can’t think of another movie in recent memory that gave my home theater system such a work out!  Every speaker is put to work here in a dazzling tour-de-force of sonic energy.  I may have upset my neighbors but I couldn’t get enough of it and it may have just been my imagination, but I think my speakers were loving it just as much as me.  It was like the leash was let free and my speakers were eager to blast out something worthy of their time for once.  The sound field for each time the dagger was used was amazing not to mention the sandstorms, the arrows whizzing by, multiple whips cracking dangerously close to Dastan, and it really sounded like I was there.  I cannot say enough good things about the audio track.  Kudos to the audio engineers at Disney! You couldn’t have done a better job!

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

For as good as the as the audio/visual aspects of this disc were, I was expecting a lot more to the special features than were given.
Blu-ray Bonus features:
  • CineExplore: The Sands of Time: An interactive presentation that allows users to view behind the scenes material every time they press enter when the dagger appears. There are over 40 clips and an index that allows you to see them all but there is no option to say “play all” which would have been really nice.   If you want to see them all you will either need to watch the whole movie over again or click on each clip individually.  The good news is that every clip is in high definition.
  • Deleted scene: The Banquet: Garsiv Presents Heads: This is a single deleted scene and one that really doesn’t amount to much but I can see why Disney cut it out of the movie.
  • Sneak Peeks: Continuing their recent tradition, Disney doesn’t make you sit through a ton of trailers before the movie starts.  They only show their top tier ones and tell you that you can see the other later if you choose to through the special features.  Trailers included on this disc are: Tron Legacy, Toy Story 3, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, A Christmas Carol, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, The Lion King, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua  2.
  • BD-Live Functionality & Digital Copy of the Movie
  • DVD Bonus feature
    • An Unseen World: Making Prince Of Persia – Behind the scenes look at filming in Morocco.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

Although between the script and the special features made me give the overall package four stars, I want the Disney audio/visual wizards know that their contributions equaled a definite five stars.  This is a enjoyable goofy fun movie with great special effects, beautiful scenery, and lots of great action in it.  Between all of that and for the fact that it is now one of my new reference discs to impress friends and family with, I can highly recommend everyone to pick this one up.
*

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