Blu-Ray Review: ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ Bores to Tears

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CHICAGO – Jerry Bruckheimer has reached a point in his career where he feels capable of making a film out of anything. And not just a film, but a multimillion dollar franchise offering the mega-producer’s typically uninspired blend of sound and fury. He’s already worked wonders with an old theme park ride and an outdated action figure, so why not base his next popcorn epic on a forgotten video game from 1989?

But unlike the initial installments for “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Transformers,” which were diverting and enjoyable in proudly dumb sort of way, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is deadly dull right off the bat. The plot is aggravatingly abridged and ridiculously convoluted for its first half, and then oversimplified and obvious in its second. Though “Persia” is allegedly directed by Mike Newell, the prolific filmmaker who injected life into projects as diverse as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” this utterly mediocre opus might as well have been the work of Michael Bay. Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0

Its biggest crime is forcing an accomplished young performer like Jake Gyllenhaal to merely act with his abs, stripping him of his magnetism and appeal until he’s indistinguishable from Paul Walker. Yet no viewer will mistake Gyllenhaal for his stunt double, who’s such an obvious distraction that he makes one contemplate why the effects artists didn’t just slap the star’s face on him. They certainly spared no expense in all other facets of this production, which is the very definition of Hollywood excess. Gyllenhaal stars as Dastan, a prince whose rags to riches backstory follows the familiar trajectory of Moses. It’s hard to care about the guy, particularly after his kingdom invades an innocent land under false pretenses. They’re searching for weapons that don’t exist, just so the king’s wicked brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) can steal oil— I mean, magic sand contained in a dagger. The sand possesses the ability to turn back time. Turning back time may be a given in video games, but it’s a lame narrative crutch in cinema. When Gyllenhaal turns back time, he morphs into a CGI version of himself while lots of animated sand swirls around him. It’s the type of expensive effect that looks thoroughly cheap.

Gemma Arterton and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Gemma Arterton and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Home Video

For reasons too contrived to describe, Dastan teams up with a bratty princess (Gemma Arterton), and partakes in some tired bickering that sounds recycled from the old “Legend of Zelda” cartoons. I half expected Gyllenhaal to blurt out, “Well excuuuse me, princess!” Unfortunately, the dialogue Gyllenhaal is forced to utter is far more banal. After being swiftly accused of his father’s death, Dastan says the line, “I didn’t kill father!” so many times that viewers may find themselves keeping a tally. Arterton has a pretty face and a voice reminiscent of Rachel Weisz, but her screen presence is thoroughly hollow, like a placeholder for a performance. Bruckheimer has a knack for turning even the freshest elements of his projects into a cliche. Alfred Molina’s mascara-clad, scenery-chewing turn in “Persia” is nothing more than a pale imitation of Johnny Depp’s startling work in “Pirates.” The entire project is crassly commercial, and also just plan crass, with a wealth of eye-rolling innuendo. Dastan is hypnotized by the vial of sand the princess keeps tucked in her cleavage, while she remains fixated on his…um, dagger. “Prince of Persia” is the adventure of a lifetime that feels as if it lasts a lifetime.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 14, 2010.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 14, 2010.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Home Video

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks and comes in a 3-disc combo pack equipped with a Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy of the film. The one major highlight offered on the Blu-Ray is a CineExplore visual commentary track allowing access to over 40 behind-the-scenes featurettes, none of which are accessible as standalone shorts. This requires viewers to search for them by sitting through the film again, which is so tedious that I doubt few moviegoers will bother. The footage does offer some scattered interesting tidbits, and the DVD includes a 15-minute overview. Game creator Jordan Mechner discusses how he functioned as an executive producer and script consultant, which may help explain the film’s ungainly narrative structure. There’s the usual chatter about crew members weathering high temperatures during production in scorching locations like Morocco. Gyllenhaal reflects on how he beefed up for the role and performed a portion of his own stunts. Co-fight coordinator Thomas DuPont praises Gyllenhaal for putting the flavor of his character into his meticulous choreography. Parkour founder David Belle was brought on board to contribute his own distinctive moves, enabling characters to move more fluidly through their environment much like in a video game.

Legions of local artisans and foreign extras were recruited to labor over this pile of dreck, and sadly, their efforts were in vain. It’s especially sad to see this assembly line action blockbuster preceded by the Walt Disney logo, which once stood indelibly for quality family entertainment. There is absolutely nothing redeeming or family friendly about this mind-numbing Hollywood product. This is especially clear when viewing the disc’s sole deleted scene, a gory, nasty bit of business that would make Mickey Mouse hurl.

‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ is released by Walt Disney Home Video and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup and Alfred Molina. It was written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard and directed by Mike Newell. It was released on Sept. 14th, 2010. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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