Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films (May 28 2010), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (September 14 2010), 3 disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy set, 116 mins plus supplements, 1080p high definition 2.40:1 widescreen, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Rated PG-13, Retail: $44.99


Orphan boy Dastan, adopted by the King of Persia, grows to become a favored son until he is framed for the ruler’s death. Going on the run with a captured princess, he attempts to reverse events with the help of a magical dagger that can turn back time itself, in this translation of the popular video game.

The Sweatbox Review:

Not being much of a gaming player, I’m not really familiar of the original video game that the Prince Of Persia property was based upon, and so didn’t have any experience with the source for which to make a true comparison. However, the Sands Of Time subtitle obviously suggested the folks at Disney, and its co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, were hoping that this would be the first in a new franchise that could supersede their previously phenomenally popular Pirates Of The Caribbean series.

Apart from that high-sea faring trilogy – soon to be joined by an inevitable fourth film – the Disney/Bruckheimer partnership has been seeing some rocky waves of late, with the animation/live-action combo G-Force receiving a collective shrug by the audience, and both Prince Of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice underperforming this summer at the box office. I don’t think that releasing two similarly aiming films within weeks of each other helped either film’s chances, but Disney’s marketing seems to be out of sorts of late, following the departure of long time Mickey-mouska-marketeer Dick Cook.

Neither is it fair to blame an outgoing regime: surely the filmmakers themselves should accept the majority of the responsibility for essentially making dud movies? By all means blame the poster tagline (as Bruckheimer did for the poor showing of Apprentice), but a good film would have generated better word of mouth, and no-one can say that a producer of Bruckheimer’s significance didn’t agree or sign off on any such tagline. In the long run, the disappointing box office fortunes of Prince Of Persia – which no one could say wasn’t sold as a solid family adventure “from the producer of Pirates Of The Caribbean”, no less – turn out to probably be warranted, and despite plenty of rip-roaring spectacle, it just isn’t a classic by any means.

If anything, there’s a pre-built in wariness of toward the film even as it opens, with a bit too much of The Mummy familiarity. We’ve now seen so many of these “long ago” openings set in the far off sand dunes of ancient lands that it takes quite a bit to bring a little freshness to them, as the third Mummy film did by acutely dispensing with the desert completely, for the most part. Usually with these films, one can almost feel the heat blistering from the screen, but here the presumably digitally added golden glow is simply makes everything look overly yellow, except in the day-for-night shots, when it’s all washed in a rather heavy blue tint.

Otherwise, the actual production design is extremely magnificent, not that there’s much time to take anything in given the staccato pacing, which makes it hard to care about the characters – one thing that the first Pirates had was a good set up even at the expense of delaying the action. Here, after a brief prologue that reminded me of the recent Zorro film (both that and this share stunt coordinator Greg Powell), we’re right in to a fortress break-in scene within ten minutes, without much explanation as to why. It turns out, it’s for a pretty important plot point – one of (too) many – that will come to light (much) later on, but in among this otherwise exciting swashbuckling, the talk gets too bogged down in political wranglings and attempts to beef up the “plot” that it becomes, like The Phantom Menace, a film too complicated for what is ostensibly a kids picture, and too light and frivolous for adults.

Throwing himself into the lead role, Jake Gyllenhaal swings from balconies and wields his weapons like a modern day Errol Flynn, but his actions in these battles and chases are hampered by the now standard, and unnecessary, retreats into slo-mo, when more creative fight choreography might have been more entertaining and, yes, cool. But Gyllenhaal acquits himself well enough, especially with his accent which, among the default Shakespearean English pronunciation taken as standard for this sort of thing, only sometimes slips into a roughian’s drawl that wouldn’t be out of place after a wild night out in a London pub!

As his opposite is bright new British star Gemma Arterton, presumably employed here to be easy on the eyes as she’s otherwise not given much to do. That’s a shame, since she’s proved she can also be a terrifically grounded actress as her varied parts in films ranging from the comedy St. Trinian’s to Bond girl Strawberry Fields in Quantum Of Solace and her current star-making breakthrough Tamara Drew testify. Here she’s thrown into a big budget adventure picture and remarkably holds her own, suggesting that as well as the serious dramatic roles she’ll be well adept at taking on more vigorous fare, perhaps fulfilling the promise that another English rose, Keira Knightley, originally showed as a versatile performer able to bring a gravitas to such popcorn projects (indeed, as Arterton already has in Clash Of The Titans earlier this year).

And just as in that epic of the Gods, she’s simply asked to do the aloof princess thing here, at least for the first half hour, where she’s pretty motionless in her Kohl eyeliner and just waiting to play at odds with her male lead, until circumstances actually ram the thing into action and the pair are thrown together, having to work through their differences, blah, blah, blah, until the plot needs the bickering to stop so that they can fall in love (one must also ask, however, since she has a magic dagger that can turn back time, why she didn’t use it to prevent the invasion of her city in the first place?). Actually, to be fair, the reversing of time, when the mythical grains of sand run from the handle of the dagger, is pretty nicely achieved for an effect that would be fairly tricky to visualize in any circumstance.

In other notable roles, Ben Kingsley doesn’t do anything particularly special as the King’s adviser Nizam, but Alfred Molina brings the tone into the light a bit more with his lovable (Cockney-accented!) rogue, even if his use of modern names for the days of the week is an anachronism forgiven for the smile factor the joke raises. He’s certainly much better value here as the slightly Jack Sparrow-reminiscent Amar, putting more energy into what is essentially an extended cameo than he did in his phoned-in main villain appearance in Bruckheimer’s other summer mis-fire The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (note to watch for the next time Molina graces a Bruckheimer set…it could be some time)!

However, after a couple of start-stops, much setting up, and the eventual cutting away of lose plot points, a spot of treachery sees Prince Of Persia actually find a bit of its mojo, and from a free-running, Bourne-style rooftop chase, the film is a bit more fun and its second hour provides more of the promise that “from the producer of Pirates” would suggest, even if the humor, outrageous situations and witty stunts of that series are still sorely missing here. If the film is being true to the original game’s narrative, I could see how the concept could be unique to that format, but as a derivative collection of elements regurgitated back to the screen, it’s an all too familiar grouping of predictable moments and expansive, plot expository dialogue that ultimately keeps weighing it down.

In the end, for all its layers and layers of backstory and action, The Sands Of Time just isn’t as original or as deep as it would like to be. Yes, it’s visually opulent, and the other production elements are as top of the line as you expect (that sentiment stretching to Harry Gregson-Williams’ music, typically commissioned in that rhythmic Bruckheimer fusion of beats and a faintly eastern orchestral score). The money is clearly up on the screen, but it’s ultimately a wannabe romp that, as shallow as it is, buckles under its own weight of tediously recycled elements.

I was most surprised at Mike Newell’s choice as director (as was the man himself, from what I understand), and perhaps Bruckheimer’s insistence that he helm the film wasn’t the best pick; despite Newell calling the shots on one of my favorite of the Harry Potter series, the extremely tight and streamline Goblet Of Fire, not an easy volume to slim down to movie-length requirements. Perhaps original game creator Jordan Mechna’s initial story outline was too full of detail, but certainly neither Newell or three other screenwriters seem to have been able to omit the constantly over complicated dialogue, continuous introductions of new backstory information and convoluted new rules of play, which can be pretty rough going, so much as to become extraordinarily tedious by the film’s end credits.

Like the third Pirates Of The Caribbean, a “who’s doing what and why?” will probably be asked by someone before the credits roll, though unlike Pirates, where it didn’t really matter and I was quite content to sit back and just enjoy the crazy shenanigans for all they were worth, here I simply found myself counting the clichés and waiting for the sands of time to slip oh-so slowly away…

Is This Thing Loaded?

Prince Of Persia’s Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy combo pack is more stuffed with discs rather than actual supplements, but since it is likely that this may be the only release the movie receives, we can’t complain too much at what has been assembled, and on the Blu-ray Disc especially, it’s quite a nice package.

First up on the Blu-ray Disc, of course, are the Sneak Previews that play automatically or from their own menu selection, run in a continuous look and including a Blu-ray plug (that’s automatically redundant if you’re watching the spot on a Blu-ray Disc!), the first HD release of the Tron: Legacy teaser, Disney Movie Rewards, anti-piracy Tinker Bell spot, Disney Parks, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, A Christmas Carol, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, Beverley Hills Chihuahua 2 (yes, 2…is this the new Buddies franchise for the Mouse House?) and, most excitingly, The Lion King Diamond Edition, even if this preview is as over-bloated and self-important as some other Disney spots have been recently.

A quite neat surprise is the inclusion of over 40 behind the scenes Cine-Explore segments, which uses the magic dagger as an icon to “unlock the secrets behind your favorite scenes” throughout the movie, branching off if selected into a mini-featurette before returning the viewer to the previous point in the movie. Although I do often like to go through the supplements for films that I find underwhelming, in an attempt to perhaps discover why they didn’t work or to find a different angle of appreciation, I wasn’t particularly jumping at the bit to go through the movie all over again (and with over approximately 75 minutes added running time!), so I instead decided to go for the regular Index option that allows a more specific choice of the segments.

Amongst the generous number of clips, I would have like to have watched Bruckheimer’s Introduction, seen what went into Designing Persia, discovered The Look Of Rewinding Time, the translation From Game To Film, Filming At Pinewood Studios and several others, but for some reason – and even though the dagger was showing up and was able to be selected – all I got was a countdown timer that then provided nothing, either in the in-movie mode or from the Index. Perhaps my player’s firmware needed an update, but a quick check suggested this was all in order. This is the second BD exclusive feature I’ve come across on a Disney disc that’s not turned out to work, though I’ve never had issues with any Cine-Explore supplements before.

Ho-hum…I’m just glad I didn’t care about the film any greater, or I would have been disappointed as opposed to mildly curious, though from the looks of things, this seems to be pretty comprehensive even if a director’s commentary is “missing”. This means the BD’s only other extra is a Deleted Scene: The Banquet, which runs for two minutes without any context (although clear enough where it would have come in the movie). Including material that did actually make the final cut, this is an odd moment which wouldn’t have added anything to the film, but doesn’t really offer anything that especially needed to be cut either, save for a few severed heads that could have been referred to and not shown, if that was the problem.

Strangely, one of the best supplements is reserved for the standard definition DVD, which contains the movie, naturally, as well as most of the aforementioned Sneak Peeks and the handy, all-in documentary An Unseen World: The Making Of Prince Of Persia (but not the Deleted Scene). Running 16 minutes in 16:9, I would imagine that much of the footage from the 40 segments on the Blu-ray Disc is sampled, but since I couldn’t access that I found this to be a fascinating overview of the production that doesn’t just skimp over the details. Showing everything from select concept art, through set construction and prop design, to shooting in Morocco and at Pinewood Studios, this is more than just a fluff piece where everyone congratulates each other, and at least there’s some real appreciation for the final achievement to be found here.

Case Study:

A by-now standard style of packaging is employed, with a thick BD case housing all the discs contained by a golden foiled and embossed slipcover. The theatrical artwork seems to have been reused and reworked for the sleeve’s dimensions, complete with the rather boring poster logo as opposed to the extravagantly designed title as it appears on the film itself, but otherwise this is about what you’d expect. The artwork is repeated on the sleeve underneath, with a Movie Rewards code insert inside, and Disney’s usual Blu-themed disc art on the BD and now standard boring grey print on the DVD. The Digital Copy disc contains the film in standard definition for iTunes or Windows Media, without any of the BD or DVD’s extras.

Ink And Paint:

Again as you would expect for such a current feature film (still actually in some theaters), the picture and sound on the Blu-ray presentation is practically second to none, with the color rendering reproducing the assumedly intended yellowy tint with a little less aggression than the DVD, and the clarity not specifically revealing the special effects shots, which blend in extremely well. There’s obviously a lot of sand in The Sands Of Time, but it’s clear and detailed as anything, even on the standard definition DVD bundled in (and from which our images have been taken here).

Scratch Tracks:

Just as stirring as the visuals, the top of the line soundtrack is full of the bells and whistles such big productions come loaded with. Disney’s sound boys don’t always get the credit that the likes of Skywalker Sound routinely does, but they really know their stuff just as much, with the dialogue always clear amongst the hubbub, though I was surprised that there was a lack of a true potentially great demo sequence and a distinct lack of bass rumble in anything but the music. It should, however, look and sound pretty neat on any set-up with the volume dialled up high. Additional subs and dubs for English Descriptive, French and Spanish are bundled in via 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as the D-Box Motion Code for those with fancy seats.

Final Cut:

Unfortunately living up to its box-office reputation, Mike Newell’s film fails to play like a rousing matinee escapade of old and more like a leaden recycling of many elements we’ve seen before – and that’s even without my having any knowledge of the original game. Perhaps those fans might find something of interest here, but on the other hand, they may find it frustrating in not being able to guide our hero out of his all-too predictable danger. I’m assuming, unless Prince Of Persia finds a sizable audience on home video, that the originally proposed trilogy is now dead in the desert, which to be honest wouldn’t be a great loss, and at least it gives itself a proper conclusion as opposed to an open-ended cliffhanger. Though it’s not a particularly objectionably entry among Disney’s contemporary live-action offerings, I also don’t think it’s particularly too harsh to say that this Sands Of Time is ultimately a bit of a waste of time.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?