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Blu-Ray Review: PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME

The action adventure genre has weaved so much disappointment of late that it has become customary to expect nothing short of mundane CGI cluttered nonsense (take your pick from Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, both Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, Angels and Demons and Clash of the Titans). Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time predictably continues this mangled trend, which like the equally contentious Tomb Raider films, is an adaptation of a popular videogame reduced to cinematic incompatibility. The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from tomorrow and to compliment our cinematic review, here's our home video write up; The plot revolves around the peaceful Persian city of Alamut, ruled over by a beautiful princess (Gemma Atherton), which is said to be holding 'weapons of mass destruction', in an overt dig to recent political shenanigans. This is linked to a sacred dagger that can reverse time and, in the wrong hands, relinquish untold terror onto the world. But first we are presented with the usual stifling exposition that tells the story of how our fearless protagonist (Prince Dastan played by JakeGyllenhaal) came into being: in this case hand picked as a child by a noble king (Roland Pickup) and then duly adopted to be raised with his two sons Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle), over the ever watchful eye of sinister looking uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley). However it's not long before events take a dramatic turn for the worst and our protagonist ends up wrongly framed for the murder of his father (in a ghoulish highlight) and then goes on the run with the Princess Tamina in a bid to clear his name, escape evil forces and make sufficient use of the powers of his newly acquired magic wand. It's another curiously financial career choice for the considerably beefed up Gyllenhaal. His cv boasts intense intelligent dramas like Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain and Brothers, early indie smarts such as Donnie Darko but is unfortunately hampered by brainless blockbuster indulgences such as this and The Day After Tomorrow. The 29 year old attempts an unconventional English twang and has the bod and action chops to impress but his looks are too goofy to cut it as a convincing heroic warrior. Staying on the subject of casting, master of tyranny Kingsleyis traditionally twitchy as chief villain Nizam, while Atherton, in another attempt to break the potentially career derailing Bond girl curse after Quantum of Solace, provides feisty support as the heroine counterpart who slaps and tickles her way through the narrative as the put upon princess. On a more positive notePrince of Persia does chug along at a good old pace and Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar, a local ostrich racing-organizer and tax-averse entrepreneur, is a welcome charismatic presence (echoing his early skulduggery bit part in Raiders of the Lost Ark). The action is delivered in good-hearted swashbuckler abundance - swordfights in particular are kinetic and realistic enough to spark ore and excitement, while acrobatic stunts mimicking the computer game dynamics are a welcome guilty pleasure. However Persia also achieves the extraordinary debilitating feat of managing to appear so much smaller in scale than its apparent epic stature would suggest. Blame must be placed on the abundance of exposition and the need to fill in details that are better left to the imagination. I am old enough to remember the unique pleasures of the 1989 original game, one of the highlights of which was that you felt there was something otherworldly lurking simultaneously in the background; limitless adventure possibilities as you progress your way through various intricate and intriguing levels of game play. But as with most contemporary major budget Hollywood exploits, there is a tendency to overemphasise proceedings and speed it all up to condense the screentime for fidgety viewers. Unfortunately this has the effect of placing unreasonable demands on the audience to keep up with the narrative flow and as a result thwarts cinematic enjoyment. This is a shame as original game creator Jordan Mechner serves as one of the scribes and therefore you suspect his creative input could have successfully bridged the computer game/film experience gap. What's more the time-reversal plot device saddles the conclusion with a predictable epilogue that makes the whole plot seem a little pointless. Four Weddings and a Funeral and Harry Potter helmer Mike Newell may be an inspired choice to direct but little of his trademark character nuances (save for the aforementioned Molina) come across on the screen. Instead you are left to ponder the splintered cracks in the narrative, murmur over the portentous dialogue and yearn for far more measured swashbuckling results.

Quality

It must be said as with most visually dependant spectacles, Persialooks glorious on Blu-ray; the sunburnt yellows of the sandstone temples meshing beautifully with the polished CGI enhanced landscapes and red-tinted skyline aesthetics. Good job Disney!

Extras

This is a 'Double Play' edition, therefore you have both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film encased in one. However the extras are noticeably scant: a deleted 'Banquet' scene and a 15 minute making of documentary which mostly stresses the visually rewarding merits of filming in Morocco. As with most 'making of...' documentaries of such sub-standard fare you are left wondering - what with all the blatant good intentions, intelligent insights and general enthusiasm emanating from cast and crew - how they could have botched it all up. However there is a teasingly apt error in judgement revealed in one of the assembled talking heads: "There is really no one who makes this type of movie better than Jerry Bruckheimer" admits game creator Jordan Mechner. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is available on Blu-ray and DVD from tomorrow.
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Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick. Previously he contributed to dimsum.co.uk and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies. His blog is: http://sites.google.com/site/oliverpfeiffer102/