Lowdown: Swords and sorcery at ancient Persia.
The history I share with the Prince of Persia meant I wanted to watch Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PoP) as soon as it was available for renting. Although I was exposed to the original video game, it is the Xbox version that captured us for hours (back at those times when we still had time for ourselves). Frustrating as Sands of Time wise, at least as far as uncoordinated me was concerned, I am still fond of the game, fond enough to want to watch the film version despite most game based films tending to be a waste of time. My interest was boosted upon discovering the film features proper actors like Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead as opposed to the more frequent recipe of zombie muscle machines in action lead roles. Boosted enough to make me rent PoP upon its midweek release.
By the time we sat down to watch the film the hour was quite late and we were concerned with our ability to stay awake for its almost two hour long presentation. Not to worry, though – the prince delivers. You won't be falling asleep on his watch!
The plot is by far PoP’s weakest point. Back in ancient Persia, our hero (Gyllenhaal) is a boy from the slums brought to the palace of the king and adopted as his son. It was the boy's character that attracted the kind (I’ll put it this way: he’s a skeptic). Years later, that adopted prince finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy to replace the king, a conspiracy involving an unjust invasion to a city in order to acquire a magical dagger that can turn back time. Finding himself smack in the middle of the conspiracy, our hero has to fend for himself against the whole world that’s against him while trying to save the world at the same time. His to do list features items like controlling the rather progressive (for her time) princess that looked after the dagger before the prince (Gemma Arterton from Lost in Austen and Clash of the Titans), dealing with sorcerer/assassins, managing family relationships during times of stress, and keeping on the good side of an Alfred Molina playing a greedy merchant with a heart. Plot is the weakness because of the rules it has to keep on introducing in order to get away with the film's supernatural elements, but it is no biggie because it’s covered with a rollercoaster of quite engaging action scenes that – for a change – are shot well and are well presented (no shaky camera here, thanks). Extra support is delivered through the quality cast; this is not your usual dumb action flick.
If you do want to activate your gray cells you may just find messages relevant to contemporary Persia in the film, too, like those related to keeping oneself above the mire in the face of an unjust invasion. Time travel is also well managed, in a not too dissimilar a manner to The Terminator, although not half as deeply. Still, better than the run of the crop.
Extensive homage is paid to Disney’s animation film Aladdin, one of Disney’s better animation flicks. Our hero's character, background and fate are not only similar, but some scenes are carbon copies of Aladdin's. I guess the makers of PoP could get away from a Disney copyright lawsuit (an act quite popular with Disney) because PoP is just another Disney production.
Best scene: Action scenes, especially at the beginning, pay homage to the video game the film is named after. This manifests itself through camera panning, zooming and editing to the point it really does look like a live version of the game – very nice indeed!
It is important to note the the film is differs from the game in one crucial aspect: while the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, the film focuses on the quest to prevent the apocalypse.
Technical assessment: This one features a good picture that is artificially reddened to “suit” the desert setting, thus reducing this Blu-ray’s potential for quality delivery. That, however, is nothing compared to the sound: while effects and music are very well recorded and make good use of all speakers, dialog ADR is so very horrible it just ruins the presentation. It’s hard for me to recall a blockbuster failing with the basics this badly, but PoP is a technical failure. Big time technical failure.
Overall: Surprisingly good at 3.5 out of 5 stars. Popcorn films rarely come any better.