September 14, 2010

Every summer studios produce weekends full of “A” titles, summer blockbusters that are meant to wow us and make piles upon piles of money. These are the prestige titles of the day, and though they may be stupid, no expense is sparred in the making of them. Of course this doesn’t mean the people behind or in front of the camera are the best in the business, but they have the potential to deliver an audience by their star appeal, and their knowledge of what works. Hopefully.

On Paper, Disney’s Prince of Persia sounds like it could be something. It’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal – who hasn’t set the box office on fire, but is a respected actor – with Bond Girl turned it girl Gemma Arterton. The director is Mike Newell who directed one of the best of the Harry Potter franchise, and the film is based on a successful video game, one that serves only as a basis for an action adventure story. But all those details add up to one terrible movie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a pretty terrible film. My review of Prince of Persia on Blu-ray after the jump.

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time movie posterGyllenhaal stars as Dastan, the adopted son of the king of Persia (hence: the title). He’s a great fighter, and he and his two brothers are told that a neighboring town has been creating weapons of mass destruction (well, not really, but yeah) and they preemptively invade to get the upper hand. This leads Dastan to Tamina (Gemma Arterton) the princess who should marry into his family after their victory. He also comes across a magical dagger, which has special sand that can reverse time, and show the user what has happened for as long as the plot needs to reverse whatever terrible thing just happened. But Dastan is accused of murdering his adopted father with a poisoned robe, so he goes on the lam with Tamina, who is working against him. The two bicker in a way that’s supposed to be sexually charged, but manages to just grate. They then run into the highlight of the film, Alfred Molina’s somewhat game pirate character Sheik Amur, who has Ostrich races, and is a PG-13 libertine. Then Dastan comes to meet with Nizam (Ben Kingsley) who it turns out is the villain of the piece.

If there is one rule to a summer movie, it’s that no action scene should feel inert. That’s complete and utter death for a film, but with this movie there is simply so much exposition about the knife, about the attack, about why the attack happened, about relationships, about everything that the film resembles a dull headache. I’m not opposed to a film using something culturally relevant as a plot detail – that might be a problem if the film worked. From the get-go, no one seems invested in the material. You could say that Jake Gyllenhaal is doing his damndest, but he’s not in a role like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack, so he can only do so much as he’s supposed to be the anchor. You can see that he’s trying to flash winning charm, but mostly he comes across as in shape and trying too hard. And the role Gemma Arterton has untenable, but would have worked a whole lot better if the leads had chemistry. Not only is she a nag throughout much of the film, she’s an exposition queen, while Gyllenhaal comes across as prepubescent.

Some of this constant talking would be palatable if the action was good, but it isn’t. It’s perfunctory, and the narrative hook of a dagger that reverses time not only sets up the film’s conclusion (yeah, you’re dealing with an “it’s all a dream” sort of narrative), it’s never used particularly well. The problem is similar to that of Jumper, where the power of jumping in space is similar to that of editing. I would salute the film if I felt like this was Mike Newell’s homage to Hanaeke’s Funny Games, but though the effects are solid it’s not a “wow.”

There are a lot of films that seem like bad ideas, but watching Prince of Persia, my reaction was that no one cared. The film has no reason to exist, and there’s so little to recommend it other than a performance by Alfred Molina that’s meant to be a standout, and even on that level it is just okay. This is generic garbage.

Disney’s Blu-ray however is the finest possible presentation. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround. Also included with the Blu-ray is the film on DVD and a digital copy. The disc opens with trailers for Disney movies, I only mention that because it has the teaser trailer for Tron: Legacy, and that’s my favorite trailer so far. The film comes with a deleted scene (1 min.) and the cine-explore feature which offers branching point video through the run of the film (about 81 minutes of content) that runs with the film. It offers a thorough look behind the scenes, but doesn’t get at what went wrong. It’s just selling.

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