Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the Disney BD release of the film based on the popular games
While defending a friend from a group of guards a young orphan named Dastan impresses the King of Persia and is adopted into his family. Many years later Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his brothers, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), are tasked with conquering the holy city of Alamut by their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) after receiving information that the city has been manufacturing weapons for their enemies. Although he knows the attack is wrong Dastan leads a successful assault and captures the princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton). In doing so he discovers a mysterious, ornate dagger that he takes as a trophy.
When King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) arrives he is initially angered by the attack, which he had not sanctioned, but in time his temper cools and he holds a banquet during which Tamina is to be married to Dastan. However, when Dastan unknowingly presents his father with a poisoned prayer robe given to him by his brother Tus he is suspected of the King's murder and is forced to escaping the palace with Tamina in tow. At their first camp Tamina attempts to kill Dastan and take the dagger, but the young prince unwittingly activates the magical blade and discovers that it possesses the power to manipulate time. Hoping to clear his name, Dastan and Tamina head to the King's funeral to meet with Nizam, but upon his arrival the young prince learns that there is a traitor in the court—one who wants the dagger for themself.
To tell you the truth, I was never a huge fan of the Prince of Persia games. Sure I played the original—I think it would have been impossible to have been a gamer in the early nineties and not played it—but after that I left the series until the (quite frankly awesome) Playstation 3 game. Obviously the original game was more of a platformer with emphasis on avoiding traps, but this film has more in common with the later games that allowed for more free-flowing gameplay incorporating elements of parkour, or 'free-running' if you will. In this respect the film stays true to the spirit of the games, or certainly closer than many videogame adaptations do ( Super Mario Bros. or virtually any movie made by Uwe Boll anyone?). There are plenty of acrobatics, with Dastan flipping off of walls and leaping huge distances, along with some nifty swordplay and great action set pieces that really help to set the tone. What’s more, most of the action is pretty grounded in reality, so you get the feeling that Dastan could actually perform a lot of the stunts depicted on screen.
So the action is good, but what about the rest? Well the story isn’t particularly inspired, but then we are talking about a videogame adaptation. Even so it flows nicely enough and has a few twists and turns, although I can’t imagine there will be many people surprised by the reveal of the true villain. Acting-wise, well Gyllenhaal does a pretty good job and he certainly looks the part, and even his English accent is passable (although why everyone in Persia has an English accent is beyond me). I can’t say I was similarly impressed with Arterton’s performance, but then I’ve yet to see anything to convince me that she’s anything more than a pretty face. Kingsley hams it up big time in his moustache-twirling role, but it’s all in keeping with the spirit of the piece. The supporting cast also put in decent performances, particularly Alfred Molina as a tax-dodging desert entrepreneur. I could have done without the heavy-handed parallels to current world events (weapons of mass destruction that don't exist etc.), and I think a little should have been shaved off of the run time, but all things considered I had quite a lot of fun with the picture. It’s certainly not going to trouble Indiana Jones at the top end of the adventure film scale, but I found it more entertaining than both of the Mummy sequels with which it has a fair bit in common stylistically.
Disney has long been delivering superior high-definition transfers, and I'm pleased to say that Prince of Persia is no exception. It's an incredibly striking 2.40:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) transfer, with a fine layer of grain and plenty of detail throughout. Colours are also impressive, and mainly comprise of strong, earthen tones and warm golden hues. Blacks are extremely deep, sometimes to the point of obscuring detail, but the entire film is actually quite dark so it seems to be an intentional creative decision rather than a problem with the transfer. As you'd expect from such a new release the image is pristine, with nary a film artefact to be seen. Digital artefacts are also conspicuous by their absence; I didn't notice any edge enhancement, posterisation, or aliasing. One only has to compare this transfer to the mushy image of the included standard-definition DVD to see the very obvious benefits afforded by Blu-ray, and it should please fans and videophiles alike.
Prince of Persia arrives on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack that equals the impressive visuals. The first thing that struck me was the ferocity of the LFE channel, which adds very positive reinforcement to every blow, explosion and swirling sandstorm. Directionality is also very impressive, with early examples including stampeding horses and flying arrows, and a particularly nice steering effect when Dastan activates the Sands of Time. There are also plenty of ambient effects, be it crowd noise of the whistling of the desert winds, all of which help to immerse the viewer in the film’s manufactured reality. Dialogue is well prioritised, never once being overrun by the other elements of the track, and the score—which is reminiscent of the Prince of Persia PS3 game—fills the soundstage and provides a solid foundation for the rest of the mix. Like the video before it, there isn’t much to complain about here.
There are two versions of the film available, a 'Double Play' edition including both the Blu-ray and a DVD copy, and a 'Triple Play' edition, which adds a Digital Copy. Disney sent us the Double Play version to review, but I'm not a huge fan of Digital Copies anyway and they don't really require any reviewing as such. Anyway, let’s get on with the extras.
CineExplore: The Sands of Time: When activated this interactive experience runs for the entirety of the film, periodically displaying a dagger on the screen. When it appears you can press enter on your remote to access short featurettes (and sub-featurettes), accompanied by voice-over and some nice animated transitions. If you miss anything there's also an index that allows you to watch the featurettes in any order. While I appreciate that Disney was trying to do something new here, it's really nothing that we haven't seen before on DVD. Sure the execution is better thanks to a slick interface, but the biggest problem with extras of this nature is that they pull you out of the film. I actually got bored of pressing enter after the first series of featurettes and just used the index to watch the rest. The content itself is reasonably good, but it feels very disjointed when you have to keep popping in and out of the movie to view it. Each featurette averages around two minutes in length and there are forty two of them, which makes for a reasonable combined running time.
Deleted Scene: The Banquet - Garsiv Presents Heads (01:26 HD): This is a very short deleted (really extended) scene in which one of Dastan's brothers presents the heads of his enemies to his father as an offering. It doesn't really add much and I can see why it was removed from the film.
Trailers: There are a handful of 'further attractions' type trailers on the disc, most of which I can't remember, but I was pretty stoked to see the TRON Legacy trailer in full HD glory. I've no idea if the film will recapture the magic of the original, but you just know that Disney will be releasing said film on BD to tie in with the sequel, so I'm a happy bunny.
An Unseen World: Making Price of Persia (15:13 SD): This making of in included on the standard-definition DVD and covers very similar territory to the picture-in-picture track, albeit in much less detail. Unfortunately this makes it fairly redundant.
Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite! (04:45 SD): The twin spawn of Satan are on hand to tell us about the benefits of Blu-ray in a 'wacky', 'zany' manner. I'm not really sure who this is aimed at. Surely adults will find it just as nauseating as I did, and the sort of kids who like these moronic over-actors are probably far too young to give a toss about 1080p and 7.1 surround sound...
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an inoffensive, dare I say enjoyable action romp in the vein of The Mummy. Gyllenhaal makes for a convincing action hero and Gemma Arterton atones for her lack of acting prowess by looking bloody gorgeous. It's not going to tax your brain, so it's perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the TV after a roast (which, incidentally, is how I watched it). As usual Disney delivers an extremely pleasing audio-visual experience that should satisfy even the most difficult of viewers, although obviously pretty pictures and lovely sound aren't going to sway you if you really hate this sort of thing. However, for everyone else Prince of Persia is at least worthy of a rental.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 13th September 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hindi, Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Description
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English, English HoH, Finnish, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Picture-in-Picture, Deleted Scene, Featurette, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle
Genre: Action, Adventure and Fantasy
Length: 116 minutes
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