Blu-Ray Review: Prince of Persia

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It was only a matter of time before somebody decided to make a movie based on the videogame Prince of Persia.  The source material is perfectly suited for a film adaptation with it’s compelling location and extensive mythology.  While it took several years to become a reality, famed producer Jerry Bruckheimer decided to take on this ambitious project as his unofficial follow-up to the enormously successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.  Unfortunately, the end result is rather hit-and-miss.  There is a lot to admire, but there is just as much that misses the mark.

The biggest problem with the film is the script.  The film looks huge, and yet the story feels small.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan who finds himself brought into royalty.  As the film progresses, there are murders and betrayals, and Dastan finds himself on the run after being framed for murder.  There are twists and turns in the family politics, and at times, it feels as if the screenwriters were trying to create something Shakesperean.  And yet, all of these story points play out as devices.  They seem to exist solely to get the characters from one point to another, and from one set-piece to the next.  By fragmenting the story in this way, they lessen the impact of the whole.

Making of an Epic Battle (Bonus)

It’s very obvious that this movie exists solely for it’s setpieces and it’s concepts.  For example, the most interesting aspects of the story are the sands of time.  Contained within a mystical dagger, these grains of sand enable the user to travel one minute back in time.  By showing the users body seperating from itself while watching the previous scene play in reverse, the filmmakers have developed a visually compelling technique in order to demonstrate what is happening.

As in all movies of this type, the filmmakers have to continually strive to top themselves from one sequence to the next.  By the time we’ve reached the finale, the entire story is so over-the-top and effects heavy that the film ceases to have a soul.  It becomes more like a technical exercise, and while impressive, it hinders the potential of what could have been a great story.
However, as I said, the effects are impressive.  In fact, the entire production is impressive.  The sets are huge, having been built on location in Morocco and within the cavernous soundstages of Pinewood Studios in London.  The craftsmanship and attention to detail in these sets are astounding.  I was actually surprised to learn that a lot of what I assumed to be CGI had actually been built practically.

Equally impressive are the action sequences.  Dastan utilizes the art of parkour, which is described in one of the Blu-Ray bonus features as being where you “use your environment to get from Point A to Point B.”  I’ve seen this used in other films, but this was the most impressive I’ve seen to date.  Running up walls and leaping from rooftop to rooftop never looked like so much fun.  It never feels believable, but it feels real.  You can tell that these moves are actually being performed.  I don’t think they could be done in the real world, but they feel realistic in this world.

The combination of stunts, action, setpieces, and special effects make this a film worth seeing.  I just wish they were in the service of a better story.  This is probably why I enjoyed the extras on the recently released Blu-Ray so much.  Almost every aspect of the production is covered in an option called “The Sands of Time.”  When this is selected, an animated dagger will periodically appear on the screen.  When selected, it will take you to a behind-the-scenes vignette of that particular sequence.  Watching in this way enabled me to appreciate the film on a technical level rather than focusing on my disappointment with the story.

Dagger of Time (Bonus)

There is a lot of material within this feature, covering everything from set design and construction, casting, stunts, special effects, etc.  It’s a lot of material to take in, but gave a greater insight into just how ambitious this entire production was.  Despite some occasionally memorable bits with character actor Alfred Molina and some semi-believable chemistry with a love interest played by British actress Gemma Arterton, the character work in this film left a lot to be desired.  While it’s obvious that Gyllenhaal was having a great time in the film, his character just wasn’t that interesting.  The film didn’t really come together on the page, and overall, it all felt like a rough draft in need of some fine-tuning.