Seven years ago, if I had heard about this film, I may have written it off entirely based on the concept. I mean, let's face it - a movie based on a video game? Hollywood's track record for turning video games into feature films is not a very strong one. Super Mario Bros. is just one of the many, many examples (Doom? Hitman? Max Payne?). But when Disney brought their theme park ride (?!) "Pirates of the Caribbean" to the big screen in 2003, they changed the game a bit. I became a believer that gold could be struck from the strangest of places. And while I only ever played the very original computer based incarnation of the Prince Of Persia video game, the idea of turning the game into a film franchise didn't seem entirely ludicrous.
However, casting celebrated actor Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character did seem ludicrous. After first seeing him eleven years ago in the drama October Sky - and knowing he's made some odd film choices since then - the role of Persian Prince action hero seems far-fetched to put it mildly. However, the filmmakers did a fine job transforming him into an acceptable Prince of Persia and the results are amazing. It's almost the kind of visual transformation that turned Johnny Depp into Capt. Jack Sparrow (although, Sparrow is still a superior character and Depp a superior actor), to the degree where Gyllenhaal is almost unrecognizable in this kind of role. But Gyllenhaal is obviously not enough to make a film like this work, and director Mike Nevell has helped round up a fantastic cast, including the talents of Sir Ben Kingsley, as well as rising actress Gemma Arterton (who was seen just a month and a half ago in Clash of the Titans). But the real scene-stealer in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the incredibly versatile Alfred Molina who plays a talkative sheik with a strange affection for ostriches. Molina plays it amusing without being too cheesy or campy, and it that's just part of what makes the tonal approach of this movie work so well.
The aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was Disney's first ever PG-13 rated film, due to creepy images and violence, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time follows in this rating tradition, maybe even upping the violence ante this time around. There's loads of action within Prince of Persia, mostly involving swordplay, daggers being used and thrown, and other assorted violence. It's rather intense from start to finish too, and the violence occasionally peaks to somewhat graphical heights with scenes like one that involves a character's throat being slashed, or one where a man is burned to death from some kind of chemical. While most of the bigger action sequences or battles keep from getting too graphic or bloody, there are still some instances where the quick cuts might include a little bit of blood. And then there's just seeing the motions of the swords and the accompanying sound effects to help you fill in the rest of the details with your imagination. It's enough to remind you this isn't your family brand of Disney film. Parents will definitely want to exercise caution when it comes to deciding whether or not to take the kids along to this.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of those brands of epic blockbusters that caused so many people to flock to the Pirates of the Caribbean series (although, Depp is also largely responsible for their popularity). Gyllenhaal proves to be a great leading man here while Arterton ends up being a great match for their love/hate chemistry - almost along the lines of Han Solo/Princess Leia from the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, due to having a stronger leading man in Gyllenhaal and a better script, Prince of Persia actually offers more of what this year's remake of Clash of the Titans could have been. This is an adventure film for adventure film fans - and the plot leaves plenty of room to allow for some great emotional plot pieces as well to add a little more depth than some similar films in the genre tend to offer. And although some moviegoers may be able to figure out just where the story is headed and hate the fact that they do, there's plenty of fun to be had along the way, and the movie will keep the other viewers guessing up until its conclusion.
In the end, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time came as a big surprise for me. I wasn't expecting much more than what the Clash of the Titans remake had to offer and this film topped it effortlessly. The first installment (of possibly others, most likely depending on the success of this one) sets up a great franchise for Prince of Persia, and now I'm curious to see where it could go from here. But Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time does well on its own without feeling wide open for a sequel or unfinished in some way. It's a fun action adventure for fans of the genre (like myself). Just don't over think this one. And don't let the Walt Disney Pictures tag fool you - this is a violent movie that is likely to be much too intense for kids. Otherwise, here's to hoping Disney furthers the big screen adventures of the Prince of Persia.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/28/10)
Blu-Ray and Special Features Review
A Summer surprise certainly was the unexpected enjoyment of Disney's Prince Of Persia film. That's not to say that Disney isn't reliable for releasing memorable action/adventure films (The theme park ride-turned-successful-movie-franchise Pirates of the Caribbean is evidence enough), but video games have not been good sources for successful film franchises in the past. But the poorly received by critics Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is actually a very fun adventure film. And revisiting it on home video with its Blu-Ray release helped cement it as one worth revisiting.
As for the Blu-Ray picture, the film looks beautiful in HD. Director Mike Newell didn't skimp on giving the film aome integrity by placing the characters in a tangible, realistic setting. Much like this year's Clash of the Titans remake, the movie takes viewers to actual realistic locations - not just synthetic computer generated ones - and it's something you can especially appreciate when presented in HD. While the film does look beautiful, there are some moments where the picture does look surprisingly grainy, but it's something you'll find with movies produced on film instead of shot digitally. Regardless, Prince Of Persia translates well to home video and high definition media.
When it comes to special features, there certainly aren't many, but in addition to a single deleted scene, there's one big behind-the-scenes feature...
Deleted Scene: The Banquet - Garsiv Presents Heads (1:26) - It's a little hard to believe, but just one deleted scene is included on the Disney combo pack release of Prince Of Persia. The scene takes place after Dastan has raided the city and Tamina is being prepared to join the King's banquet. We then see one of the King's sons, Garsiv, bring gold as gifts from his brother before the King. When the King asks what Garsiv offers himself, he remarks "their heads," and we see three platters uncovered, revealing three decapitated heads lying on the platters. It's actually pretty gross and it was a smart move to leave this scene out of the finished film. Given the "Disney" branding for this release, I would have expected maybe even a warning before this deleted scene, but rest assured this isn't a movie for the younger audiences.
CinExplore: The Sands Of Time - One look at the list of features on the Blu-Ray and you're likely to feel a bit cheated. However, everything you could expect in a behind-the-scenes featurette is included here in an extended behind-the-scenes bonus piece. "The Sands of Time" is your usual feature that's driven by a pop-up icon while watching the movie that, when clicked on, removes you from the film and takes you to a behind-the-scenes segment. While I'm not a fan of having the movie constantly interrupted for bonus material, Disney does make each and every segment of this section available on its own. While it does lack a "Play All" option, the entire massive collection of segments is broken down into 20 "Rewind" sections, which all include subfeature segments. Where most DVDs would break down this material into a bigger sub-featurettes, almost everything you'd like to know about the making-of Prince Of Persia is in here.
Playing off the idea of rewinding time, the 20 segments are titled "Rewind." For "Rewind 1," we're given a brief introduction by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, followed by "Filming In Morocco" (2:16) and "Moroccan Marchers" (1:40). What's really cool about these pieces is we learn that much of the movie was filmed on location in Morocco, which explains a lot of the gorgeous scenery, and that the Persian army was made up of Moroccan extras who were trained especially for their respective roles. In "Rewind 2," "The Next Action Hero" (2:12) focuses on how Jake Gyllenhaal did most of his own stunts and action and how he exceeded the filmmakers expectations as Prince Dastan. "Functional Fitness" (1:54) focuses on the training Jake had to go through and how he prepared physically for the role. "Walking Up Walls" (1:52) reveals how they did the sequence where Dastan scales a city wall by grabbing onto darts that are shot into the wall and pulling himself up. In "Rewind 3," we learn about the designing of the "Persia" we see in the film. "Designing Persia" (2:49) introduces us to the artistic minds behind the look of Persia and the cities featured in the movie, and we get to hear them explain the inspiration for the look of the film. "Epic Dive Breakdown" (1:16) is a quick look at how they shot Dastan's big leap from up high in Alamut. "Rewind 4" focuses on Gemma Arterton's character, first in "A New Kind Of Princess" (2:06), where we see Gemma perform a lot of her own stunts, learn horseback riding, etc. Although Gemma has also done the Bond film Quantum of Solace and Clash of the Titans, this is her biggest action movie to date. "Making A Princess" (1:33) shows the art department working on her exotic makeup job and her reflecting on the process as well.
"Rewind 5" opens with "Alamut From the Ground Up" (2:19), which shows the grand sets that were built. Such a fantastic amount of detail and craftsmanship went into creating the sets that it really adds greater appreciation to what was made with the film upon seeing this. "Layers Of An Ancient City" (1:00) shows additional city designs that were done digitally and we see stuff stripped away from the digital layers down to what was actually physically shot. It ruins a little bit of the visual movie magic, but it's still pretty neat to see how it was done. "Rewind 6: Parkour: Defying Gravity" (1:48) and "Parkour Legend David Belle" (2:00) look into some of the physical stunt style that was used for the film. Parkour has been seen more and more in films (including the Bond film Casino Royale) and it works well especially in a movie like this that was originally inspired by a video game that uses similar styles. "Rewind 7: The Look Of Rewinding Time" (3:00) takes an in-depth look into how they designed, filmed, and animated the look of turning time back with the dagger. It's pretty cool to learn that they used nine cameras in the process! "Rewind 8: From Game To Film" (2:26) delves into the process of translating the video game into a movie and even shows the video game creator talking about the film, as well as the screenwriters who adapted the story for the big screen. "The Dagger Of Time" (1:59) talks about the design of the dagger and reveals that multiple prop versions of the dagger were created for production. "Moroccan Artisans" (1:54) shows the local Moroccans who were hired out to create many of the props seen in the film. They went to great lengths to provide incredible detail on the props used in the film and this segment really shows that.
"Rewind 9" focuses on the ostritches in the film. "Behold The Mighty Ostrich!" (2:51) shows the training of the ostriches for the race sequence and how local Moroccans were enlisted to actually ride them in the film. "Ostrich Jockey Tryouts" (1:41) is a pretty amusing little segment that shows the jockeys attempting to ride the enormous birds. And "Moe The Ostrich" (1:22) is a fun piece where Jake gushes about the ostriches, especially the "head ostrich" Moe, for a deliberately exaggerated ode to the birds.
"Rewind 10: Penny Rose: Master Costumer" (2:14) takes things back to the serious, focusing on Penny Rose, who is a whiz at creating wonderful costume designs. She's responsible for the previous three Pirates films and it's overwhelming to learn that 7,000 costume pieces were created and we get to see the warehouse setup that was used to make these pieces come to life. "Snake Dude" (1:27) is virtually a "TMI" segment as we're unofficially introduced to the snake wrangler used for the movie. We then see the man pick up a wild snake in the desert, force its jaw open, and bag the sucker. He then picks up a wild scorpion, lets it pinch him, and then shows us a bottle of scorpions and bugs... This one's worth skipping for the squeamish.
"Rewind 11: Avrat Bazaar Fight" (1:26) gives a behind-the-scenes look at when Dastan and Gastiv fight in Avrat. "Rock The Casbah" (1:05) introduces us to Jake's Parkour stunt double who jumps from the rooftops in the Casbah. "How To Collapse A Tent" (2:34) goes into great detail about how they did the shot where Dastan hangs off the side of a building and manages to yank a tent down from the rooftop, bringing with it a series of soldiers that were chasing him. It's a pretty neat process of how they did it. "Rewind 12: The Hassansins" (2:21) takes a greater look into what the Hassansin villains were, revealing that they were an actual group of assassins in history. "The Deadly Arts" (3:14) spends more time individually on each Hassansin, showing off their special skills and giving each actor a moment to talk about their character. "The Animal Lair" (1:23) gives us a closer look at the snakes, raven, and dogs used as set dressing for the Hassansin lair. "Rewind 13: It Was Hot Hot Hot!" (2:37) is dedicated to the 120+ degree heat of Morocco that the crew experienced during filming, while "Ostrich Love" (1:31) features Alred Molina talking about his spontaneous kissing of the ostrich seen in the film. "Rewind 14: Filming In The Atlas Mountains" (2:02) showcases the beautiful landscape of the Atlas Mountains that were used in filming, and the filmmakers express some of the difficulty in shooting there as well. "Rewind 15: The Making of an Epic Battle" (3:09) is a fun look into the Hassansin attack on the mountainside and the fight coordinating and even the hardships of filming such an intense scene. "The Whip Fight" (1:38) goes into detail explaining how they filmed Dastan's fight with the whip blade Hassansin.
"Rewind 16: A Knife Thrower's Shoot-Out" (1:38) takes a look into the cool knife-throwing duel that takes place later in the film. "Too Close For Comfort" (1:13) is an amusing short bit that shows a Special Effects Supervisor showing off a gadget that rigs a knife to stop short of any target. The effects guy literally straddles the gadget as they test it try after try, with the blade stopping short of his crotch each time. "Rewind 17: Filming At Pinewood Studios" (2:24) talks about filming several huge sets on the biggest stage in Europe - AKA "The 007 Stage." At just 2 minutes of footage, it's a bit of a tease, but "Time-Lapse of the Pinewood Sets" (1:03) gives us just a tiny bit more of these breathtaking set pieces. "Rewind 18: Making Sand From Scratch" (1:25) delves into the digital creation of the sand slide in the climax of the film. While it's not the worst CGI work seen to date, it doesn't look any better when they break it down here to see how it was created, but it feels like it could have (and should have) been done better. "Rewind 19: The Sands Of Time" (1:08) then focuses on the "Sand Glass" special effect, but doesn't really go into the actual filming of that sequence. "Memories Of Time" (1:05) takes a look at the effects of this sequence just a bit further, focusing on the "memories" of the rewinding time in the "Sand Glass." Lastly is a photograph montage, with sound effects, of photos Jerry Bruckheimer shot while on set. It's just over a minute, but it wraps up the "Sands of Time" featurette segments. The batch of twenty "Rewind" sections seems to start off especially strong, but by the end of the featurette, it seems to spend less and less time on the film. So there's seemingly very little behind-the-scenes footage for the end of the film.
An Unseen World: Making Prince of Persia - While that's it for the special features on the Blu-Ray disc, the regular DVD disc that comes with the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo also has "An Unseen World: Making Prince of Persia," a more cohesive behind-the-scenes featurette that expounds upon what the Blu-Ray offers. It's unfortunate that this isn't in HD, but it still looks decent in SD. Some of the footage is reused from the "Sands of Time" "Rewind" segments, but it offers additional info, insights, and footage. It flows together well, covering all of the major topics in the other feature, but fills in the gaps with new footage. It's well worth the additional watch for anyone who enjoyed the movie.
In the end, after revisiting Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time on Blu-Ray, and spending time in the bonus features, I feel that it's pretty safe to say this was still one of the most fun movies to come out this year and well worth multiple watchings. Disney did a great job mixing special effects and tangible scenery and sets to produce an adventure film done right. If you like these kinds of films, don't get hung up on the thought that this was a video game first before becoming a movie, just treat it like it is - a fun, well-produced popcorn movie.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/20/10)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Tamina shows cleavage in several of her outfits and dresses throughout the movie; We see Tamina in a small servant girl's outfit that shows some cleavage and her much of her belly; Sheik Amar makes a comment about something spreading like "venereal disease;" Tamina asks Dastan if he has the dagger and he suggestively jokes that she can search him for it but that she'd need to be thorough
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some characters drinking wine and such several times during the film
Blood/Gore: We see a man start to smoke and we briefly see his skin start to shrivel and appear burned before he dies; We briefly see, not close-up, a man's hands appear to have some burns on them; Some men have some bloody scrapes on their faces after battle; A man has some blood on his face as he's dying, especially around his mouth; A drop of blood falls on Dastan's face. We then see some smeared blood on his face; A villain has a large mildly gruesome scar on half of his face; We see four small arrows or blades sticking out of a bare man's chest, with a little blood around the wound of each one; From a distance we briefly see a splash of blood from behind as a man slices another man; We see a little blood as a man slashes a man's throat (the victim covers their throat during the slashing motion). We then see the victim lying on the ground with blood around their neck twice; We see a little blood on Dastan's chest when a person slices at him and cuts open his shirt; We see a little blood on a man's arm when a sword blade slices through his sleeve; A village appears to have been massacred and we see partial brief views of dead, possibly rotting bodies (and possibly a decapitated head, but it's not focused upon); Some snakes are hacked up in mid-air by Dastan's sword as they're attacking, and a snake head lands in the sheik's lap; We see a man slice open a snake and remove a dagger from its belly (kinda gross). The dagger appears to have some blood on it from the snake
Violence: LOTS of action violence - almost constant. We see lots of swordplay, characters stabbed and sliced, even run through with swords or spears or daggers. Most of the action is shown in quick cuts and not focused on, but some of it is a little bloody (see above). We see a character stab himself with a dagger, a person's throat is cut by a villain, and arrows are shot at and kill several characters - we see them sticking out of victims; Some characters throw knives or small blades and we see those rapidly hit and kill other characters; A man is killed with a large pole or spear (not gory); Some characters fall to their deaths, one in particular where one character sacrifices their life for another; There are also more than just a few snake attack sequences that people who especially have a fear of snakes will not be able to take
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.