“It is said some lives are linked across time. Connected by an ancient calling that echoes through the ages. Destiny.”
The Prince Of Persia is not some new phenomenon sweeping the country. The original video game goes back quite some time to the pre-high-definition consoles of the late 1980’s. Over the years the title has had some major staying power and has continued to flourish across several platforms and generations of graphics and game play. Today video games are more and more like movies themselves. Many of these games carry budgets as high as blockbuster effects-laden tent-pole films. It’s big business. The technology has nearly merged between film and video game. And while Prince Of Persia is not the first game to be turned into one of these mega-movies, it just might be the closest thing to bridging that gap yet.
“Long ago in a land far away there once rose an empire that stretched from the steppes of China to the shores of the Mediterranean. That empire was Persia. Fierce in battle. Wise in victory. Where the Persian sword went, order followed. The Persian King, Sharaman, ruled with his brother, Nizam, upon the principles of loyalty and brotherhood. The King had two sons who gave him great joy. But, in the eyes of the gods, the King’s family was not yet complete. Not until the day he witnessed a single act of courage by an orphan boy from the streets of Nasaf. Moved by what he saw, the King adopted the boy Dastan into his family. A son with no royal blood and no eye on his throne. But perhaps there was something else at work that day. Something beyond simple understanding. The day a boy from the unlikeliest of places became a Prince Of Persia.”
I’m not sure what was at work that day. I do know what was at work here, and it was something very beyond simple. When Jerry Bruckheimer gets together with Walt Disney Studios, there are a few things you can expect to be true. The images will be bigger than life, as will the characters. The locations will be exotic and quite stunning. The cast will be colorful and entertaining. But, above all, the action will be relentless and the set pieces will be explosive in more ways than one. It’s actually quite fitting that the team that took on the Pirates Of The Caribbean and National Treasure films would finally come to the shores of a popular video game franchise. If you think about it, there are so many video game aspects to those other films. The collapsing sets and gymnastic feats of the characters could very well have come from the virtual world of a modern video game. And, as I said earlier, this one comes the closest to feeling like a game.
From the moment we meet Dastan as a boy, we are treated to a very typical Bruckheimer chase scene complete with the leaps and tumbles of death defying stunts. In this case, it never really lets up. And there lies both the good and the bad of this film. As an action film, you really couldn’t ask for much more than what the movie offers you. There are sword fights and chases constantly throughout the film. Plot points are merely a bridge between these high-adrenaline action scenes. You can expect that they are flawlessly executed and always thrilling to watch. If this film doesn’t get your heart beating faster … you’re dead.
But that also contributes to the film’s most glaring flaw. In Bruckheimer’s world, director Mike Newell never gets the chance to linger long enough on these characters to truly serve the story. He is given a rather extraordinary cast, placed within equally extraordinary locations. And there are a few quiet moments where these characters get to play out their tales. Newell is skilled at character moments. One need look no farther that Donnie Brasco to prove that point. But it’s never quite enough here. There appears to always be some clock counting down to the next exhilarating display. Quotas must be filled.
The cast is a complete surprise to me. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the last names I would have suspected could even be considered for such an action adventure role. I’ve always felt his portrayals were never compelling enough in the past. He was once considered to play Spider-Man when McGuire had hurt his back and might have had to drop out of the second film in that franchise. I was groaning from my computer seat when I heard those rumors. Now, I’m not so sure. He handled the role with more flair and bravado than I would have ever thought possible. He’s a smart cast choice here, after all. Ben Kingsley is almost always a treat. You really couldn’t ask for a better villain. Kingsley doesn’t play to the mustache-twirling bad guy cliché. He’s a complicated guy who feels like he was ripped off. I like that kind of motivated bad guys who never really see themselves in the black-hat role at all. Alfred Molina has a wonderful role as the scoundrel character that helps Dastan in his quest. He’s almost unrecognizable as the Sheik, but the voice is unmistakable. He provides some great character moments, something a little thin in this film. Gemma Arterton has just the right exotic look for the role. She might not always shine here, but she holds her own in what could really be described as a testosterone-fueled film. It’s as good as anyone could expect. She reminded me a lot of Rachel Weisc from the first two Mummy films. In fact, there’s a lot this film has in common with those. The desert location and the witty banter between the eventual lovers are quite like those of the couple from those films.
I never played this particular game in any of its incarnations. So I really couldn’t tell you how close they stuck to the original game concepts. I suspect that the game itself has changed more than a little in its various release states, so I’m not sure there will be a lot of criticism from the gamer front. The story is intriguing enough, and I liked the idea of the dagger that folds back time. And that really is the whole story here, isn’t it? Aside from the political jabs, which I’m happy to see strike at both parties, the story is simply the quest to control the time-altering dagger. Nizam wants it to turn back time far enough to become king in his brother’s place. Dastan merely wants to protect the device and his people from such an event. Of course, there’s the expected romance. From the moment these two characters meet and have nothing but disdain for each other, you know where it’s going.
Prince Of Persia is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of only about 23 mbps. Even with the relatively disappointing bit rate, the film does offer some stunning visuals. The location shots offer beautiful vistas of sand dunes. What you’ll really notice here is the subtle color variations in these dunes. It’s probably as realistic an image as I’ve seen of desert sands. Colors and textures really come out in the period and cultural costumes of the film. Reds are particularly rich here. Contrast is also impressive. Check out some of those vistas and observe the stark contrast between sand and sky. Black levels aren’t near as impressive, but fortunately, this film is mostly a brightly lit affair.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a pretty solid job of putting you inside all of these fast-moving action scenes. The sounds of metal clashing can be heard all around you. The sub comes alive at times, making you feel the ground move beneath your feet. Dialog works just fine and is evenly placed. The score is rousing at times but suffers somewhat in the higher ranges. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it other than that the highs appear to sound a little flat. It’s dynamic to be sure, but impressive in the low ranges more than the higher tones. Perhaps there was an artistic purpose behind this. I don’t know.
The film comes complete with a CineExplore function. It’s a rather clever option that allows you to access behind the scenes shorts by using the little dagger cursor. The idea is that you can go back in time and explore these other aspects of the film. The content is scene-specific, but the whole thing is awkward to use.
DVD & Digital Copy
If you liked the Pirates and National Treasure films, you will know what to expect here. It’s absolutely intended as a thrill ride and not something to be taken too seriously. It was intended as a franchise, but I’m not sure there will be more. The film made only $90 million in the US but was saved by an impressive $250 million from the foreign markets. That’s not the model the studios like to see. It will be interesting to see if the franchise returns. It’s worth a ride, if you’re willing to just come along for a joy ride through the desert with some exotic and interesting characters and a magical dagger. Will we see more? The numbers tell us that it will be “difficult, not impossible.”