The physicality of Prince of Persia is where the connection between film and game lies. The original 1989 video game had the Prince traversing a spike-filled castle, jumping over ledges and grabbing onto their edges. As the series was reborn, it all came to be in 3D, where the Prince became increasingly agile, with wall runs and stepping across pillars. That’s what this film adaptation respects.
The story works too, a mash-up of the 2003 Sands of Time Prince and 2008 update with just the PoP name. It’s the perfect Hollywood blend of action, adventure, and humor, aided by some gorgeous vistas of Morocco location shoots, along with lavish studio sets and CG add-ons.
It’s on those sets where the various stuntmen take over, leaping from roof to roof, dangling off ledges, and taking serious falls within the confines of Hollywood safety standards. Making Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) so athletic allows for a lot within the action, from sliding down a massive hill of collapsing sand to complex choreography that sells his skills in battle too.
Nothing really seems out of reach, Dastan’s skills established when he is a child, likely a young teenager, and taken in by a king. If he’s that talented as a child, surely his adult skill base makes the fantastical believable. His personality may waver from serious to goofy, but it’s all for the sake of entertainment, and finding a summer action movie hero who doesn’t do the same is practically impossible. Cliché or not, it’s a fun watch.
All of this focus on Dastan, appropriate or not considering the title, leaves the side characters with bit parts or a shell of a personality. The inevitable love interest, the princess of a peaceful kingdom, is as stereotypical as damsels in distress come. Even Princess Peach from the Mario Bros. games would hang her head in shame at how often this woman needs rescued. Gemma Arterton looks fine in the role of Tamina, her athletic build enough to make her survival in a few tense scenes plausible, yet it’s always Dastan to the rescue.
Locations vary from open deserts to wondrously detailed indoor environments, the various decor making for believable palaces and royal chambers. It’s hardly a surprise with Jerry Bruckheimer’s backing, and the amount of explosions make you wonder if he teamed up with Michael Bay again. It’s a quick two hours considering how energetic the whole thing is, and for once, respect for the source material pays off. Who would’ve thought?
Disney’s AVC encode is highlighted by one aspect: black levels. You would suspect the general terms such as “inky” or “deep” would be all that could be said, yet there’s more. The amount of depth they generate in this image is startling, so rich and full with the aid of the blacks that it wouldn’t be the same without them. They never falter either, at times swallowing a hint of shadow detail, although this is more of a rarity.
The film opens on heavy action, the rapid pace of it all leaving little time to appreciate any detail, the panoramas of the towns being invaded being the only real highlight… well, that and some nicely rendered complex armor. While a few shots raise some concern, the layer of kicked-up sand flowing around the screen doesn’t cause too many issues, the light layer of grain well resolved even with the complexity.
Once the film slows down, the texture begins to shine. Inside the royal palace to celebrate a victory, Gyllenhaal’s face reveals its texture, around 22:38. It’s other things too beyond the fantastically resolved facial detail. The robe given to the king at 26:23 is spectacular, the complex pattern effortlessly revealed down to the tiniest parts of its design. While the texture can fluctuate, high fidelity detail is always a presence, whether it’s fine grains of sand being picked up by characters, small rocks, or the plants around the castles. Everything shows through with this transfer.
Sharpness is firm, keeping itself razor precise throughout. Thanks to the black levels, everything remains this way in limited light, never succumbing to a murky quality. The film is intentionally drenched in a warm hue, letting few shades aside from oranges, yellows, and reds show. Even the greens of various plants are layered with a reddish tint. It certainly suits the nature of shoot, the hot deserts and the like. Flesh tones, despite the push into bronze territory, are acceptable although “accurate” is not necessarily the proper term.
The transfer’s minimal faults can be counted on one hand, including a hefty grain spike in the desert at 1:00:55 that lasts for all of two shots, and the above mentioned noise visible within some of the smoke. The film is edited with a frenzied pace, so anything distracting to the videophile is so brief as to not be a bother. Fantastic work by Disney and/or the compression crew.
Summer blockbusters always prove to be highlights at home, Prince of Persia in no way an exception to that rule. This is as aggressive as they come, the opening battle sequences littered with screaming soldiers filling each and every channel. The clarity of this uncompressed DTS-HD track is meticulous, creating sharply defined sword clashes, and disgustingly clear arrows piercing their target.
Those arrows can dominate some of the action scenes, whipping by the listener with fantastic aggressiveness and smooth tracking. It’s a constant stream of front-to-back motion, precise to be sure and always on the track of perfection.
Hand-to-hand combat utilizes the stereo channels well, various sword swipes zipping around as the weapons are swung. All of that is nice, but not much else in this mix matches up to a whip that swirls around at 1:18:20 in terms of surround use. The effect is elevated slightly, but the end result is worth it, a brief battle that stands up to any criticism if you’re using it to show off equipment.
Never fear about the low-end either, the Sands of Time producing a generous rumble when activated, and staying through the passage into the past. Bass is tight, clean, and extends deep into the low-end just as it should. Explosions are beefy, heavy, and satisfying, while the finale with its collapsing concrete environment carries some immense thuds that shake the room. Fantastic.
Standard Blu-ray purchasers get almost nothing in terms of extras. A promo featurette called Unseen World contains some nice behind-the-scene footage, but it’s all padded with ridiculous congratulatory interviews, and it all runs 16-minutes. A single deleted scene runs under two minutes, followed by general BD-Live access.
The three-disc set, with a DVD also included, contains a pop-up feature, Dinsey’s Cine-Explore with 40 segments in total. There’s a lot to take in via these short featurettes. Stupidly, if you buy the three-disc version, the Unseen World featurette is dropped from the Blu-ray and shoved onto the DVD. Does that make any sense, and doesn’t it punish those who pick up the more expensive set?