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Beauty and the Beast

Diamond edition adds to a top-notch film —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Beauty and the Beast fall for each other

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Even though it underperformed at the North American box office, Prince of Persia made up some lost ground internationally and, at least in terms of raw dollars, toppled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as the movie world’s most successful video game adaptation.

Hassansin’s Creed

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Blu-ray)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Blu-ray)

While producer Jerry Bruckheimer didn’t quite capture lightning in the same bottle of rum that made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies rollicking good fun, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time still proved to be one of summer 2010’s more enjoyable romps.

The heroic lead, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal, Zodiac), was merely a street urchin before King Sharaman took to his willful ways and adopted him as one of his own. With no interest in taking over the king’s throne, Dastan grows up and becomes the playful son, the one too busy scuffling in the streets to concern himself with things like marriage, kingdom building, and stuff.

Dastan gets his opportunity to shine as a leader when the king’s army sets out to invade Alamut, a holy city accused of selling weapons to an enemy. Snicker at the thought that centuries upon centuries later, similar raids in the area would continue to be played out, surrounded by equal amounts of intrigue and deception.

As it turns out, what the holy city of Alamut really holds is a mystical dagger. Release the magical sand contained in the dagger’s hilt to travel back in time, in one minute intervals. Yes, oh yes, he who holds the dagger holds a phenomenal power to change — and rule — the world!

With that kind of prize on the line, it’s no surprise the heroic Dastan no sooner celebrates victory at Alamut than faces charges of killing the very king who adopted him. Proving his innocence and keeping the dagger out of the wrong hands lead Dastan to his destiny.

Sand Raider

Taking a cue from the first Pirates movie, which added the subtitle The Curse of the Black Pearl shortly before release, when positive buzz made the prospects of a new franchise launch almost inevitable, Bruckheimer has taken the same strategy and tacked on The Sands of Time as a subtitle to this first — and possibly last — Prince of Persia cinematic adventure.

The key to the treasure trove of success that was (and will continue to be) the Pirates series was Johnny Depp as the lead character, Jack Sparrow. Given such a clever, witty, unique character, the fact that the movie was based on a theme park ride became irrelevant. In a similar fashion, although not as resoundingly, Gyllenhaal knows this is all in good fun and he’s crafted a character that calls to mind Douglas Fairbanks and Harryhausen’s Sinbad. Sure, Dastan’s world is based on a video game, but the movie works within its own goofy rules.

Also providing more than several winks and nudges is Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark). As a government-loathing, tax-hating entrepreneur who manages things like ostrich races, Sheikh Amar adds enough comic relief to keep things light, which isn’t to say things get particularly dark, aside from the mean Hassansins, who use all sorts of black magic, serpents, and sharp objects to kill their prey.

Adding more than enough eye candy to an already gorgeous production, Gemma Arterton turns into a surprisingly strong female lead as a princess on the lam with Prince Dastan. She’s dazzlingly beautiful, but there’s something about her approach here, and even more so in the recent remake of Clash of the Titans, in which she acts as if she’s playing a blind person. She often seems to wear a blank, far-off stare, one that confuses determination with blindness.

Relative Evil

Prince of Persia compares favorably to the other major video game-based film franchises, Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. While that’s somewhat faint praise in regard to the former (even with an always alluring Milla Jovovich), the latter was overly maligned and Angelina Jolie’s take on Lara Croft went underappreciated.

In the case of Persia, the movie’s opening raid on Alamut shines as one of the movie’s best action set pieces and successfully sets the tone for what follows, evoking video game sensibilities while also paying homage to the swashbucklers of yore. It’s packed with Parkour stunt work, clever use of archery, loads of over-the-top action, and a giddy sense of old-school adventure.

At least in terms of action, Prince of Persia proves itself more entertaining than Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which steered clear of retracing Errol Flynn’s antics. But there’s room for both takes on classic swashbuckling fantasies.

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Exclusives

The 3-disc combo pack isn’t exactly overflowing with a cornucopia of supplemental materials, but the CineExplore option found exclusively on the Blu-ray in the combo pack is well done.

That in-movie track is essentially a collection of 42 featurettes totaling roughly 80 minutes. Technically, the presentation is slick. When an animated version of Dastan’s dagger appears on screen, viewers can select the option before the dagger’s sand runs out. Once selected, the movie seamlessly shifts to the behind-the-scenes footage in full-screen, 1.78:1 format, then either offers an option for another featurette or seamlessly moves back to the feature film. Conveniently, though, there’s an option to simply flip through a menu of all the featurettes. And, for convenience, the disc keeps track of what’s already been viewed.

Content-wise, the best bits are the tangential, real-world stories, such as the ones about the Snake Dude, the entymology of the Hassansins, and Alfred Molina’s story of ostrich love. But there’s also plenty of good filmmaking footage and the segments demonstrating the mix of CGI and real-world elements are pretty cool.

Overall, though, this isn’t the type of content that falls into the category of film school material.

The Blu-ray also includes one deleted scene. The scene, entitled The Banquet – Garsiv Presents Heads, shows exactly that – three heads on a platter. It’s neat, has a certain Temple of Doom vibe, but it’s not particularly great.

The disc is BD-Live compatible for extra Disney swag online. Once upon a time - oh, say two years ago - the idea was additional feature-related content would be available online via BD-Live. At least with Disney, BD-Live is nothing more than a shameless self-promotional opportunity to have a portal to more Disney stuff. The only Prince of Persia-related content available is the trailer, which used to be a mainstay of supplemental materials. And even then, the trailer’s been modified to promote the Blu-ray and DVD release.

Also exclusive to the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is a third disc holding the digital copy of the movie for use on mobile devices and computers.

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras

Included on the DVD is An Unseen World: Making Prince of Persia, a 16-minute featurette that rehashes some of the material from CineExplore, but it also offers up some nice additional behind-the-scenes footage and comments. Regardless of the “combo” packaging and marketing intentions, it’s a crock that this isn’t also on the Blu-ray itself, in high definition. After all, this featurette also doubles as the sole supplemental feature on the single-disc Blu-ray package.

Picture and Sound

Overall, the 2.40:1 picture quality is excellent, if not exactly a showcase presentation. Some scenes, particularly the more straightforward dramatic scenes that don’t involve hefty amounts of CGI, offer a nice amount of film grain with a comfortable, organic feel. However, some spots seem unusually soft for a high definition transfer.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, on the other hand, is robust and thoroughly immersive. Alternate audio options are English 2.0 Descriptive Video Service, French 5.1 Dolby, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby. The combo pack’s jacket erroneously indicates there’s also a French DTS audio track.

Subtitles on the Blu-ray feature film are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.

The Blu-ray is also D-Box compatible for those with the D-Box motion system.

The DVD feature presentation offers audio in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Descriptive Video Service, French 5.1 Dolby, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby. Subtitles on the DVD are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.

How to Use This Set

Enjoy the movie then use the hunt-and-peck method to navigate CineExplore. Keeping in mind there are 42 CineExplore segments overall, the following featurettes will help provide a sense of the nuttiness and expansiveness of the production: Moroccan Marchers, Walking Up Walls, layers of an Ancient City, Ostrich Jockey Tryouts, Snake Dude, The Hassansins, The Animal Lair, and Ostrich Love.