Stardust, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of TIme on Blu-ray disc
If you're looking for a heroic fantasy that's just a bit different from your garden variety, run-of-the-mill sword and sorcery epic, Stardust may be worth your time.
On the other hand, Disney's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time isn't nearly as beguiling, though it isn't without its charms.
Let's start with Stardust, the better of the two features.
We're of two minds about the movie. We enjoyed it, liked the fact that it has its own imagination, but felt that somehow there was something missing. We don't know what, and we argued about it between ourselves afterward, but the consensus was that while this is a quite enjoyable and engaging movie, something doesn't quite work.
That said, the rest of it works better than most…
Our tale unfolds in the 19th-century English village of Wall, which sits right next to a wall. Wall looks like a typical English village of storybook ilk, except that it turns out the wall represents a barrier that no one may pass.
Well, nearly no one. Young Drustan Thorn's curiosity leads him to sneak through a hole in the wall and a short walk across the countryside there leads him to a marketplace in what's decidedly a fantasy world, with witches and princesses and the other stuff you (but not he) would expect.
He meets a captive princess there and, after a night of passion, returns home to what he expects will be his normal life. But nine months and a bit later he's given delivery of a son, Tristan, who was apparently left for him beside the wall.
Here the movie jumps forward 18 years, to when Tristan (Charlie Cox) is a strapping young geek who's madly in love with superficial bimbo Victoria (Sienna Miller). To win her heart, he embarks on his quest to recover a star that had fallen from the sky and landed somewhere beyond that wall.
And this is the point at which the movie really begins. Tristan sallies forth to the magical land of Stormhold, where the dying king (Peter O'Toole) has tasked his four surviving sons with finding the same star – and evil witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) is also off after the star for yet another purpose, one that (since she's very, very bad) would throw a royal monkey wrench into the plans of the other star suitors.
There's magic galore, good and evil, and memorable characters including a poufy ship captain (Robert De Niro), the star herself (Claire Danes), the daffy princes and more. There are also gorgeous locations, apparently in Scotland and Iceland, and enough great special effects to keep the fan of cinefantastique happy for the movie's two hours and a bit running time.
We aren't going to get more specific about the storyline, because it's best you let it unfold in front of you than have us spoil it – but rest assured you're in for, if nothing else, a fresh, interesting and imaginative time in your home theater.
Speaking of home theater, the BLu-ray is a bit disappointing so far as its picture quality is concerned. Presented at 1080p widescreen the picture quality is very good, but we thought it a tad soft and it didn't really jump off the screen. Watchable but not reference.
Audio is dts HD 5.1 surround and it's also very good, dynamic and immersive and fun.
Special features on the Stardust Blu-ray include a commentary track, a pretty good series of short documentaries on the making of the movie (though there's no "play all" feature with it so you have to keep going back to the menu after each segment. There's also some deleted sceenes, a pretty unfunny blooper reel, and the trailer in HD.
Stardust, from Paramount Home Entertainment
You can forgive Disney for wanting to recapture the spirit – and the financial windfall – created by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
What can't be forgiven is this derivative mishmash of an action adventure flick that seems to try being too many things at once and therefore loses any focus it might have had.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Dastan, an orphaned street urchin who – kind of like Aladdin before him – gets noticed by royalty and, in this case, is adopted by the king after the monarch sees him display courage and character under fire.
Dastan grows up in the palace, a princely figure until, after his brothers overstep their authority and attack a city, he's framed in the murder of his adopted father and must run for his life because his semi-siblings want him dead.
Such could be the makings of a pretty cool flick in its own right, and on top of this situation is the presence of a magical dagger that can turn back time for a few seconds in a plot device right out of Galaxy Quest (and undoubtedly others).
Dastan, accompanied reluctantly by the lovely princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who pretty well spends her time giving us exposition about the dagger and the magic sands of time, whether we need it or not. At least she's decorative.
Anyway, Dastan travels across Persia in an attempt to clear his name and along the way much mayhem breaks out – mayhem that may be a bit much for younger kids lured in by the Disney name.
The story's pretty silly overall, though the cast is pretty good. Gyllenhaal is fine as Dastan and the supporting cast, which besides Arterton features Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina (the latter as a crook involved in ostrich racing - kind of a neat Disney homage to The Swiss Family Robinson, assuming anyone involved in the production thought of that) is also pretty good as they try to keep one step ahead of all the CGI effects and unbelievable action stunts.
The Blu-ray is pretty decent, though quite Spartan compared to many Disney releases. It's presented in 1080p, of course, at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and despite its very yellowish tinge it looks very good, with deep blacks and bright colors and a decent "pop off the screen" effect, though in some of the darker scenes there's also a lack of detail.
The audio track is offered in dts HD Master Audio 5.1 and it's as big and brash as you could want. The surround sound puts you smack dab into the action, and the low frequency effects channel is used very well – your subwoofer will be pleased.
The Blu-ray also includes a DVD and a digital copy in the same package, which is a nice way of doing it – except for the strange oversight of there being a "Making of" featurette on the DVD but not on the Blu-ray. What's with that?
You do get "CineExplore", an interactive feature you can play as the movie unfolds – ever time a dagger appears on the screen you can hit the "enter" button on your remote and get zipped magically to background info on the "making of" (which may explain why the featurette is only on the DVD, which doesn't offer BD's interactivity), including interviews with the actors and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
There's also a deleted scene and a series of trailers.
Disney is also offering the movie packaged as a single disc Blu-ray and a single disc DVD.
Prince of Persia is merely the latest in a series of movies that began life as video or computer games. It's probably neither the worst or the best, but at least it features impressive audio and video and, if it weren't so darn yellow, would probably make a good demo disc.
It's too bad it isn't such a great movie.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, from Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.