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Disney’s “Prince of Persia” ends well. But is that really enough?

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Disney’s “Prince of Persia” ends well. But is that really enough?

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All’s well that ends well. Or so says William Shakespeare and/or John Heywood.

But it’s not Heywood that we’re talking about today. But – rather – Hollywood. And after having watched Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” I’m now wondering if it’s actually okay to overlook the first 100 minutes of a mediocre motion picture if the last 15 minutes or so are very entertaining.

WARNING !! There are lots & lots & lots of spoilers in today's article. And if you don't want to know about how "Lost," "Meet the Robinsons," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Star Trek - The Motion Picture" and Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series ends, now would be very good time to bail out of JHM.

Still here? Okay. Here goes ...

Star Trek the Motion Picture poster
Copyright 1979 Paramount Pictures.
All Rights Reserved

The first time I ever faced a cinematic situation like this was back in December of 1979. Which was when “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” opened at the movie theatre that I managed while I was in college. You see, for the bulk of the 132-minute running time of this Robert Wise film, “ST:TMP” is a colossal bore. With only Douglas Trumbull & John Dykstra’s impressive effects work to prevent the audience from slipping into a bad-sci-fi-induced coma.

But then – literally during its last two minutes – “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” suddenly becomes the movie that you actually wanted it to be. With Kirk and Spock shaking off their mid-life crises and now behaving like the characters that everyone knew & loved from the original "Star Trek" TV series.

So as Captain Kirk leans toward the camera (after that helmsman has asked him for a heading) and says “Out there. Thataway.” … Well, that sent the audience out with a smile. Made them forget (more or less) about the 130 minutes of cinematic Sominex that preceded this clever closing sequence.

The cast of Disney's Meet the Robinsons
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I kind of felt the same way about Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 2007 release, “Meet the Robinsons.” Which had that very weird Act II where the filmmakers suddenly introduced you to all of these brand-new characters & then piled on the plot complications. Which is an awful lot to ask of an audience member. Especially when they’re watching an animated feature in DisneyDigital 3-D.

But then – during its last 15 minutes or so – this tangle of plot threads & crazy characters suddenly coalesced into something moving, something meaningful. From the point where Wilbur brings Lewis back to the past and this young inventor makes a deliberate choice not to interrupt his mother as she’s abandoning the infant Lewis at the orphanage right through to where we see Cornelius with his new adoptive family, fulfilling his destiny … “Meet theRobinsons” is a terrific motion picture. The sort of movie that sends you out smiling.

Which brings us to “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” Which – in my opinion, anyway – has a little too much in common with “ST:TMP” and “MTR.” In that the first 100 minutes or so are loaded with characters you don’t care about, elaborate action scenes that aren’t really exciting and a plotline that – while it piles on the complications – isn’t all that compelling.

Jake Gylenhaall in Disney's Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo by Andrew Cooper,
SMPSP. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises,
Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But then – in the last 15 minutes or so – as Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) actually takes advantage of the knowledge that he gains while wielding the Dagger of Time, it’s kind of fun to watch this character set things right in 6th Century Persia. Stopping a plot to assassinate his father, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). Not to mention figuring out a way to win the respect (and – hopefully – the hand & heart) of the headstrong princess / priestess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton).

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the first 100 minutes or so of “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” are a complete waste of time. Alfred Molina’s charming performance as Sheikh Amar, the bandit chieftain who hates taxes almost as much as he loves ostriches, will add immeasurably to your enjoyment of the sagging middle passage of this motion picture.

Mind you, I’m obviously not the only one who thought highly of Mr. Molina’s work in “Prince of Persia.” “Sands of Time”. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was reportedly so pleased with Alfred’s performance that he immediately cast this Tony-nominated actor as the villain in his very nextproduction for Walt Disney Pictures, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” During which Molina will play the vengeful wizard, Maxim Horvath to Nicolas Cage’s student-of-Merlin, Balthazar Blake.

Alfred Molina and Steve Toussaint in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
(L to R) Alfred Molina and Steve Toussaint. Copyright 2010 Disney
Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But beyond that … “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” has these long stretches where it’s really more of a video game than a movie. Where our hero runs, jumps and dives as he eludes the palace guard, deadly assansins and CG snakes. Scenes that should be exciting & entertaining but usually aren’t.

But – then again – because “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” ends so well (and – what’s more – effectively sets the stage for a sequel), I’m willing to give this movie a pass. Suggest that this Walt Disney Pictures release is worth seeing. If you can catch it at bargain matineeprices, that is.

I mean, it’s not like we’re dealing with the “Lost” finale. Which was 2 hours and 15 minutes of supremely entertaining television followed by 10 minutes of WTF.

Copyright 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

That said, five days after the fact, I’ve now come to accept the ending of “Lost” for what it was. That – when you actually think about it – this finale was basically the TV equivalent of what Stephen King did with the ending of his “Dark Tower” series. In that this may not have been the ending that his fans (who waited 23 years for King to complete his 7 book series) hadwanted or expected. But how the hell else are you supposed to wrap up a sprawling epic like this?

So – when in doubt – go with symmetry. So just as the gunslinger once more heads out in pursuit of the Man in Black as he flees across the desert, that Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof decided to end “Lost” just as they began it (i.e. with Jack flat on his back in a bamboo grove. Only this time around, his eye closes rather than opens) is actually kind of pleasing to people like myself. Who are big fans of story structure.

I also liked how Hurley wound up running the show on the Island and that Ben got to be redeemed. But as for that all-dogs-go-to-heaven (except for – ironically enough – Vincent the dog. And Ben, I think) aspect of this show’s ending … I wasn’t initially a fan. But I have since come to accept that this was the only way that Damon & Carlton could go.

Matthew Fox and Madison the dog in the "Lost" series finale
(L to R) Matthew Fox and Madison the Dog in "The End," the series finale for
"Lost." Photo by Mario Perez. Copyright 2010 American Broadcasting
Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But what are your thoughts on endings? Are you – like me – willing to give a mediocre movie a pass if it ends well? Conversely, if something that you really enjoy watching – like a “Seinfeld” or “The Sopranos” or “Battlestar Galactica” – has a disappointing and/or confusing ending, does thatforever color how you feel about this particular program?

Your thoughts?

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  • Why no mention that "Alice in Wonderland" became only the sixth movie in history to cross the billion dollar mark? And that it will most likely pass "The Dark Knight" this weekend to movie into fifth place all time?

  • I remember Rosanne having one of the oddest endings ever. It didn't change the way I thought about the show as a whole, but I didn't care for its finale.

  • I gave up on Lost at the end of the first season when I found out they were going to seek out the survivors in the tail section.  There were too many characters in the show already, I thought, and any time given to new characters would only take away from the existing ones.

    Kinda glad I left when I did.

    And after hearing just how good for you Battlestar was supposed to be, I'm rather perversely happy that the ending of the series retrospectively made the entirety of the series quite ridiculous.  So much for "science" fiction.

  • SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!

    We went to see POP yesterday.  It was exactly what I expected.  No better.  No worse.  It was a fun time at the movies.  As the credits were rolling me and my 17yo daughter were laughing at 'the movie that didn't really happen.'  But we both saw the end coming from about the midway point of the movie (whenever they started talking about the sand beneath the city that could turn back time indefinitely).  

    As for a sequel, I guess I didn't get attached enough to Dastan or Tamina to care whether I see them again.  I'm sure there are storylines out there but I don't really care.  Pirates: COTB, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite.  I went in expecting what I got at POP - fun, chases, explosions, etc.  When I left, I was blown away at the characters (mostly Capn Jack Sparrow & Barbossa).  No matter how good or bad the next movies were, I was going because I wanted to see what happened to Jack, Will, Elizabeth, and Barbossa.  I think everyone that is trying to make the next Pirates should instead focus on finding the next Jack Sparrow, er, 'Captain' Jack Sparrow.  

  • WHEN will Hollywood figure out that plot is NOT story.  Story happens when a character undergoes a CHANGE also known as a character arc.  AND this is closely tied into the THEME or lesson this main character learns over the course of their arc.  PRINCE OF PERSIA was sadly lacking in both departments and they wonder why the movie did so poorly opening weekend.  And honestly, the characters were not nearly as entertaining as they could have been.  Sad to see such a mediocre effort put into the story.  Dastan would have been SO much more entertaining if he just had an arc.  I was expecting better from Bruckheimer and Company.  Now they've burned the market for similar shows.

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