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  M.   September 25, 2010

Money may not be everything, but it counts for a lot in Hollywood. That is why Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is already deemed a disappointment and is now looking for its audience in the home entertainment market.

Prince of Persia cost $60 million more to make and earned hundreds of million less in worldwide box office than Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The comparisons are appropriate because both are Jerry Bruckheimer productions, both are rollicking adventures, both are as funny as they are fun, and both sprang from unlikely sources. Pirates started as a carnival ride at Disney theme parks. Prince of Persia was inspired by Jordan Mechner’s video game.

But Pirates of the Caribbean hit the big time — with $654 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo, giving rise to a franchise of sequels — and Prince of Persia did not — with $335 million worldwide and no guarantee of further instalments. The mojo in North America was particularly galling for Bruckheimer, who expected better. Prince of Persia generated $90.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, dismal for a $200 million production.

Co-star Gemma Arterton is hoping for a renewal of interest, now that Prince of Persia is freshly released on a standalone DVD and in a three-disc combo pack with DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy.

Arterton, while preferring her arthouse movies, had a great time playing a Middle Eastern princess in 500 A.D., with Jake Gyllenhaal appearing as the prince of the title. “I still enjoy the spectacle — and that film in particular,” Arterton says in an interview.

“I was sort of sad that it didn’t do well at the box office because I thought it was actually kind of original and it was beautifully shot and it was a different world and it deserved to do better than it did. Who knows why it didn’t do as well as it should have?”

Ah, the mysteries of selling a movie. But lack of singular success should not breed contempt in this case. Prince of Persia is a romp. And the combo pack is a prime time way to enjoy it. The movie was shot on location in Morocco — from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert — and looks absurdly beautiful in Bluray. Arterton is an empowered heroine. Gyllenhaal became super-fit for his hero’s role. And the support roles boast great names, from Alfred Molina as a comic villain to Ben Kingsley as a royal manipulator.

The whole enterprise smacks of retro Hollywood, in the best sense. This is an old-fashioned adventure movie set in an “exotic” fantasyland from the imagination. Like the kind Errol Flynn used to make in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Blu-ray extras are delicious, especially if you stumble into the index for the bonus materials called The Dagger of Time. It is meant to be triggered as pop-ups when playing the movie. But I prefer to play the movie and access the index separately, watching clips of my choice from among the 42 featurettes offered.

You get good quick hits, such as Gyllenhaal extolling Arterton’s virtues: “In all the best ways, she’s killing it,” he says on set of his co-star. Or Arterton being playfully humble: “It takes a lot of work — three hours in the chair (for hair and makeup) — to make me look like a princess.” Yeah, right.

Plus director Mike Newell riffs on Gyllenhaal as a leading man in an adventure movie: “What I didn’t know about him is that he would be an absolutely god-given action hero.” Let’s see if he gets to do it again.