In order for Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to showcase the fantastic parkour displays of gravity and death-defying leaps and acrobatics that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character performs, the filmmaker went to the originator of parkour himself—the young legend David Belle.
"We decided to go right to the source," says producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "We wanted the best of the best, and that’s David Belle."
"This is the kind of film that makes me wish I was in the movie industry," says Belle. "When you watch this type of movie, it’s so magnificent that you want to be a part of the scene. And all of a sudden, I find that I am. It’s like a child’s dream come true."
"In the film, Prince Dastan can run up walls and has other skills which are based on parkour," explains director Mike Newell. "Parkour started in the suburbs of Paris, where the kids were so bored that they started to use what was available to them as some kind of test. I watched documentaries about them and saw that they really do walk up walls and leap from rooftop to rooftop. They are extraordinary athletes. So we brought David to teach us what to do and how to make it look good."
In French, parkour is also known as l’art du déplacement, or the art of movement. And indeed, to its practitioners and those who observe the astounding feats of traceurs—practitioners of parkour—it is nothing less than wondrous. The action of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time incorporates both parkour and its offshoot, free running.
Says Bruckheimer, "It’s really an art form. It’s so exciting to watch people literally bouncing off of walls, all done without wires, doing it through their own physical force."
Belle’s own description of parkour is, as one would imagine coming from the man responsible for its present form, perfectly concise and lucid. "To make it simple, parkour is a training method that allows a person to develop their physique so that they can overcome obstacles. The more you train, the faster and more efficient you become. When training, you can create a wide range of movements. These movements help you to get through difficult passageways, between buildings and over rooftops. It’s a different way to learn to move your body."
Belle was impressed by Jake Gyllenhaal’s parkour abilities and the enthusiasm with which the actor quite literally threw himself into the action. "Jake certainly had me convinced," he says. "I’ve seen his work, his movements in various scenes, and I have no doubt."
Gyllenhaal’s physical preparation began several weeks before the cameras rolled, but he was already in prime physical condition as an avid runner, cyclist and all-around athlete.
"There’s no reason to do a movie like this if you can’t do the stunts," says Gyllenhaal. "It was all about functional fitness, being able to do everything that was asked of me. So I got into the best shape I could, with a whole lot of running, parkour training, weight-lifting and horseback-riding."
Now showing in Philippine cinemas, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.