Prince of Persia – Let summer begin!

You may have noticed, I’m a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. This is not (solely) because he’s hot, handsome, funny, charming and intelligent, although that doesn’t hurt, it’s primarily because Jake has chosen to act in a diverse range of movies that, as a bundle, provide an intriguing glimpse into what it is that propels a talented actor onwards. Amongst the attention-grabbing Indie roles (Donnie Darko, Moonlight Mile) and the scene-stealing disaster movie (The Day After Tomorrow), we have the life-changing Brokeback Mountain and the war movie with a difference, Jarhead. There’s comedy too – Nailed may still be in the can, hopefully temporarily, but this Autumn’s Love and Other Drugs will give Jake a chance to show some of those skills he displayed on Saturday Night Live and in many of his interviews through the years. Favourite of all for me was Zodiac – a fine ensemble piece with director and actors working together to present a perfectly-crafted atmospheric and terrifying drama. This year we were given the Disney blockbuster Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

I’m a conflicted reviewer – I’m a Gyllenhaal fan and I’m also a fan of the Prince of Persia games, most particularly the original sidescrolling version (the only game I had on some decrepit bit of machinery I had to put up with a decade and a half ago) and, to a lesser extent the Sands of Time game, but I came a cropper due to some selfishly uncooperative sand monsters, despite an array of rejuvenating fountains and some tip-filled emails from friends. To throw another spanner in the works – I adore the old Sinbad movies and the 1001 Arabian Nights stories. So, I know the game, I know the actor, I want both to come out of it well, and I am so ready to jump into the wonders of Arabian Nights. Deep breaths. Let’s see the movie. Which I did – twice, once at a preview screening and the second at the premiere in London.

When I think of the film Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, I imagine a screen sprinkled in glitter. This is because of the special effects involved in using the dagger to turn back time for a few seconds. What you see on the screen during those moments is evocative of sand, stardust, magic, fairytale. And that is how the film feels to me; I do feel transported into a world of legend, where daring do will win the day and wronged handsome princes and feisty overthrown princesses will overcome all odds – and their bickering – to make it all right in the end. A simplistic tale? Very possibly, but that doesn’t mean it has no value. As Jake Gyllenhaal said in an interview this week on British TV, this film provides an escape from a week of troubles – an election without a clear result and a volcano with no end in sight. At times like these, I’m ready for some escapism.

The cast of Prince of Persia shows how much Disney (and Jerry Bruckheimer) was willing to take a chance with this new-world blockbuster. Robert Downey JR has demonstrated that audiences demand something extra from their heroes and in Prince of Persia they have Indie Jake Gyllenhaal. They also have future star Gemma Arterton (I wish that the awful Clash of the Titans had not been so close in time to Prince of Persia) and Sir Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina and other fine actors such as Tobey Kebbell and Richard Coyle. Jake Gyllenhaal was a surprising choice for some, although his physical transformation speaks volumes for his dedication to this role. Jake told the Independent this Friday that, such was his pride in becoming Prince Dastan, he took a photo of himself on set just after he successfully jumped the initiation leap of 35 foot. Gemma Arterton, likewise, has proudly bragged at accomplishing her own stunts.

Interviewers have mostly focused on Jake for three things in Prince of Persia – his muscles, his accent and his fear of ostriches. I cannot possibly comment on the authenticity of Jake’s ostrich fear and his muscles speak for themselves (thank you, Disney!) but I was impressed by the accent. Not at all Dick Van Dykey, there was the occasional word which made me sit up a bit (I’ve never heard a Brit say ‘thorough’ like that) but that’s nitpicking. He did an excellent job and fitted in well with a cast of Brits. Strangely, I found Gemma Arterton’s accent more difficult to accept. Jake threw himself into the role of Dastan and it shows.

After watching Clash of the Titans I was a little worried that Gemma Arterton woud do a repeat performance in Prince of Persia but this did not happen. Perhaps the difference was that Tamina was a character into which Gemma could throw a major chunk of herself, making her feisty, strong, flirtatious and quickwitted – a worthy opponent and partner for a handsome action prince. The love interest (chemistry) between Dastan (Gyllenhaal) and Tamina (Arterton) drives the action on as we follow their quest. We’re interested in what happens to them. That’s half the battle won already.

I had my doubts about another ‘serious’ British actor playing a Hollywood baddie – Sir Ben Kingsley seemed the latest in a long line. But I paid him a disservice. Sir Ben was a surprise to me because it wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek performance, and the character was driven by something more complicated that you might at first think. Families are complicated, even without the swords and snakes. Alfred Molina was a pleasure to watch as I thought he would be and he was rewarded with a couple of the film’s most fun scenes. Some good other actors here to look out for, notably Tobey Kebbell. William Foster, too, the young boy picked to play the young Dastan due to his natural born talent for Parkour.

While the relationship between Dastan and Tamina drove the storyline along, there was plenty of action, including a chance to see some of the free running and Parkour we had heard so much about during the making of the film. There was indeed a chance for Jake to replicate some of the game’s famous moves, with some impressive leaps, acrobatics and scraps. Lots of scraps. This is a prince that hasn’t forgotten he grew up on the street. Dastan has muscles and he’s not afraid to use them. He has charm too…

Overall, this film is everything that a fun family summer blockbuster should be. Time flew. It looked amazing – the Morocco scenery and the Pinewood sets inseparable and the actors talented and appealing. The dialogue was light and cheeky and the special effects only obtrusive when they needed to be. My only criticism is that the film didn’t test (or even merit) its PG13 rating – it was harmless family fun all the way. Possibly not a bad thing after several years of quite adult-themed movies for Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s time to let the hair down.

Verdict: 8/10 (plus an extra point for having Alanis Morisette sing the closing tune ‘I Remain’ – Good choice!)

Pictures from Disney.

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