Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2010

Strange magic

Dull, lifeless 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' can't expect to get by just on CGI and Nic Cage's charm

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Jon Turtletaub
Screenplay: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, based on the poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell and Alice Krige
Rated PG / 1 hour, 50 minutes
(out of four)

Why does it always have to be the same nerdy kid, the same unattainable (yet somehow attainable) girl, the same circumstances that bring out the heroism in the former and touch the heart of the latter? I ask this not only because I've become bored with the stock conventions of this type of action/coming-of-age story, but because the latest example of it, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, fulfills our expectations so lifelessly.

Here is a movie passionately dedicated to producing as many expensive special effects as possible, without taking the time to induce any sense of wonder or excitement about the fantastical displays we see before us. Maybe it's just the jaded viewer talking, but the primary reaction the film generates is nonchalance.

The title character is, of course, supposed to be wowed by all that he sees - all these things that could not, should not be possible - but we never feel the way he feels about it. The movie never gives us any reason to, probably because it doesn't feel any sense of wonder, either. It's bored with itself.

It's hard for us not to be bored with it, too. For a film that indulges in magic and mysticism and all things fantastical, there's no real imagination to it. A gargoyle on the Chrysler Building that sprouts wings and serves as the main characters' primary mode of transport? Yawn. The Charging Bull that comes to life and wreaks havoc in a huge action setpiece? Eh - just seems like an outtake from a Night at the Museum sequel. None of it is the least bit inspired. Even the annual Bad Nicolas Cage Haircut is a dud. I mean, yes, the 'do is pretty bad, but isn't it basically the same one he had in Bangkok Dangerous?

But I digress.

Because Turtletaub isn't an especially strong visual director, he's not really able to inject any verve into the proceedings - and so, for all the money on screen, what comes across is something like a two-hour FX demo reel. Or a very expensive television commercial. ("Visit Manhattan! It's Magic!")

Based on the legendary poem, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a treasured Disney property dating to its use in 1940's Fantasia (my personal favorite of Disney's animated films). Filling Mickey Mouse's shoes is the appropriately mousy Jay Baruchel as Dave Stutler, a 20-year-old physics student at NYU who has, ya know, a "destiny."

He gets his first hint at that destiny when he's 10 years old and accidentally finds himself in an old antique shop run by an eccentric Nic Cage type named Balthazar, played, appropriately, by Nic Cage. As it turns out, Balthazar was one of Merlin's apprentices many centuries ago, and has been kept alive in order to find Merlin's true successor. How will he find this successor - or, sorry, "Prime Merlinian?" Well, by using Merlin's own Dragon Ring, of course. Kind of like a Dalai Lama sort of thing.

Sorcerers, as we all know, derive their power from their rings. (That's right - if you're a sorcerer and you happen to drop your ring down the sink washing your hands, or you take it off one night to convince some foxy young lass that you're not a sorcerer, and it proceeds to fall out of your pocket - sorry, guy, you're outta luck. Sorcery career? Over.)

Anyway, Balthazar is in a long-standing war/rivalry with his former best friend - I know, right?! - that dates back to the 8th Century when the woman they both loved - I know, right?! - chose Balthazar, leading Horvath (Alfred Molina) into a fit of rage that concluded in him embracing the embodiment of ultimate evil. The evil in question is the evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige), who plans on destroying the world or something.

Since Dave only just found out he's the successor to the greatest sorcerer in recorded history, he has to get a crash course on magic and wizardry. Balthazar is happy to oblige. Complicating matters is the fact that Dave has found his own foxy young lass, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and would rather spend time wooing her than learning a new spell or saving the world. Needless to say, this reshuffling of priorities is what gets him into that infamous pickle with the rogue mops and brooms. (Which, might I add, is the film's most disappointingly banal sequence.)

All in all, there's simply not much to say about the film. The effects are kinda cool, Cage is kinda funny, the filmmakers don't completely embarrass themselves, but they don't inspire much confidence, either. And despite the post-credit scene, I don't think we'll be seeing Dave and Balthazar back for a sequel. (But hey, they could team up to form a magic-themed family restaurant.)

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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