– Summary –
Director : Jon Turteltaub
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Alice Krige, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell.
Approx Running Time : 109 Minutes
Synopsis: A young New York lad discovers he’s the descendant of Merlin, the legendary sorcerer, only to find that he’s also pursued by the evil servant of Morgana, Merlin’s evil arch nemesis.
What we think : Lite-weight fluff film, “inspired” by the classic Disney animated short within Fantasia starring Mickey mouse, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is content to deliver its PG-rated nonsense without ever trying to raise the bar. A great cast is accompanied by some great visual effects, and while never achieving the status the source material has attained. Solidly entertaining, but avoids awesome by several degrees.
In the last few years, mentioning the name Nicolas Cage in conversation is bound to draw a few giggles of derision; the man has pretty close to soiled himself like Monica Lewinski at a cigar party in the eyes of most audiences. His choice of films, many which leave a lot to be desired, have become something of a joke around the internet, a fact that cannot be lost on the man himself. That said, he can still draw an audience, although it remains to be seen if his turn as Balthazar Blake in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is enough to retract all the bile he’s given us in films like Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider. It’s doubtful, since he’s become a one-note actor (or, as my mate Al K Hall once postulated, has always been that way and we’ve just been fooled all this time!) and he presents us with the same again in this film. However, where Cage is becoming quite… ahem, cagey, is the way he surrounds himself with quality to prop his deficiencies up. In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the film doesn’t revolve around Cage entirely, instead, he becomes a secondary player with lead-actor intent, leaving the lions share of “acting” to young up-and-comer Jay Baruchel – Baruchel appears to be being groomed as the next Jason Biggs, for some reason. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t high art, and never calls for the cast to stretch themselves dramatically – but I guess when you’re basing your film on an 8 minute short animated clip, you can’t expect too much.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of Disney’s classic pieces of animation – it’s regarded around the world as one of the finest short subjects of animation ever created. Mickey Mouse, as an apprentice to a wise and powerful wizard, sets in motion a series of events which become more and more dangerous as he brings to life some brooms to help him clean up. The brooms end up flooding the basement room of the wizards castle, with Mickey almost drowning before the wizard himself arrives to save the day. The modern live-action update of this short film is both longer and more gee-whizz than Disney’s classic version, but lacks something the original did: heart. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice 2010 Version sees Jay Baruchel and Nic Cage team up to stop the forces of evil from taking over, and destroying, the world. While there’s a scene dedicated to the original animated short, and it is quite cute, it does almost nothing to further the story or enhance the characters – still, it’s a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, so what do you expect?
Dave Stutler (Baruchel) is an ordinary young scientist working his way through an uneventful life in New York City, until Balthazar Blake (Cage) shows up to tell him he’s actually the inheritor of legendary wizard Merlin’s vast power. As you’d expect, Dave’s incredulity is only matched by his surprise when he realises that Blake is speaking the truth – centuries ago, Merlin was killed by the traitorous Horvath (Alfred Molina) at the whim of evil sorceress Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige), before two of Merlins apprentices, Blake and Victoria (Monica Bellucci) encase Morgana’s soul inside a Grimhold, a magical container that imprisons le Fay for eternity. Blake learns that Merlin’s great power will be rekindled by a young boy known as the Prime Merlinian, and spends the next several hundred years searching for him, whilst keeping the Grimhold safe from the searching powers of Horvath. Horvath seeks to set Morgana free, and in doing so taking control of the entire world. Dave, a shy and kind of angsty young lad, also finds himself in a romantic entanglement with local radio announcer Becky (Teresa Palmer), something Balthazar initially tries to prevent. Horvath, in seeking to find the Grimhold, uses the talents of modern magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), however, as you’d expect, this relationship is tenuous at best. Cue plenty of magic, witchcraft and other supernatural displays as the best of Hollywood’s effects crews take to the screen in a cavalcade of sound and fury.
Let’s be honest: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t a great film by any stretch. The story is fairly convoluted, with more than a few nods to Disney’s original masterpiece, and the cast go about their job with a sense of perfunctory officiousness. That’s not to say there’s no fun to be found in this film, but it’s like fairy floss or wispy fog: visible but hardly fulfilling. The script is peppered with “comedy” moments that die screaming in a blaze of ineptitude, as well as a few moments that scream “we just made this scene for the trailer to look cool” (ergo, a massive Chinese dragon pursuing David through New York’s Chinatown) and have no real impetus to the film overall. In fact, there’s probably a good half hour or so of this film that could have been excised completely, and the result might have been a pretty decent movie – at 60 minutes. With what reads like a committee of writers all putting in their ten cents, it’s no wonder the film flounders through mismatched romantic flammery, squanders any real sense of purpose the Obi Wan-esque character, Balthazar, actually has, and obliterates anything resembling light-and-shade in the film. The film is almost oppressively dark in visual style, almost all the main narrative taking place during the evenings (no doubt to make the magic look cool), although I will admit to being impressed with just how sharp and clean this film looked regardless. Story points aside, the film does have a streak of adventure going for it, perhaps in part to the often whimsical direction of Jon Turteltaub, which gives it an energy any audience will appreciate, if not entirely enjoy.
The cast, as I mentioned a moment ago, all do a pretty perfunctory job in their respective role, but at no stage are any of them stretched thespian-wise. Title billed Nic Cage is, well, Nic Cage, another serious faced gig with little-to-no character development that could probably be played by a wooden post and still have the same impact. Thankfully, his wild-haired appearance doesn’t translate into a wild-eyed performance, and he does keep it mercifully straight throughout the show – Jay Baruchel and Cage have a surprisingly good rapport on screen (which I think is more to do with Baruchel and less to do with Mr Cage) and their scenes together do genuinely sparkle. Resident bad guy Alfred Molina has an awesome time chewing the scenery as Horvath, and I keep wondering to myself when is the Academy going to nominate him for an Oscar in something – Molina is an absolute riot in the role, giving his character a suave, slimy nastiness borne of centuries of incarceration and planning of revenge. Aussie actress Teresa Palmer, best known for her role opposite Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in the locally produced film December Boys, does a good job as The Girlfriend, even if it’s a pretty thankless one. Stunning French beauty Monica Bellucci is absolutely wasted as Balthazar’s one-time love Victoria, only really getting to do some handy-wavey-magic at the very end, and even then it’s pretty uninspiring. But the key to the film is Jay Baruchel, and while at times I found his portrayal of the titular apprentice somewhat anaemic and frustratingly obtuse, he’s good enough to carry the film almost on his own. I do feel, though, that he’s limited in his dramatic range, because several key scenes here lack real depth due to his inability to convey convincing kick-assery. And yes, before you all write in about how I’m just making up words, I know I am, so get off.
As with any film Bruckeimer has a vested interest in, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is light on drama and big on effects and action: the story is a trifle to hook the legacy of Disney’s animated classic on, and dazzle the non-discerning audiences with pretty colors and lights. It’s fluff, a forgettable affair which, while you’re watching, is nice to look at, but ultimately offers nothing much at all save a few comedic lines and some great special effects. It’s like they figured out a way to get the Harry Potter-for-teens onto the screen without being sued. In fact, give Baruchel a lightning scar and a British accent and he could pass for Daniel Radcliffe’s cousin or something. Still, if it’s mindless entertainment to while away an hour or so, you could double play this with Prince Of Persia or something and treat yourself to a wild, innocuous outing of fantasy and faffery.