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Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

July 14, 2010
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If you saw the trailer for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and thought to yourself, “YES.  I have been waiting for this.  The team that brought us National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets have made another film starring Nic Cage that looks a bit like Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and I totally want to see this. I am SO THERE.”, then you will not be disappointed in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  I had kind of the opposite reaction when I saw the trailer – falling somewhere between “Oh no.” and “Huh.  I think I’m going to have a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch today”.  Generally speaking, this type of movie just isn’t my cup of tea, so when I entered the theater my expectations were neutral – to say the least. That said, it was a lot better than I expected it to be.

Loosely based on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Disney’s Fantasia, the film has a relatively simple premise. The wizard Merlin – of Arthurian legend fame - is going about the business of doing battle with his nemesis, Morgana le Fay.  Though aided by his three apprentices – Balthazar (Nicolas Cage, equipped with flowing extensions), Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Horvath (Alfred Molina), Merlin is destroyed by Morgana due in large part to an act of betrayal by of one of his followers, the amusingly named Horvath*.  What follows is a little difficult to explain, but during the karfuffle Veronica sacrifices herself by taking the spirit form of Morgana into her own body while a deeply wounded Balthazar uses magic to trap the remaining three wizards inside a matryoshka doll.   Before his demise, Merlin had given Balthazar his Dragon Ring, explaining that he would eventually cross paths with a wizard whom the ring would chose to belong to and that this person would be powerful enough to defeat Morgana.   For centuries Balthazar searches for his new apprentice – to no avail – collecting several other dark magicians to fill the nesting doll along the way.

We first meet Dave (played by Jake Cherry) when he is about nine years old – a creative boy with an interest in science, Dave is like any other kid nursing a crush on the cute girl in his class.  During a school field trip he gets separated from the group and wanders into an antiquities shop – owned by none other than Balthazar himself.  Suspecting that coincidence has finally brought Merlin’s successor to him, Balthazar creepily encourages young Dave to try on the Dragon Ring – which comes to life upon making contact with him – revealing his suspicions about the boy to be correct.  Balthazar excitedly explains to Dave that he is a sorcerer and runs off to the shop basement to procure an incantation of some sort, leaving Dave alone to explore – and damage Balthazar’s property.  If you have ever seen a movie before in your life, you don’t need me to tell you that the first object Dave picks up is the matryoshka doll which serves as a prison for the most dangerous magicians known to mankind.  While in possession of Merlin’s Dragon Ring, Dave is unwittingly bequeathed with special powers that release Horvath from the doll, resulting in an affray between the Balthazar and Horvath that ultimately postpones Dave’s apprenticeship with Balthazar for ten more years.  Young Dave suffers a rather humiliating aftermath when his teacher and fellow classmates find him – panicky and raving about a sorcerer’s battle, of which there is no remaining evidence, leaving him to look stark-raving-nutballs.

When we next meet up with Dave (now played by Jay Baruchel) he is a bright, nineteen year old college student who is obsessed with Nikola Tesla.  At school, Dave runs into his childhood crush, Becky (Teresa Palmer, kind of a poor man’s Naomi Watts), during which time we learn that Dave immediately transferred schools following his first meeting with Balthazar and in which his devotion to Becky returns anew.  Elated from his run-in with his dream-girl, Dave’s mellow is quickly harshed when he is met by another blast from the past, our man Balthazar – released from the enchanted urn in which he and Horvath have both escaped - who is ready to pick up where they left off ten years ago.  Eager to romance the beguiling Becky (in spite of her terrible taste in music) and live his life like a normal person, Dave is understandably reluctant to accept the daunting task of becoming Balthezar’s apprentice.

The nesting doll which contains Morgana – along with Veronica and several other magicians – remains in Balthazar’s possession and it is Horvath’s intention to obtain it and release Morgana, thus allowing her to realize her lifelong dream of destroying the world and everyone in it.  Horvath enlists the aid of a Chriss Angel-esque magician (Toby Kebbell) to help him carry out this task while Dave tenuously receives a crash-course type of magic training from his master.  Cage and Baruchel have a good report with one another and both are able to deliver their lines with charm and humor when the occasion calls for it.  Overall the film is well-acted and the special effects worked well to support the illusion that magic could exist in this universe.  My favorite use of it, in fact, was a direct homage to the animated Sorcerer’s Apprentice, during which Dave – in a hurry to finish his chores so that he can make a date with Becky -enchants inanimate objects to perform the work for him, with disastrous results.  The direct reference to a beloved cartoon from my childhood was a clever bit that pulled at my nostalgia strings.

For the most part, the movie works.  I do have to wonder why though – with a movie that features an interesting story, good performances, top-notch special effects, even pacing (and a flying eagle made of metal that will take you to France for breakfast – YES.) - the best that I can say for it is just that it was better than I thought it would be?  I can’t exactly put my finger on what is lacking, maybe the film came out during a time in which the industry feels overly saturated with magical young men (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Persues, etc.) who come into their power late in life (respectively) and must face impossibly dangerous and lofty challenges?  Maybe I am just burned out on fantasy, fish-out-of-water films and can’t even appreciate one which is better than average?  I don’t know why exactly The Sorcerer’s Apprentice didn’t blow my skirt up, it exceeded my expectations (though they were admittedly low) and has moments of fun, unfortunately it just couldn’t reach past being serviceable.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) directed by Jon Turteltaub,  3/5.

* I swear I thought I was hearing the words,  ”Whore Bath” , every time his name was spoken and I lack the emotional maturity to not think that was funny each and every time.

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