The Sorceror’s Apprentice (2010) dir. Jon Turtletaub
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, Theresa Palmer, Alice Krige
By Alan Bacchus
The celebrated Mickey Mouse segment from Disney’s Fantasia serves as the jumping off point for this latest Bruckheimer/Disney production. It’s the same team that made the National Treasure series (Turtletaub/Bruckheimer/Cage), and so it’s commercial critical, and creative failure is one of the surprises of the summer.
The Fantasia segment serves only as an inspiration for a story as opposed to modelling a feature out of the story or tone of the original. In fact when the Fantasia scene does come in the narrative of this new version, it feels unnecessary and takes us out of the film.
About 4 or 5 writers construct a brand new mythology, not established in any previous story, or video game. Nicholas Cage plays Balthazar Blake a sorceror who apprentices under Merlin in the Middle Ages, when the evil Lady Morgana (from the same Arthurian story) Merlin, Blake fights her off and imprisons her and her fellow evil sorcerors in a nesting doll, each layer representing a trapped villain. Before death Merlin transfers his power to a ring which can only be unlocked by the one Prime 'Merlinian'.
It takes Blake thousands of years before finding the Prime Merlinian in modern day Manhattan, a pathetical physics geek Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel). After overcoming his reluctance Dave becomes Blake’s protege, learning the skills of a sorceror like a student learns kung fu from mentor. On the loose is Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) who desires to unlock Morgana from the nesting doll and spread evil around the world, etc etc.
Half of this synopsis is told to us in a shamelessly expository flashback sequence along with a very simple recitation of the backstory in voiceover. Most movies try to hide this type of dry description of information, and so the laziness by the screenwriters in this film is oft-putting at the start.
It’s the same kind of action-comedy formula as most of these Disney action adventure movies. The battling-buddy dynamic of Cage and Baruchel never finds it’s groove. Baruchel’s affable geek schtick is less annoying than other roles, but his heart just doesn’t seem to be in this one. The romance between he and his gal-pal is perfuctory, and there’s never any real urgency to fight evil or save the girl.
Cage doesn’t have much to work with either. He’s only given a couple of good lines – a crack about pointy shoes is funny, and is smartly reused throughout the film. But he just doesn’t seem to have been able to let loose and chew it up like he’s done so well recently in Bad Lieutenant or Kick Ass.
At least a star and a half in this review is due solely to the production design and special effects work – a perfect blending of good old fashioned practical in camera effects, magnificent real world production design, and sparing use of CG and blue screen. The real Manhattan locations helps give credibility and believeabilty to this world as well. The special powers and weaponry used by the heroes and baddies seems kinda plausible and admirably never go over the top. A decent featurette on the Blu-Ray shows off everyone’s enthusiasm for this old-style brand of filmmaking.
Unfortunately, someone forgot about the story and character, both of which are underwhelming and sadly muted, thus wasting one of better looking films we’ve seen this year.
The Sorceror’s Apprentice is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Walt Disney Home Entertainment