A film review by Craig J. Koban July 21, 2010
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
2010, PG, 108 mins.
2010, PG, 108 mins.
Balthazar: Nicolas Cage / Dave: Jay Baruchel / Horvath:
Alfred Molina / Becky Barnes: Teresa Palmer / Veronica: Monica
Bellucci / Morgana: Alice Krige / Young Dave: Jake Cherry
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE is the English name for a poem by Goethe, DER ZAUBERLEHRLING, written in 1797. The basic story of an old sorcerer and the apprentice he leaves behind in his workshop to perform chores was, of course, fondly recreated in the 1940 Disney film, FANTASIA, which popularized Goethe’s work. You may or may not remember Mickey Mouse playing the role of the apprentice that attempts to use some magical feats to make his cleaning instruments come to life to do his menial tasks for him. This sequence, in my mind, remains one of the seminal moments in the annals of animation.
would be the best way to pay a fitting homage to this landmark and
universally cherished animated classic?
Bring in Jerry Bruckheimer to take the premise and blow it up into
live action, feature-length film.
producer/director team of Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub have taken it
upon themselves to loosely – make that ever-so-loosely – adapt that masterful little
segment from FANTASIA, which does not inspire a
considerable amount of confidence. Bruckheimer has a dubious reputation for cranking out one
disposable schlock and awe production after the other, and both he and
Turteltaub were responsible for the NATIONAL
TREASURE films that contained such head-shaking idiocy and
preposterousness that my neck ached for weeks after seeing them.
They, in turn, are re-teamed with Nicolas Cage, who once again
demonstrates why he should never, ever be in a film that requires him to
have a ridiculous hair piece, an absurd wardrobe, and to utter one
atrociously laughable line of dialogue after another.
funny how an actor of Cage’s extraordinary range in some films can be
reduced to shameful ridicule in others.
He is a tremendously gifted and thrillingly manic performer…when
he wants to be (see BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS)…or a
dreadful one (see BANGKOK DANGEROUS).
I think his role as an ageless, centuries-spanning necromancer in
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE falls somewhere in a dark, in-between limbo state. He does maintain
a cheerfully spirited and zany disposition throughout, but he is
completely stunted and inhibited by a disposable, forgettable and tedious
script that lacks any level of imagination.
And the dialogue that he has to utter!
Ripe with ridiculous, multiple syllable fantasy speak that inspires
groans and unintentional laughter. Portentous
and eye rolling speeches involving grimholds, nesting dolls, Morganians,
Hungarian Mirror Traps, The Rising, and the Prime Merlinian are as hammy
and silly as they read here. The
film feels less like the work of three screenwriters than it does the
by-product of an Internet word generator.
story begins with a prologue, which uses images from the past married to a
voice-over narrator that desperately comes across as trying to create some false solemnity while trying to holdback his incredulous laughter.
1300 years ago the Grand Poobah of all magicians, Merlin (James A
Stevens) matched his powers against his prime adversary, the evil witch
Morgana (Alice Krige) and Hovarth (Alfred Molina).
Merlin, being a sorcerer master, but not good at self-defense, is
killed, but his disciple, Balthazar (Cage) imprisoned his enemies deep
within…what else…wooden dolls. Everyone
on earth will be safe as long as the evil sorcerers stay within the
nesting dolls. Oh, as to how
incredibly powerful sorcerers can be held within a doll is a source of
great mystery in the film. Perhaps
Krazy Glue was administered.
whose appearance seems like a cross between a grungy Jesus and a makeup-free version of The
Crow, was not the only disciple of Merlin. So too was the love of his life, Veronica (Monica
Bellucci) and, yup, the nefarious Hovarth.
It seems when Balthazar managed to seal up Hovarth and
Morgana in the dolls, he also accidentally imprisoned Veronica.
For the next several centuries Balthazar sought out Merlin’s
natural successful, the aforementioned "Prime Merlinian" that will be the
chosen one to defeat Morgana. The
Prime Merlinian is chosen by fate, which really sucks if you are
Balthazar, who lives forever
and can’t seem to find him for hundreds of years.
forward to New York in 2000: Balthazar has the meeting that he has been waiting a very
long time. He has a
chance encounter with nine-year-old boy named Dave (played later by Jay
who he believes just may be the Prime Merlinian that will stop "The Rising"
(oh, The Rising will occur when Morgana comes out of her doll-exile and
dead sorcerers all over the world to assist her with destroying humanity).
However, at nine Dave is definitely not ready to take this
assignment, so Balthazar waits another ten years and when Dave is nineteen
he attempts to make contact with him again.
However, it soon appears that Dave is so hopelessly nerdy and gawky
that he will have very little aptitude to Balthazar’s teachings.
That, and he seems much more interested in pursuing the girl of his
dreams, Becky (Teresa Palmer) then with vanquishing despicable sorcerers. Unfortunately, he’s the Prime Merlinian and he’s the only
one able to stop The Rising, so he’s in whether he likes to or not.
SORCERER’S APPRENTICE has three things going for:
First, there is a nice little nod to FANTASIA’s SORCERER’S
APPRENTICE animated short near the middle of the film (granted, it seems
awkwardly implanted in the film for no real reason).
Secondly, Alfred Molina – as he showed with relishing delight in
this summer’s PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME – shows how he
can so effortless play colorfully corrupt and acerbic villains that, if performed by any other actor, would have been altogether undistinguishable
(Molina is a great and intuitive enough performer to makes a one-note antagonist
like Hovarth simmer with so much playful vindictiveness).
Thirdly, I really, really liked Aussie newcomer Teresa
– despite being saddled with a generic and completely redundant love
interest role – is unrelentingly photogenic.
I just liked watching her.
the rest of the film is a tired, overstuffed, and unimaginative bore,
which is not truly helped by Turteltaub’s bland and impersonal
direction. It’s hard, I
guess, to drum up any level of modest suspense in the story when one can
see precisely where it is heading (hmmmm…I wonder if the apprentice will
assert himself, become the ultimate sorcerer, defeat the villains, and
score with the girl?). Moreover, the film is awash in sequences of joyless,
frantic, and uninspired visual effects. There are a few moments of visual interest (like when a
street parade dragon comes to life in Chinatown, or when chrome eagle
statues on the Chrysler Building also come to life), but too many other
sequence seem like unused and stale leftover footage from the HARRY POTTER
series. I guess that if you’ve seen one plasma bolt and fireball
conjured up in a person’s hands, then you’ve seen them all. There is never truly a moment of escapist awe and wonder here,
which should be a requisite for any fantasy.
film’s script is also very lazy when it comes to logical gaffs.
Balthazar continual reinforces to Dave in his training how they can
never, ever reveal their powers to mortals, yet, there
are endless moments in the film where Balthazar does unleash his magical
powers in public (curiously, and rather conveniently, no one
ever seems to notice the battle of wizards on land or in the skies in a city of
Then there is the illogic of the Becky/Dave relationship, which I
never once bought. This is
the second film this year that showcased Baruchel as a bumbling, geeky
outsider that manages to claim the sexy and beyond-his-league blondE sexpot
(see SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE).
However in that film Burachel affectionately and naturally played
his character's insecurities and his relationship with the bombshell
developed in a believable and sensitive manner.
In THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE Burachel painfully and unnaturally plays such an unbearably incompetent and
annoyingly offbeat hero that it is a Merlin-sized miracle that Becky
manages to become romantically interested in him at all.
Burachel can play these types of loveable doofuses in his sleep,
but he really labors too hard here and phones his role in. He also seems to have a very
exasperating habit of slapping his head with his hand to cover his eyes every time
he is embarrassed. Modern
audiences don’t need obvious visual clues like that to be convinced of a
Then again, maybe he was just revealing his overall discomfort for appearing in THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, which is just the type of cheap, clichéd, contrived, and monotonous Bruckheimer summer auctioneer/money maker that we have all come to expect from the producer. Plus, when it comes to Mickey Mouse versus Nicolas Cage in a bad rug spouting tired fantasy diatribes about grimholds, nesting dolls, Morganians, Hungarian Mirror Traps, The Rising, and the Prime Merlinian, I will take the rodent and FANTASIA any day of the week.