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July 18, 2010

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Movie Review – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

by HELEN GEIB

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has some good things going for it, but it needed to slow down and savor the moment.

Where: New York City. When: today. The fantasy backdrop: the story is set in the real world, except magic is real. The backstory: good and evil sorcerers have been battling for supremacy down through the centuries. The stakes: the fate of the world.

The movie opens with an action-packed prologue introducing Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci), the three apprentices of Merlin. Horvath betrays them and allies himself with Morgana le Fay in her last fight against Merlin. Morgana is defeated, but at great cost. Merlin is killed and after absorbing Morgana’s soul into her own body, Veronica is imprisoned inside a magical object. Balthazar spends the next 1,300 or so years battling Horvath and his fellow Morganians and searching for Merlin’s prophesied successor, the only person capable of finally defeating Morgana and freeing Veronica.

This prologue is followed by a second action-packed prologue introducing 10 year old Dave, who in ten years time, in the story proper, will become Balthazar’s apprentice and fulfill his destiny in the climactic battle against Horvath and the revived Morgana. The intervening plot follows the path one would expect from this scenario. Adult Dave is played by Jay Baruchel.

What the movie has going for it:

1) It is family friendly. This is a Disney production and is safe for kids, teens, and parents.

2) Cage and Molina really know how to put this kind of material over.

3) Sorcery in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is flashy- literally as well as figuratively. There are lots and lots of plasma bolts and fireballs, and neat tricks like transmogrifying classic roadsters into sports cars and sucking people into mirrors.

4) The effects are good. See number 3.

5) Science is cool. Dave is a physics nerd who loves science, can fix things, and is working on an independent study project involving Tesla coils in an impossibly cool makeshift laboratory in an abandoned subway switching station. And it gets better: being a scientist makes him a better sorcerer because sorcery is about manipulating molecules. But wait, there’s more! Not only does Dave use physics to forestall the apocalypse, he also uses it to impress the girl he has a crush on! In all seriousness, the positive depiction of science might be reason enough to take a child to see this movie, and earns it an extra half star.

6) Veronica and Morgana are powerful sorcerers, the equal or better of the men. Becky, Dave’s love interest, insists on coming along, acts bravely, and is instrumental in saving the day.

The downside:

The movie makes itself hard to enjoy. This is short attention span cinema, rushing furiously from scene to scene and moment to moment. Again and again it feels as if a scene has hardly begun before it’s over and on to the next. A few examples. An early fight with a Chinese Morganian should be an exhilarating special effects showpiece, but instead feels oddly curtailed. While Dave is in training, the film pays homage to the famous Fantasia segment with which it shares a name. The sequence should be delightful, yet just when it starts to get good, it’s abruptly cut off. When Balthazar and Veronica are reunited the camera cuts away from their embrace before the audience has time to finish saying “aww.” The breakneck pace is absolute.

2 1/2 stars


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At least it’s better than Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, with which it shares a plot.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Doc
    Jul 19 2010

    The Apprentice segment in Fantasia is arguably the best, most memorable, animated scene Disney ever produced. It defines the genre. The Fantasia homage is thus the make-or-break moment for the film. If this version had risen to the original, or at least created a convincing alternative with modern cg movie magic, the studio would have walked away a winner. Sadly, neither happened, and the film is a disappointment. What were they thinking?

  2. Helen
    Jul 19 2010

    The “sorcerer’s apprentice” sequence is above all a missed opportunity, like the rest of the film. Prince of Persia was the same. A lot of people clearly put a lot of time and effort into producing a film that would appeal to everyone, but to the point that the calculation squeezed all the life out. The old Fairbanks and Lancaster films these are descended from have a playfulness and joy that are sorely needed here.

  3. Sep 29 2010

    I haven’t seen everything that Cage has done, but I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like, at least marginally.
    I do agree that some movies are; well are they “over scripted” or “over directed” or both? Or do revolve around some “formula” that evicts any sense of real life situations or spontenaity?

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