EXPECTATIONS: Knowing practically nothing about this film other than who's in it and what part of Fantasia it's ripped off from, I can only hope that The Sorcerer's Apprentice won't simply try to stretch a 10-minute cartoon into an effects-laden explode-o-fest. At this point in the summer, if they can manage to string together something resembling a coherent story, then I'll probably be satisfied.
REALITY: English professors invented the word 'gobbledygook' in 1944 to describe the kind of narrative gibberish in which movies like The Sorcerer's Apprentice love to dabble. It's occasionally funny, and at times the effects work is pretty fascinating, but for the most part it wastes too much time explaining things better left unexplained. It felt like someone dragging me through a funhouse and describing everything inside instead of letting me just discover it all on my own. There's too much exposition and setup for a premise that was already thin seventy years ago.
The movie starts off with not one, but two prologues. The first introduces us to the eternal struggle between good wizards Merlin (James A. Stephens) and Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and evil wizards Morgana La Fey (Alice Krige) and Horvath (Alfred Molina). After trapping Morgana and Horvath in a very nicely decorated nesting doll, Balthazar wanders the earth searching for the boy prophesied to one day destroy them forever. In the second prologue, that boy turns out to be Dave (Jay Baruchel), a modern-day physics nerd whose only friend is his *ahem* Tesla coil.
In the first half hour, the movie more or less blows its entire narrative load, leaving the rest up to the whims of visual effects artists, Nicolas Cage, and Joseph Campbell. As hero's journeys go, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is fairly by-the-book. Dave meets his mentor, learns he has special powers, rejects his special powers, commits to learning from the mentor, blah blah blah. Instead of actually reading up on Campbell, the screenwriters must have just looked him up on Wikipedia and based the script on the checklist. Such a distressingly basic plot is made even more distressing by the fact that Disney paid five different screenwriters (maybe more) to hammer out this script. Nicolas Cage and his cat probably could have come up with the story for this movie on a lazy afternoon.
The credits mention that the movie is "suggested" by the Mickey Mouse cartoon, but that's like saying the National Treasure movies (also directed by Jon Turtletaub) were "suggested" by America, or that the King Arthur legend was "suggested" by Great Britain. There's a brief sequence in which Dave completely fails at manipulating mops and brooms while Paul Dukas' iconic music plays, but other than that the movie has nothing to do with anything Walt Disney ever put his name on. This scene feels tacked on in the worst possible way, and the only reason it exists at all is because New Disney seems dead set on ruining everything great about Old Disney.
Nic Cage has been hankering for an excuse to show off his magical powers for years.
Apparently for that very reason, the movie decides to make up its own set of rules, one of which is "Explain everything." Balthazar sits Dave -- and us -- down and teaches him the science behind how people can levitate foreign objects or shoot plasma bolts from their hands. These are crucial scenes, because we need to see Dave learn how to use his newfound powers in order to believe him as a sorcerer later on in the movie. That's a given. What we don't need is to be told that magic is basically applied science. After eleven years, have we seriously learned nothing from The Phantom Menace? One of the first lessons in any writing class is "Show, don't tell." It's okay to have Dave ask, "How did you do that?" It's not okay to have Balthazar say, "Here, these are the Newtonian principles behind how I just did that."
It's director Turtletaub and his gaggle of screenwriters holding the audience's hand and assuring us that all this weird shit we're seeing really isn't that weird. Only we want it to be weird, dammit! There's a reason people flock to the big spectacle events every summer, and it's not to be talked down to. It's to see things that can't ever conceivably happen. If Tony Stark can build a flying robot suit and suspend our disbelief by calling it "science," then why can't Balthazar conjure an alternate dimension and call it "magic"? I guess what I'm really asking is why does Hollywood think we need weirdness explained to us? If Harry Potter can get away with it, so can Nicolas Cage.
Speaking of which, two people who desperately try with all their might to make the movie more interesting are Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina. This is the second time this year in which Cage has played mentor to a character named Dave (the first being Kick-Ass.) While he does get a few moments to shine that crazy shine we all love oh so very much, this is a PG-rated action movie, so he's not afforded the chance to really cut loose. Molina doesn't fare much better. He imparts a pompous sneer here and there, but is largely wasted hiding behind a fur coat and top hat. As Dave, Jay Baruchel lays on the "Are you / This is crazy" talk about once per scene, leading me to guess that this movie was, at one time, titled Dave Can't Believe It.
Given the involvement of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, it's clear that Disney really wants The Sorcerer's Apprentice to become its next big Pirates-esque franchise: A-list talent, top-flight special effects, Hans Zimmer-ish music, and even an ending hook for a sequel. Thing is, it displays all the hallmarks of Bruckheimer's bad movies without reminding us of any of his good ones. In the grand scheme of the 2010 Summer Movie Season, The Sorcerer's Apprentice will likely get swept under the rug, hopefully teaching Disney that it should try adapting something other than itself for once.
|Giant CGI Animals||3/10|
MINORITY REPORT: I spent some time with Mr. Cage in a nursing home some years ago, and I taught him many of the scientific principles he employs in this film. For example, I once taught him that if he shouted loud enough, the world around him would shatter and collapse. We could never perfect this particular technique, although I hear rumours that he has come close. One technique we did perfect was the infamous "rat throw." It involved the throwing of rats. I forget the purpose of the rat throw, but it was an enjoyable enough way to spend an evening. -Montague "Legally Sane" Smythe
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