PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

This 'Sorcerer' Fails to Conjure Up Much Magic

Successful tales of the high seas are one thing. The Sorcerer's Apprentice proves that when it comes to reinventing the corporate catalog, the House of Mouse is more a House of Lousy Movies.


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Monica Bellucci, Teresa Palmer, Alice Krige, Toby Kebbell
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-07-14 (General release)
UK date: 2010-07-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Seven years ago, it seemed like a asinine idea. After all, Disney had already struck out with two theme park based films (The Country Bears and Mission to Mars), and another Eddie Murphy starring vehicle based on an attraction (The Haunted Mansion) was headed for a similar flop status. But somehow, despite the odds, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became a massive international hit and as a result, the most unlikely of franchises. Spawning three sequels (and counting), the box office run of Capt. Jack Sparrow and his fey buccaneer ways has reinvigorated the House of Mouse's desire to continuing turning their otherwise non-cinematic properties into live action spectacles. The latest? The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

That's right, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon National Treasure Turteltaub have brought frequent paycheck casher Nicolas Cage along for a 100 minute revamp of a nine minute animated vignette from the company's 1940 cartoon masterwork Fantasia. If you think stretching a silly little symphony revolving around Mickey Mouse, a mislaid book of spells, and some magical cleaning equipment into a summer popcorn blockbuster is a specious idea, you should see the final results. More or less mimicking the studios lame early '70s output, it's one of the worst live action Disney films in a while. All that's missing is Dean Jones and/or Tommy Kirk, Haley Mills, a trained chimp, and a goofy title like The Enchanted Nerd and you'd swear you were watching a misappropriation of Blackbeard's Ghost and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones - except with a lot less artistic accomplishment.

Our slapdash story starts with Cage's Balthazar Blake, apprentice to King Arthur's main wizard. Along with two other noble underlings, Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Horvath (Alfred Molina), they are preparing to protect the 740 A.D. world from the evil machinations of main magic rival Morgana (Alice Krige). When Merlin is betrayed and killed, he gives Balthazar his prized dragon ring and commands that he wander the ages looking for his successor, otherwise known as the "Prime Merlinium". Fast forward to 2010 and spastic physics geek Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) apparently fits the bill. Reluctant at first, he soon learns that the fate of all mankind rests with his prophesized powers. Balthazar intends to train him in the ways of sorcery. But when Horvath returns to revive Morgana, it will take more than magic to save the day.

You can see The Sorcerer's Apprentice struggling, almost from the very beginning. Instead of playing things out in a moment of dramatic excess, the picked over screenplay provides an ominous voice over with the basics of the premise. Cage, Molina, and Bellucci do their magic mime pantomime, bolts of energy are exchanged, and then the ultimate creative short cut - Alice Krige - shows up to personify evil, and suddenly it's the year 2000. We get a dopey grade school story of how Dave meets Balthazar for the first time, a reason for the following "10 Years Later" title card, and the standard jokes about peeing one's pants and being too geeky to get girls. By the time any real wizardry takes place, we long since forgotten why our human hero is so important to the cause.

Indeed, it takes almost 40 minutes before Cage calms down enough to try and bring some gravitas to the proceedings. The rest of the time, he's playing supernatural stand-up comic. If running gags about pointy old man shoes, flaccid plasma balls, and Tesla coils aren't enough to have you wincing, the epilepsy-lite performance from Baruchel practically rewrites the rulebook on dork - and discomfort. So prickly with himself that he makes us itchy, Dave is like a walking excuse for bullying. We can buy the whole Mensa vs. magic angle, but the instant connection that Teresa Palmer's college DJ Becky feels for this boy demands way too much disbelief suspension. The steel eagle, the matryoshka prison, and the last act promise of something called "The Rising" (Bruce Springsteen should sue) are a lot more credible than Dave's chemistry with this gullible gal pal.

It's as if The Sorcerer's Apprentice came up with its ideas after sifting through the last three decades of the Summer movie experience. Sadly, it seems to have only picked out the mediocre elements to emulate. The actors all underachieve, the premise quickly loses its potency, and Turteltaub continues to argue for his irrelevancy as a major league moviemaker. Just because his previous collaborations with Cage and Bruckheimer yielded sizeable commercial returns doesn't mean he has the Spielberg touch. He's barely a Chris Columbus. As a matter of fact, he more closely copies the fatally freefalling tendencies of a M Night Shyalaman. If Mr. Sixth Sense and Shawn Levy had a baby, Turteltaub would be said journeyman offspring. What he lacks in vision, he more than makes up for in direct demographic pandering.

With humor that's beyond obvious, plot mechanics that make the most rigid robotics seem like ballet, and no real center to root for, The Sorcerer's Apprentice becomes a tired example of celluloid carnival barking. It's all promise and anticipation with none of the payoff. Instead of an epic adventure told in an equally ambitious style, it's all focus group safety and preprogrammed preposterousness. Perhaps buried somewhere inside this script by committee is a decent idea that could then be professionally fleshed out into an actual film - and no, no amount of mop and broom live action referencing can justify this junk (besides, the homage is fairly mediocre at that). Of course, there would also have to be actors able to sell the stuff. The only things Cage and company auction off here is their credibility.

While one can easily imagine the studio continuing this hit or miss approach to movie making (next up - The Tiki Birds Take Manhattan! ), perhaps this effort will convince them to take a little more care next time around. Successful tales of the high seas are one thing. The Sorcerer's Apprentice proves that when it comes to reinventing the corporate catalog, the House of Mouse is more a House of Lousy Movies.

3

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.