Published Jul 15, 2010The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't a great film, but it's an important one. It's not hard to imagine that in the near future, professors of Film Studies 101 classes will be carefully dissecting this film's mediocrity with the same attention afforded the Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin or the jittery editing rhythms of Breathless.
No film in recent memory speaks to Hollywood's slump towards bottom-line-driven, terminally ordinary, yet otherwise inoffensive, blockbusters quite like The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Ostensibly an expanded re-imagining of the 1940 Fantasia vignette (adapted from an eighteenth century Goethe poem), The Sorcerer's Apprentice casts Nic Cage as Balthazar Blake, a scraggly sorcerer who's spent the last millennium or so scouring the globe for the wizarding wunderkind powerful enough to serve as the heir to the throne of Merlin himself. Yes, Merlin. One of the film's more eager charms is its apparent desire to connect all its magical seriousness to Arthurian legend, as if doing so grounds it in anything resembling history.
This successor (the so-called "Prime Merlinian," which sounds a lot like "prime meridian," except with the word "Merlin" jimmied in) comes in the form of physics nerd Dave (Jay Baruchel), who after accidentally releasing Balthazar's ages-old enemy Horvath (Alfred Molina), becomes swept up in a world of enchantments, shape-shifting and other supernatural phenomena. Its reluctant hero narrative is as well worn as the film's slumbering traipse through its narrative arc, although it all comes together fairly well.
But it's so lazy. It's not that it's bad, like last summer's Transformers 2 (or this summer's Jonah Hex), so much as utterly bland; it's a film that coasts by on impressive SFX, familiar plotting and not unremarkable on-screen chemistry between Cage and Baruchel. As a Disney movie aimed at kids, it's also pretty harmless, though it's telling that a more-or-less live-action offering such as this is easily outshined by the emotional depth and effortless humour of any of the computer-animated outings Pixar annually trots out of their stable.
Magic? No, but its few tricks (Cage's performance, the visual effects) are enough to grant The Sorcerer's Apprentice the illusion of entertainment. This is another joyless, albeit wholly benign, summer blockbuster. (Disney/Buena Vista)