Monday, 19 July 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Jerry Bruckheimer. This famous name which most moviegoers have no doubt heard of pretty much sums up every single aspect of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. If you've seen any of the flicks which this guy is involved in you'll know exactly what to expect; all glamorous style and substantially miniscule substance all wrapped up in a big-budget summer blockbuster to half-concentrate on as you munch away at your salted popcorn. He specialises in flicks which have the sole purpose of quickly getting to the point, not staying with a scene for more than a couple of minutes, to keep going and going, throwing in special effect after special effect, not trying to be smart or subtle, having a few sword fights, throwing the actors around the room or off a building, marketing it with epic music and boom, money at the box-office. Or not, as audiences have surprisingly steered clear of Mr. Bruckheimer's latest effort.

With Pirates of the Caribbean, he brought us a movie based on a bloody Disneyland theme park ride, Prince of Persia on a video game and now this on the identically titled excerpt from Fantasia, the Mickey Mouse musical as well as Goethe's beloved 1797 poem. The uncontrollable, magical mop-cleaning scene from the Disney animated classic is actually re-enacted about halfway through the movie, although it's pretty much thrown in just to say, "Yeah, we, uh, we based this entire movie on this tiny bit, and made a whole plot about it, sort of, uh, yeah, that's impressive, right?" Not really, Jerry.

You might be wondering how the holy hell they managed to write a 98 minute movie about mops destructively cleaning, but they thankfully have not. We start in 740 AD, where wizard Merlin (James A. Stephens) is being betrayed by one of his three apprentices, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), who has joined forces with the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) to kill his master. Although too late to save Merlin, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) manages to imprison Morgana in a magical nesting doll called the Grimhold while Horvath escapes.

Cut to modern day Manhattan and physics nerd Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) just so happens to stumble upon Balthazar, who believes Dave to be the Prime Merlinian (sounds stupid, right?), the one chosen to gain Merlin's powers. He needs Dave to help stop Horvath from finding the Grimhold and unleashing Morgana to take over the world. Insert evil laugh here.

Ergo, Balthazar takes Dave on as his apprentice, training him in the art of magic while saying all-knowing phrases and teaching him morals and life lessons and what shoes to wear. There's also the subplot of Dave's obsessive crush on Becky (Teresa Palmer), who, you'll never see this coming, seriously, it's so shocking, oh my god, gets taken hostage at one point. Gasp, so dramatic and unexpected.

This is a pretty standard fantasy action blockbuster, one jam-packed with cliches, light humour and extreme predictability, but there is some neat writing in here too. Much of the dialogue, especially from Dave, flows quite well and is rather impressive for a film of this genre. The problem is that the story isn't involving or captivating enough to bring it to the exceptionally high entertainment value it so believes it has.

This is partly due to the Jon Turteltaub's generic direction, the distractingly bad pacing and some shockingly awful editing too. Also, there's clearly been a lot of money put into the special effects which, as dazzling as they may be, take away from the emotional impact the film could have very much advanced itself with. True, the film is a visual smorgasbord, but it's lacking in that spark it needs to lift itself up.

What the film does have though is two very strong leads. Although a little short on genuine chemistry, the two are quite likable characters who manage to hold the film together. No, this is not Cage's best performance, but come on, it's Nicolas Cage, the guy just emits fumes of extra-special awesomeness. He's playing the wise master of magic you've seen in a thousand movies before, but Cage brings something new to the table: a bad haircut. Actually, no, what he brings is his naturally quirky self that I just find so alluring and charming.

Baruchel is equally on fine form, playing a geeky, timid, awkward student (me, basically) who's suddenly thrown into a world of sorcery, wizards and dragons. He's an appealing enough character and one who provides many laughs, but Baruchel has unquestionably the most nasal voice my eardrums have ever had to deal with (and I watch Everybody Loves Raymond on a daily basis). I swear, if this guy sneezes the whole universe will implode.

Then there's Molina playing our villain, a well-spoken yet patronising Englishman. He is certainly the most talented member of the cast, bringing a touch of class to what is otherwise, well, a Jerry Bruckheimer film. His performance is fairly memorable, despite the character being a run-of-the-mill baddie and Molina does remarkably well with what he has to work with.

Some of the special effects are spectacular, particularly during the fight scenes with the sorcerers blasting balls of electricity at each other or trapping one another in mirrors. However, they all pretty much just scream, "I WAS DONE ON A COMPUTER!!" which screws up the illusion of some scenes. For instance, there's a Chinatown sequence where a dragon costume transforms into an actual living, fire breathing dragon which starts tearing up the place. The CGI looks very cheesy and it ruins what could have been a tense scene.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the kind of film you'd expect to see being advertised during the summer holidays. It's a visual spectacle gorged with special effects and big-star names to tease kids into begging their parents to buy them a ticket. It exists purely to rake in all the cash it can get its greedy hands on, but for what it is, I couldn't help but enjoy it. Sure, it's not emotionally involving or all that tense but unlike Prince of Persia, I actually found it to be fairly entertaining. And hey, it's Jerry Bruckheimer, you can't be expecting much, right? Next thing you know, he'll be producing a movie based on a museum brochure.


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