On DVD: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Nicolas Cage and director Jon Turteltaub found a certain magic with the “National Treasure” movies, so it’s not surprising that Disney turned to them again in hopes of turning another existing property in the form of the infamous “Fantasia” scene into a possible franchise starter. A story of ancient sorcery and modern action in present-day New York City, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” puts some cool pieces on the game board, but ultimately lacks an “it” factor to captivate its audience.

The story begins with an expository prologue (never a good omen for a fantasy film) explaining that the infamous wizard Merlin had three apprentices: Balthazar (Cage), Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Horvath (Alfred Molina). When Merlin’s great rival Morgana was at her most powerful, Horvath turned on the three. Veronica sacrificed herself by containing Morgana within her and Balthazar trapped her and Horvath in a magical nesting doll of sorts.

Thousands of years later, Balthazar is in New York City searching for Merlin’s successor (know as the Prime Merlinian — an unfortunate pun on longitude’s Prime Meridian), the only one who can put an end to Morgana forever. In 2000, a young Dave Stutler wanders into his shop and — and you believe it — Merlin’s ring fits him. However, Dave accidentally release’s Horvath from his doll and Balthazar traps them both again for another 10 years. The experience “ruins” Dave’s childhood, but 10 years later Balthazar seeks college-aged Dave (Jay Baruchel), needing his help to stop Horvath who plans to free Morgana and finish what they started.

Balthazar takes in a somewhat reluctant physics geek Dave as his apprentice, although Dave would much rather court Becky (Teresa Palmer), a girl from back in his grade school days who he discovers also goes to NYU. Baruchel is effective in his typical socially awkward guy going after the girl role. He’s quite adept at turning corny fantasy exposition/explanation from Cage and making a joke of the cheesiness of it all. The trouble is that Baruchel is hard to identify with if you’re the target pre-teen boy group Disney’s going for. Dave’s “in college” and Baruchel has a background in R-rated comedy, so he’s not enticing for younger viewers. Women also have nothing to like here as Becky is more the geek’s dream girl type character who doesn’t factor into the fantasy story except for a small (yet “critical”) part.

So with no one’s attention but the geek audience, it’s no surprise “Apprentice” struggled at the U.S. box office. It’s a shame because the film does some creative and cool things. The way the modern context and the magic blend is often executed creatively like in the dragon chase scene in Chinatown when Horvath unlocks a long-fingernailed sorcerer friend of his to try and stop Dave and Balthazar. Molina gives the villain the class a good villain ought to have, the only trouble remains that his plan to unleash Morgana so they can raise an army of undead is less than inspiring.

Part of the “it” factor that’s missing lies in the fact that no character truly steals any of the film as, say, Johnny Depp did in “Pirates.” Sure, that’s the perfect example, but Cage, albeit funny at times, has no unique characteristics. Part of this also lies in that he’s written to give a lot of the explanation and doesn’t get to develop a special personality. The writing team has put these characters in a creative and well-established universe, but they simply do nothing memorable with it. Turteltaub gives the actions sequence some razzle dazzle that entertains, but “Apprentice” ultimately falls short of being memorable.

As a fantasy geek close to Baruchel’s age, watching Cage and our protagonist fling plasma balls around along with other various tricks/curses makes great fun. Also, seeing the naturally gorgeous Palmer, who plays the chill awesome no-drama pretty girl so well, fall for the nerd, takes unfair advantage of my nerd sensibilities. But not only am I not who Disney wanted to go see this film, specifically, but even I can detect that “Apprentice” is a few ingredients shy of a guilt-free romp.

3/5 Stars

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Alfred Molina


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