Saturday, July 17, 2010
Okay, I know Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas but turning to a musical segment from “Fantasia” as inspiration for a new summer blockbuster seems especially weak. But like it or not, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (opened July 14 throughout San Diego) is trying to build a film from the old Mickey Mouse animation.
Speaking of Mickey Mouse, you could say this whole remake is a Mickey Mouse kind of idea. But it’s Disney so I guess that’s appropriate. I have to say I’m surprised the film has essentially tanked at the box office. I thought that the audiences that made the two “National Treasure” films such a big hit for Disney and Nicolas Cage would turn out for this in big numbers, especially with a Wednesday opening. But surprisingly it was the more challenging Christopher Nolan film “Inception” that won the top spot with “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” coming in a weak third.
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" really has little in common with its namesake except for the notion of a young apprentice (this time a reluctant one) to a wizard and a brief bit with some over zealous brooms and mops. The film doesn't even use Paul Dukas' music to any real effect. But now the basic story of a lazy but over confident young apprentice is complicated by a convoluted plot tying the characters back to Merlin and some ancient romantic triangle. Nicolas Cage is the good wizard, Alfred Molina (didn’t he already do his sellout film for the year with “Prince of Persia”) is the wizard who’s turned bitter and evil, and Monica Bellucci is the object of both their desires. The unlikely apprentice is a nerdy kid played by Jay Baruchel.
The actual plot is rather superfluous and doesn't seem like anyone worked very hard on it. It only exists as an excuse for some special effects. Things move quickly enough for you to ignore that it is all pretty silly. There’s nothing especially fun or clever about the film or where it takes us. There is no sense of magic despite all the wizardry on display. The effects are slick enough to be entertaining (I did like the dragon dancers who turn into a real dragon) but we never look up in awe at them, and I want that in a film about spells and magic. There are moments in Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm," which had a fraction of this budget, that did make me marvel at what I was seeing and that's a fantastic feeling.
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" at least has the good sense to maintain a sense of humor about itself. So when Molina’s wizard tries his mind control trick on a computer geek and tells the young man that “No, I don’t need any identification,” Molina’s sidekick is savvy enough to make a Jedi joke about “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” So it's wise enough to know when to poke fun at itself and to make the obvious pop culture references.
The cast is likable. Cage chews up scenery as does Molina, and both are enjoyable in their excesses. Baruchel is geekily appealing but Bellucci is shamefully underused. They all try to invest the film with a meager sense of fun. But the big effects and a plot stretching over centuries ultimately weigh the film down and keep it from being genuinely fleet of foot and elegant. But then should I really expect that much from a director with the inelegant name of Jon Turteltaub and whose past credits include “Cool Runnings,” Phenomenon,” and “National Treasure”?
Sadly, though, there’s not much family fare in theaters right now so parents with young kids don’t have a lot of options at the moment. So the best thing you can do is go out and rent “Fantasia,” and see something that’s still fresh and impressive.
“Sorcerer’s Apprentice” feels like a product conceived of to try and repeat the success of “National Treasure.” The fact that it fared so poorly at the box office should mercifully mean that we won’t see a sequel and that’s music to my ears.
Companion viewing: “Fantasia,” “Excalibur,” “The Brothers Grimm,” "Ladyhawke"