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Movie Review - The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Human beings have always been fascinated by magicians. Whether it’s the old testament tale of Moses parting the Red Sea or Prospero summoning storms to torment his brother in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, people have always been enamoured of the idea that somewhere out there, there are individuals who can alter the world simply by concentrating really hard and uttering a few magic words.
Hollywood has also been bitten by the magician bug, which makes sense because wish fulfillment is good for business. Whether it is the on-screen adaptations of the Harry Potter novels, Ron Howard’s Willow, Walt Disney’s 1963 retelling of the tale of the Sword in the Stone, or Peter Jackson’s version of the Lord of the Rings Saga, American cinema has told some great stories about men and women who could manipulate powerful magics.
This particular tale of mages and monsters centers around the sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Nicholas Cage), his neurotic apprentice Dave (Jay Berushal), and their fight to stop the evil magician Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) from performing a spell that will destroy New York City. It isn’t really very good.
In many movies which focus on wizards, with the notable exceptions of Death Stalker and Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie, the magic user is the best part of the film. What, for example, would the Lord of the Rings trilogy, be without Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Gandalf? What would Willow be without Jean Marsh’s performance as the demon queen Bavmorda? Unfortunately, Nicholas Cage (Ghost Rider, Next, Wickerman, Moon Struck, National Treasure) is not Ian McKellen and his performance as Balthazar is really quite dull. He does not have much of a presence on screen, and while the man may be trying to take a break from playing crazies in movies like Vampire’s Kiss and Bangkok Dangerous (something we should all be grateful for), his attempt to be low key comes off as boring. Jay Berushal (The Trotsky, Tropic Thunder) is excellent in his role as a socially awkward physics-nerd turned sorcerer, but his part is underwritten so he doesn’t get enough opportunities to shine in the film.
Alfred Molina does a good job as Horvath, but since we’ve seen him play a similar role in a number of different movies (Chocolat, The DaVinci Code, Dudley Do Right), there isn’t anything new here. Molina can sleepwalk his way through the role of the evil Englishman, but I still enjoyed his performance.
Alice Krige’s cameo as Morgana LaFay adds a bit of spark to the movie. She earned her kudos through StarTrek: First Contact and Chariots of Fire.
For all that this movie is in many ways mediocre, the special effects are really quite stunning. The scene with the dragon (because you know that every movie involving magicians has to have one) is amazing. There is also a giant metal vulture which is uber-cool. I wish I had seen this film on the big screen to get the full effect. So, if you like computer-generated spectacle and don’t care so much about the quality of the acting, this movie is for you. If not, you should check out the new re-imagining of The Tempest, directed by Julie Taymor and starring Helen Mirren as Prospero. If Shakespeare isn’t your cup of tea, try Willow instead.