Friday, March 4, 2011

One Disney Remake Too Many: The Sorcerer's Apprentice Is An Overblown Special Effects Film!

The Good: The movie looks good, Good casting
The Bad: Terrible character development, Predictable plot, Some very lame humor
The Basics: Another disappointing live-action Disney endeavor, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is, unfortunately, nothing terribly new.

When I saw the first preview trailer for Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I was exceptionally excited. No, I'm not a fan of weak-concept movies or remakes of animated works as live action films or even a particular fan of many of the works of Disney Films in recent years. Instead, the first shots I saw made me think that DC Comics had pulled off a real coup and managed to make a Green Lantern film without me ever finding out about it. Having returned from an early screening of it, I find myself wishing that it had been a Green Lantern movie. (Not going to happen through Disney; they own Marvel Comics now.)

But on to The Sorcerer's Apprentice. This is the latest in a series of movies based upon shorter works or works in other media that Disney owns or has bought the movie rights to. This is a fleshing out, live action, of the idea in Fantasia of a wizard taking on an apprentice. The idea it taken to a more extreme level and the result is one that would not feel quite so tired had it not been for recent films like The Vampire's Assistant (which, ironically, The Sorcerer's Apprentice has a lot in common with, including the comedic aspects), Percy Jackson And The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and even Kick-Ass (reviewed here!). The result is a family-friendly special-effects driven film that feels like it was a board meeting's response to seeing the market niche being filled elsewhere. The Sorcerer's Apprentice comes late to the market and is likely to be one of the bigger box office flops as the young people to whom the film is geared will have much, much better options for movies they can watch (or sneak into).

Maxim Horvath is gathering power, enlisting powerful evil wizards and magicians in his bid to take over the world. When the popular illusionist Drake Stonea joins his side, the forces of good, in the form of Balthazar Blake begin to feel truly beleaguered. Blake finds a college student with an aptitude for chemistry and physics studying locally and he impresses him into service as his assistant. At first, Dave Stutler is freaked out and unconvinced of the realities of the magical world, but soon his training is under way and he has multiple example of magic and of Maxim Horvath's desire to stop Balthazar and now him. Dave also realizes that magic may well be the way to the heart of Becky, a fellow student he has a crush on.

But soon Horvath and his forces are unleashing magical monsters on Manhattan and only Balthazar and Dave stand in his way. As they battle through dragons, animated statues and magical forces, Dave learns to use his new powers and he becomes the best chance the forces of good have to stop (or distract) Horvath from taking over.

Instead of my usual rant about how Dave's love interest is a twiggy blonde chick (in this case played by Teresa Palmer, who I have not seen in any other works), I'll compliment director Jon Turteltaub on his casting. Jay Baruchel plays Dave with a perfectly convincing quality. Dave is nervous, uncertain and often clumsy and Baruchel has played that masterfully in other films. He has not lost his touch for The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Similarly, Alfred Molina has played monolithic villains before and his portrayal of Maxim Horvath is easily within his range and ability. He does not disappoint as the movie's antagonist.

Unfortunately, like many Disney films, Horvath is never made into a truly real character. Horvath is stereotypically evil with no real distinguishing characteristics that make him vital or interesting. Instead, he is the villain with the typically villainous desire to take over, with no real clear agenda or reason why he wants to be an overlord. The result is a feeling that we are watching yet another tired movie where the heroes are not so exceptional because the villain is not terribly distinct.

This, sadly, plays out poorly for The Sorcerer's Apprentice because while Nicholas Cage does heroic just fine when he wants to, the disheveled hero has been done to death by him. Cage as Balthazar becomes an excuse for much exposition and while he is given the special effects power to do magic, the viewer never truly feels like he is a credible sorcerer. In other words, Balthazar never quite seems smart or able enough to control the powers he is trying to make Dave disciplined enough to handle. The result is that while Cage does fine in the role, the role never seems terribly credible.

Add to that, writers Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, and Matt Lopez never seem to miss a joke that falls flat. From Dave critiquing Blake's fashion sense to the obvious hormone-driven references that are likely to go over the heads of younger audiences, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is largely not funny. The lines tend to resonate more as catch-phrases than as flowing dialogue within the context of the movie. This is NOT the next Harry Potter franchise and those who are looking for a good coming-of-age story will find that is sublimated to ridiculous humor from the slapstick to the witless verbal jokes.

What keeps The Sorcerer's Apprentice from the absolute bottom of the barrel are the effects. In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the effects are special enough to be engaging and for those who have not seen the trailers yet, they look better on the big screen and Turteltaub smartly has the transitions move in realistic time, instead of the super-accelerated way so many special effects films try to dazzle their audiences with.

That said, at the end of the day, The Sorcerer's Apprentice truly is just a live-action special-effects flick with a weak, predictable, overdone story that is mucked up by poor writing. Film fans can do much, much better than this, even during Summer Blockbuster Season.

For other films featuring Alfred Molina, please check out my reviews of:
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Wonder Woman
Raiders Of The Lost Ark


For other film reviews, please visit my index page for a complete listing of all I have reviewed by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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