Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The [2010]

This is not the first time that Director John Turteltaub, best known, perhaps, for his post-apocalyptic series ‘Jericho’, and Nicholas Cage have worked together. Turteltaub directed and Cage starred in the very popular and engaging ‘National Treasure’. They also collaborated on the disastrous ‘National Treasure 2’. Ergo it was with mixed feelings that I sat down to absorb this, their latest effort.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Oh, God! I thought. Yet another Harry Potter rip-off, cashing in on the current wave of magicomania. It will be Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief all over again. One should approach these things with an open mind, however, or, to be more precise, a blank mind. Doing my best to slip back into the uncritical vacuity of my early teens I approached this latest offering from Turteltaub and Cage with some diffidence – to be pleasantly surprised.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is not Hogwarts by another name. Merlin meets the Big Apple, perhaps, but certainly original enough in concept to be a work on its own, and it has enough computer generated bells and whistles to please even the coolest techno-teenager.

In the early middle ages, is seems, Merlin the Magician had three apprentices with the un-early mediaeval names of Balthazar Blake [Nicholas Cage], Maxim Horvath [Alfred Molina] and Veronica [Monica Bellucci]. The three fight shoulder to shoulder against the evil sorcerers of the age, particularly Morgana Le Fay [Alice Krige], but Balthazar and Veronica become a couple, inciting the jealousy of Horvath who also fancies the gorgeous sorceress. Merlin is slain in sorcerous skirmish with Morgana, but before he dies he tell his colleagues that his power will pass to the Prime Merlinian who is yet to be born. There is more fighting and Morgana and Veronica are confined to a magical object that looks like an outsized Russian Matryushka doll, while Horvath is imprisoned in a large and ornate porcelain jar. Balthazar wanders the world, eventually ending up in modern New York.

A ten-year-old boy, Dave [Jay Baruchel], chasing a note from a girl that he fancies, inadvertently dashes into a mysterious old antique shop that specialises in arcana and magical objects where he accidentally releases Horvath from his long captivity. Balthazar, who happens to be in the shop, manages to re-imprison him after a brief but spectacular magical duel and Dave flees for his life with the Matryushka doll.

Ten years later Dave is a geeky young physics student who has convinced himself that the episode in the magic shop was all a bad dream, but unbeknownst to him it is all about to begin again. Ten years to the day after he was put back in his jar, Horvath escapes once more, immediately taking up the trail of Dave, who has the dolls containing both Veronica and Morgana. Balthazar manages to find Dave in time to save him from the wicked clutches of Horvath, but the evil magician is relentless and will employ any means, fair or foul [preferably the latter] to destroy Dave and release the long-imprisoned sorceresses.

Balthazar realises that the only way to save the situation, and stop Horvath from achieving his ultimate aim of destroying the world as we know it, is to make Dave his apprentice and teach him the Hermetic Arts. Balthazar knows that Dave is the Prime Merlinian, the one in whom the awesome powers of Merlin are reborn, and the only one who can stop Horvath for once and for all. Horvath, meanwhile, also has also acquired himself a protégé in the form of Drake Stone [Toby Kebbell], a young, fast-talking conjurer who has great latent powers, but is really only interested in performances, girls and partying. Horvath hopes to awaken these dormant abilities in order to suborn them to his own dastardly ends.

Dave’s education continues apace, and he is an apt pupil, as one would expect the Prime Merlinian to be, although he cannot always control his powers. In one delightful episode, lifted directly out of Walt Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in the groundbreaking 1940 animated production ‘Fantasia’, complete with Paul Dukas’ immortal score, Dave lets the brooms and mops get out of control in a wild welter of water and buckets when he tries, unsuccessfully, to clean the secret room where his instruction is taking place.

The movie contains considerable tongue-in-cheek humour such as this, as well as numerous visual gags. The pocket book the size of a cigarette packet that opens out again and again to become a massive mediaeval grimoire that Dave must study is one such. The perilous Persian quick-rug into which the unwary walker may sink into unplumbed depths is another. In this respect The Sorcerer’s Apprentice returns to the light-heartedness that typified the early Harry Potter movies, but which gradually deceased as the later instalments began to take themselves more seriously.

Of the plot little more need be said. Suffice that Horvath’s pursuit of Dave continues unabated, punctuated by furious rides in a cars that continually change shape, a truly magnificent Chinese dragon, and a constant fusillade of bangs, flashes, coruscations and detonations of ever-increasing magnitude and elaboration. Horvath’s evil plan must be thwarted at any cost and it takes every bit of cunning, courage, and magical skill that Balthazar, Dave, and Becky Barnes [Teresa Palmer], Dave’s romantic fixation, can summon to achieve that end.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, while brilliantly lit itself thanks to some truly impressive and innovative special effects, is not going to set the literary world alight. Nicholas Cage does his usual very competent job, while Teresa Palmer and Jay Baruchel are perfect as totally confused twenty-first century twenty-year-olds trying to cope with a mystery that has sprung straight out of ancient legend onto the streets of New York. Alfred Molina is delightfully evil, Toby Kebbell is a natural as his addle-headed side-kick, and the older Monica Bellucci gets the more beautiful she becomes. This latest incarnation of the concept of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a worthy successor to those of Dukas and Disney, a light-hearted and adrenalin-pumping ride that not will not only please many a teenage magic buff but will also be worth viewing over and over. When it comes out on DVD, which it shall very soon, this is definitely one for the collection and will enable many a wet school-holiday afternoon to pass enjoyably. And there is definitely room for a sequel.

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