The Sorcerer's Apprentice (with Q&A from Jay Baruchel)
Now apart from being one of the few blokes on their own, mostly it was ladies with kids, groups of ladies, or the odd couple, and feeling rather awkward for it, I did find something rather interesting out about it, the film isn’t that bad.
That aside, the reviews weren’t glowing for it, and it sounded like a pretty mind numbing summer popcorn film. That’s pretty much how I went into the film, well that and keeping my head low trying not to look too out of place and not sit next to anyone under twenty!
The story begins well in the past when Merlin was fighting his arch-enemy the sorceress Morgana le Fay. Merlin has three apprentices he is teaching his magic to, Balthazar Blake, Maxim Horvath and Veronica. It’s never clear why Veronica doesn’t have a last name.
Maxim has turned evil and joined forces with Morgana, just in time to defeat Merlin, and as Balthazar arrives on the scene Merlin tells him that he must guard his dragon ring and search through time to find the one who will inherit it and his powers to finally defeat Morgana.
As Morgana turns to kill Balthazar, Veronica appears and casts a spell to pull Morgana’s soul inside her body. She holds Morgana inside long enough for Balthazar to trap them both in a special jar.
Throughout time he protects this jar and adds to it like a Matryoshka doll, or a Russian nesting doll, capturing the strongest sorcerers that come after the doll, including Maxim himself.
After his searching throughout the world and through hundreds and hundreds of years, by chance a young boy called David walks into his store and reveals himself to be the person to inherit Merlin’s power. Before he can begin the necessary training the boy accidentally releases Maxim from his prison, and the adventure begins, well after a rather long pause.
David becomes the reluctant Sorcerer’s Apprentice and trains to be the great sorcerer he could be, but will there be enough time before Maxim releases Morgana and tries to raise an army of the dead?
From the beginning I wasn’t expecting much from the film considering the reviews that had been dished around, considering it also had Nicolas Cage who hasn't been doing his best work for some time, I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope.
To be honest the opening of the film didn’t do a single thing to change that feeling. The introduction delivers the entire back history in a series of incredibly tightly cut scenes which race by about as fast as the voice-over of Ian McShane can deliver them without taking breath. The film-makers are keen to start the film and it seems that the background and set-up for the entire film isn’t that important.
There’s the obvious problem here that the back story is actually important, setting up the characters, their relationships, issues that will out later on in the film to give us a surprise, and most importantly of all get us engaged and interested in the story.
Far from that it actually felt like I was being pushed back from the film and that was a shame because some of these sequences looked great, and it’s our first glimpse of all the sorcerers fighting together with Merlin no less.
However the pace does settle down after the hurried introduction, although the editing is hard and fast throughout the film and at times we seem to skip over moments that are deemed not critical to the plot moving forward. You might think the editing is done this way to keep the pace exciting for the younger audience.
Story wise the film begins well, there are some nice moments to the early scenes as the young David discovers Balthazar and the secrets he’s been keeping all this while, and the first twist to the story is turned in quite quickly and goes against what we might have been expecting, which is a nice surprise.
From there the story builds well enough, the sorcerers have some great moments to build their adversarial relationship, and David’s story fits in well as he finds love at the same time as he finds his true self.
Yet it doesn’t last long and does become rather predictable during the later stages as the hero of the piece struggles with the weight of the responsibility that has been piled on him and shuns it all, turning away from the sorcerer and his destiny to walk the streets sulking about how tough it all is.
This is where the comments about the film being bland perhaps deserve a mention because there doesn’t feel like a great deal of weight to these moments. You’re going along with it and enjoying it to a degree, but for the hero to give up on everything and turn away should have some impact with the audience, and yet it didn’t, and neither did any of the key dramatic elements thereafter because you knew pretty much how the story was going to play out.
From here there’s nothing new to the way the story goes. It feels pretty much by the numbers and rather predictable right to the very end, and even the main plot drive isn’t new, raising a dead army.
That said the pace, the music and the fast cutting does build up the excitement somewhat and I did feel the final act, no matter how predictable it was, have an exciting affect.
There are some funny and clever moments throughout, some that had a few members of the audience laughing out loud, and a couple that had me going too.
The Star Wars and the Depeche Mode jokes were perhaps the best, but then they were the ones appealing to the older members of the audience. There are other comic moments delivered well from Cage and Jay Burachel that add to the entertainment.
The big moment is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene itself, they couldn’t not have this film without bringing in something about the scene from the original film that made it all happen, and they did it really well, although the scene doesn’t fit perfectly well with the film, it does give a great sequence with some very cool effects.
That’s something else that needs to be mentioned for it’s a huge part of the film. The effects are really good and help greatly with the believability of the events, well as much as you can believe in sorcerers and magic that is.
From simple spells of plasma and electricity bolts to flying metal dragons, transforming cars, and mirrored worlds, the effects are very good and at some points rather impressive, but once again it feels a little lacking. I didn't feel amazed at the effects, or even wowed, and I thought I would be. Yes they are really good, but no more than any other special effects blockbusters.
Some things that did stand out from the norm were the performances, most notably Nicolas Cage. Now I'm not a basher of stars unnecessarily, I mean I'm a fan of Tom Cruise, I like all but one of M. Night Shyamalan's films (I haven't yet seen The Last Airbender), I don't just have a pop at famous people, however I do think Nicolas Cage has been far from his best for quite a number of films, and the choices he makes and performances he turns in aren't setting the world on fire.
Some of the films he stars in are just terrible, and others are good but he tends to play the same startled character, but then there are some good films such as Con Air, 8MM, Leaving Las Vegas and Kiss of Death to name but a few, but lately his films and performances have been all too lacking.
So it's good news that he's giving a good performance here. He's not overplaying it and he gives his character a wry humour, and while the film might not be the best, he is giving it something, and with other performances of late in films such as Kick-Ass, it might be true to say he's coming back.
Toby Kebbell is enjoyable with his character, although it might be hard to recognise him to begin with, he looks like he's having a lot of fun in his role. He doesn't just play the inept, comic foil to the bad guy and does get to develop a little and have some strength of his own.
Jay Baruchel is good too. I had expected him to play the typical character we've seen him play in Hollywood, but actually there's a fair bit more to him. Of course he's playing the atypical unlikely hero, but he's been given something a little more substantial with his physics background and the love interest.
There just wasn't enough of Monica Bellucci nor Alice Krige, and what we did see of both was good and promising, but it was next to nothing and their characters very thin, not surprising considering the harassed opening that builds them for the rest of the film.
The best role however always goes to the villain, especially when the rest of the characters are so underdeveloped, and that went to the superb Alfred Molina, he was the most enjoyable character of the film and had some great villainous moments and one-liners, but he still didn't get enough depth or width.
One last thing worthy of a note, stay until the end of the film, there's a nice little after credits surprise.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is an enjoyable romp. It's a popcorn film that hurries along with effects and action aplenty to keep everyone interested, plus there's a really good cast to go along with the story and so it's enjoyable enough.
However it is a pretty standard story, despite some interesting flashes of difference in the opening post-introduction, an introduction which really is rammed down the audiences throat so that the characters get the barest of explanation before racing on.
Performances are good, but then there isn't always a lot to go on with the characters as some of them are pretty underdeveloped from the outset. It would have been far more interesting if the characters had been built a little more and the evil characters given a little more depth, as well as the story being given more time to breath with a little less reliance on standard fare.
Still, as far as popcorn entertainment goes, it did the job.
Q&A with Jay Baruchel:
- He introduced himself and hoped that by the end of the film we wouldn't have grown tired of his nasal voice, rather amusingly I was surprised to hear that it really was that strong
- He mentioned that he didn't get to keep anything of great significance from the film and when asked about getting the car he said it was “Nic's”, I wonder if that was the old classic or the new Mercedes?
- Asked about video games, I've no real idea why, he responded that he grew up playing Streetfighter and loved the idea of firing plasma bolts from his hands, so this is a real dream come true for him. However these days he plays Football Manager, Championship Manager and the equivalent Hockey Manager games
- Talking about taking risks on set and doing a few of his own stunts he revealed that on Tropic Thunder he gave himself tinnitus when he fired a gun in a scene without any earplugs in, doing the macho thing. Afterwards he was partially deaf and blind, a bit like the scene in Saving Private Ryan, but managed to carry on with the scene by waiting until Jack Black's lips stopped moving and then shouting his line before walking off
- It seemed that some prior knowledge helped him get the role as he had been on the only Jerry Bruckheimer television show that was cancelled, but that was a way in for this film
- He was happy, proud and amazed at the first screening of the film, although he could have been suffering concussion after hitting his head on an air conditioning unit a few moments earlier and breaking his scalp open. He watched the screening with tissues held against his scalp for the bleeding
- None of the Faraday cage was real, apart from the props themselves, the lightning was all CG, however it is true that you can make music with the bolts of electricity
- One child asked how it was to fly on the Eagle, and another if the dragon was real. He answered these truthfully and treating them like adults, I liked that about him. The dragon was obviously CG, but the eagle was CG in the flying scenes but with a practical model for some of the interaction with the actors
- Another child asked him what his favourite spell was, again he replied the plasma bolts
- When the lights didn't go up in the middle of the Q&A he tried to make them come on play acting some conjuring stances from the film, he was very animated when he was talking and very humble too
- He did hang out with the young boy from the beginning of the film so that he could get some of his mannerisms, something I don't think worked superbly well
- Finally he revealed that he's a hairy man and had to be shaved three times a day to keep looking as young as he needed to for the role
- When he was fifteen he sneaked into a screening of Con Air and had grown up with Nicolas Cage since then so that was a thrill to be working alongside him and said that he was a really cool guy
- The coolest he's worked with though would be Clint Eastwood as if his Grandad was still alive today he would be the one he would remember and be most proud of him working with
- He's not just known for his big Hollywood roles though, in Canada he appears in all sorts of independent films and has just completed one where he's a far from savoury character. He thinks of himself as having two careers
- He says that he gets uncomfortable watching himself in interviews, but in films he doesn't mind. In fact he is a fan of himself on screen because he thinks he's funny so he likes watching himself
- Ideally he wants to write and direct horror films and make people scared, something he's wanted to do since he began
- Right now he's just written a film called The Goon which is about the enforcer position in Ice Hockey, the fighter. Starring Sean William Scott as the enforcer and himself as his best friend