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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

DVD Of The Week: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

While the idea of a young man discovering he has magical powers is rather old hat as a story conceit these days - thanks to JK Rowling - the story of Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) is more Doctor Strange or Harry Dresden than Harry Potter.

The film opens in 740AD with the death of Merlin (James A. Stephens) at the hands of Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige), who then is overcome by two of Merlin's apprentices, one of them being Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage).

Through the following centuries Blake scours the Earth for a worthy successor to Merlin's power, while fending off attacks from followers of Morgana, who seek to free her from her 'nesting doll' prison.

Finally, in the year 2000, a young boy (Dave) stumbles in an old antiques shop - a dreadful, old cliché, but well executed - that Balthazar runs and the old wizard realises the young boy is just the person he was looking for. Unfortunately, before he can do much else Dave accidentally frees one of Morgana's servants, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), there is a fight and Horvath and Balthazar end up trapped in a magical urn for 10 years!

A decade later, Dave is a physics nerd at NYU, pining after his grade school crush Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer, who bears a strong resemblance to a young Naomi Watts). Horvath and Balthazar are released from the urn and their conflict resumes...


The Sorcerer's Apprentice is 105 minutes of non-stop excitement and overflowing with fantastical magical duels that make the Saruman/Gandalf breakdancing challenge in The Fellowship Of The Ring look like kids' party entertainment.

Unlike many people on da Internetz I have no problem with Nicolas Cage as an actor (just some of the films he's in) and his Balthazar is probably the closest fans of The Dresden Files are going to get to seeing their disheveled hero realised on the big screen - albeit in a Disneyfied  manner. Cage brings his total manic, slightly deranged, persona to this role with great effect.

Alfred Molina is suitably sinister and understated as Horvath, the standard-bearer for the returning Big Bad, while Jay Baruchel makes for a very amiable hero, bringing a convincing nervous uncertainty and energy to the role, making Horvath's own assistant, the cocky stage magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), the perfect negative reflection of our protagonist.

Even the romantic sub-plot, between Dave and Becky, unfolds at a measured pace, not swamping the story or interrupting the flow of action-orientated set-pieces.

Given the movie's title, there's even an extended homage to the most famous sequence in Fantasia - complete with musical score.

For the real geeks out there, who like to try and tie everything together in a Wold Newtonian way, the importance placed on magical rings here bears certain similarities to those mentioned in The Sorcerer's Shadow episode of the Merlin television show recently - yet another liberal reimagining of the story of Merlin.

For a film that seemed to come and go at the cinema in a puff of smoke - no doubt swamped by the bloated 3D behemoth of Avatar - I hope The Sorcerer's Apprentice gains a deserved following on DVD.

It's not the most original of stories or conceits, but as contemporary, urban fantasies go, you can do a lot worse than The Sorcerer's Apprentice and, unlike the Harry Potter films, it has the benefit of being self-contained.

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