The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was originally created by the 18th-Century German writer Goethe, who wrote Der Zauberlehrling in 1797, a 14-stanza poem narrated by the apprentice. A hundred years later the poem was adapted into a 10-minute symphonic piece, L’apprenti Sorcier, by French composer Paul Dukas, which combined musical coloration with rhythmic appeal. It was highlighted by the march of the broomsticks.
One hundred forty years after Goethe wrote it, Walt Disney interested Leopold Stokowski to join him in creating the animated Fantasia, a 125-minute cartoon full of classical music. The best episode was considered to be “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which played to march of the broomsticks.
Now, 203 years after Goethe’s creation, popmeisters producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turtletaub have taken another stab at it. But credit for this should go to star Nicolas Cage (Turtletaub’s classmate from Beverly Hills High School), who plays Balthazar Blake, a master sorcerer in today’s Manhattan, who is trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis over the centuries, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), recruiting Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) as his long-sought protégé. Balthazar and Maxim have been enemies for centuries because the saintly Merlin made Balthazar his successor instead of Alfred or the evil Morgana (Alice Maud Krige). The new treatment of Goethe’s masterpiece was Cage’s idea.
With the fate of the world at stake, the film is replete with magical special effects. To make it appeal to a wider audience, Dave has a pretty girl, Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer), for whom he yearns, which throws a monkey wrench into Balthazar’s efforts to defeat his evil nemesis. Dave just can’t seem to reconcile his obligations as Balthazar’s protégé with the hots he feels for Becky.
Despite all the special effects, the best part of the film is Molina, who gives another exceptional performance. Cage is the same as he is in all his recent movies. Palmer is beautiful and makes the best of her job as the love interest. Baruchel is adequate, but the film might have been better with someone more appealing in this key role.
In addition to Molina’s award-quality performance, lots of special effects showing impossible conjuration are the main draws in this film. Alas, they aren’t enough to keep this from causing a lot of squirming.