Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

One of the reasons that I talk about movies in this blog--other than I like movies and I like talking about them--is that in a lot of ways, story telling is story telling. Characterization, plot arcs, high concept, theme, motif, throughline... these are all things that apply to books and movies (and plays) equally. Even genres--the type of book/movie--factors in. I expect different things from a romantic comedy than I do from a cerebral thriller, than I do from an action adventure.

But here’s one thing I can’t really translate: casting.

I watched The Sorcerer’s Apprentice last week. I enjoy a certain amount of silliness, and Nicholas Cage chewing scenery, and lots of cool special effects and magic--and I actually really liked how the hero managed the apprentice-fights-the-master-villain thing in the end. (I sort of saw it coming, but I liked it anyway.)

On the “con” side, there were some pacing problems, and characters would flip-flop in their decisions, and also disappear and reappear as convenient for the plot, which was a bit convoluted for a movie of this length. (In other words, it was a little bit everything-and-the-kitchen-sink.)

But all of this is a little hard for me to judge because of the casting. You know in Sky High, when they line the superpowered kids up in gym and designate them as “hero” or “sidekick”? The title role (Dave, the sorcerer’s apprentice) was played by a guy (Jay Baruchel) who had “funny, nebbish sidekick” stamped all over him.

Now, I don’t mind a hero who doesn’t look like a matinee idol. (Scott Pilgrim vs. the world, for example.) But I couldn’t get past the actor’s nasal, whining voice. His line delivery made everything Dave said sound, well, whiny and weak.

Baruchel may well be a much better actor than I’m giving him credit for, and his character, Dave, is in fact a nebbish, neurotic, nerdy guy. So I can see where they were going with this casting. But the line delivery had the unfortunate effect of making this 20-year-old character sound like a petulant adolescent.

Maybe this would have bothered me less if there weren’t other characterization problems (see above re: flip-flopping according to plot needs). I mean, let’s face it, characterization wasn’t a real high priority with this movie. But the end result is, I didn’t really care about the title character OR his mentor--the top-billed star of this movie, Nicholas Cage. We were supposed to care about his back story, but we weren’t given enough time to really like him, as he would disappear for long spells (heh) while Dave pined after the stock Hot Girl for no real reason other than she was stock Hot Girl. (Though she actually had to do the only truly character-challenging thing in the finale, which happened mostly offscreen, which... maybe is a clue to why this movie is ultimately unsatisfying for me.)

So, maybe there is a writing lesson here. Give us someone to like. Don’t let flip-flopping and whining about their quest/mission/chosen-one-status stand in for character development or an internal growth arc. Have your hero be heroic, no matter what he looks (or sounds) like.

Anyway. Back to the movie. I liked the creativity with the magical elements and spells. It was a bit of a hodgepodge, but at least it was a hodgepodge of “Oooo, cool!” In the end, though, you’re not really missing much if you just wait for it to show up on the Disney Channel.

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