By Dr. Craig D. Reid
When I was living in Los Angeles, from 2000 to 2006, I was an entertainment reporter for Reuters of Asia then for Reuters’ LA Bureau. The cool thing about this is that I was able to interview just about anyone in the film industry. One such interview was with Nicolas Cage. During that interview he shared with me that he loved four things: Martial arts; martial arts cinema; entomology; and the concept of qi, one’s internal energy. He is a firm believer in the power of qi and finds great wonder in what one who masters it can do with this energy. Part of that skill is to redirect the qi outside of the body in which a practitioner can use the energy to heal, to have incredibly powerful strikes or as is told in Chinese legends, to direct the energy into inanimate objects and use them as weapon. In his latest film, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage plays a a sorcerer named Baltazar Blake, and as he describes in the movie, when he focuses his internal energy, he can shoot energy powerballs and do amazing things with this energy that, as a Scotsman would say, “It’s pure golden magic.”
From the realms of King Arthur’s court and under the watchful eye of the master magician himself Merlin, things go all awry in ancient England as love triangles, power struggles and evildoers try to destroy the world. Yet as things become “ajar,” the eons of time shall travel afar, and because the neo-power struggles are not up to par, our hero Balthazar, now a master sorcerer, finds himself in modern-day Manhattan preparing for a war. To defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar must find the only descendent of Merlin, known in alchemy circles as the Merlinean. With the help of a dragon ring, he finds and recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel); a nerd who is head over heals in love with the unattainable fair maiden Becky, as his reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash and car crash course in the art and neuroscience of magic, and together, these unlikely partners pit their powerballs, illusions and contusions against the fiercest and most ruthless villains of all time. The world depends on Dave on becoming the ultimate “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
Although most are familiar with the Mickey Mouse, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” cartoon set piece in Disney’s Fantasia (1940), it actually all started in 1797 with the poem “Der Zauberlehrling” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a great German writer, thinker and natural scientist. The sorcerer’s apprentice narrates Goethe’s 14-stanza poem as he describes the events that occur when his old “Hexenmeister” disappears for a spell and the young magician arrogantly demonstrates his own magical arts. The apprentice orders a musty and dusty broomstick to wrap itself in rags, grow a head and two arms and, with a bucket, prepare a bath for him. The living broomstick fills not only the tub but also every bowl and cup, and the apprentice has forgotten the magic word to make it stop, resulting in a massive flood. The apprentice takes an axe to the poor old broom, splitting it in twain…resulting in two living broomsticks. The apprentice is finally and literally bailed out by the returning hexenmeister, who quickly sends the broom back into the closet from whence it came, with an imprecation that it will return only when he, the true master, calls it forth once again to do his bidding.
One hundred years later, the poem was adapted into a 10-minute symphonic piece, “L’apprenti sorcier,” by the French composer Paul Dukas, a rhythmic colouration translated in the haunty jaunty “march of the broomsticks” that swept throughout Europe. Now, 69 years after the release of Fantasia Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer hired Jon Turtletaub to direct the live action version, where they take the Mickey out of the mouse as our heroes now must battle a dirty rat. An interesting visual note of interest is that it’s uncanny how with a little bit of imagination one could indeed misconstrue that German heritaged Turtletaub, who once beat out fellow Beverly Hills High School classmate Cage for a role in a High School play, looks like Goethe.
And with a lot of imagination, the film deftly touches upon some marvelous magical trickery and imagery as in a new old way, Cage gets to use this aforementioned legendary way of using qi energy to manipulate an inanimate object, a sword, and use it without using it. There’s also an ancient Chinese sorcerer (Gregory Woo) whose dragon spirited belt may whip the lion spirited Balthazar and his college student apprentice trying to pass physics, into oblivion and beyond. It’s an ultimate battle between touchable spectrums of quantum physics, neuroscience and chemistry (alchemy) against the ultimate Mistress of black magic Morgana.
Cage gleefully closes, “For Balthazar, finding the Prime Merlinean is a journey that must be made, no matter the distance. The relationship between Balthazar and Dave is almost like a paternal one. I think he may be the Prime Merlinean by virtue of the fact that he can wear Merlin’s dragon ring, so when I find Dave, it’s with great affection and relief. I want to guide him, instruct him and train him for a larger purpose. But for Dave, it’s pretty overwhelming to have someone walk into his life, tell him he’s the descendent of Merlin and that together we’re going to save the world. If you’re Dave, you’re going to tell the guy he’s nuts.”
Similar to the old teacher-student relationships in Chinese kung fu films from the 1970s, the sort of films that Cage used to enjoy watching in his youth, the kung fu teacher sensibility of Balthazar toward Dave is potently apparent as Cage closes, “I have an interest in the darker and more edgy things in life and so to me I like the mystical aspect of my character and that he’s a mentor.”