Friday, July 16, 2010


If the name The Sorcerer's Apprentice sounds familiar to you, well ... it could be for a lot of reasons, I guess. The disambiguation for those three words on wikipedia contains 13 different results.

But Disney's betting it will remind you of the beloved segment in Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse tries to contain the sudden uprising of broom sticks. Even if the Nicolas Cage vehicle released yesterday has absolutely nothing to do with that. (And if you also get a little whiff of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, all the better.)

It's a fairly typical bait-and-switch, in which you are presented with the promise of one concept and then given something else entirely. Okay, not entirely -- both movies are about magic and about apprentices, though I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) the sorcerer himself never makes an appearance in the Fantasia segment. But it's clear this is not the feature-length adaptation of the Mickey Mouse short that Disney's implying it is. For starters, you couldn't really have Mickey Mouse be the star of a modern movie -- it would seem a bit too 1940s. Secondly, it takes place in modern day. Thirdly, well, it's a Nicolas Cage movie, directed by the same guy (Jon Turteltaub) who directed Cage in two National Treasure movies (with the same producer, Jerry Bruckheimer).

I'm not one of those guys who automatically berates anything that stars Nicolas Cage, and I actually think this looks like it could be fun -- at matinee prices. But it's still an example of something that's fairly widespread in Hollywood, and fairly pernicious -- take the name of a known property and attach it to a movie that's only tangentially related, because you know it will help you sell more tickets.

Some other recent examples? I thought you'd never ask.

Miami Vice seems to be one. Yeah, there was a guy named Crockett, and yeah, there was a guy named Tubbs. And yeah, they dressed kind of stylishly. And yeah, the action was set in Miami. But the spirit of that show never made an appearance in Miami Vice, the movie -- which, granted, could just mean it was a poor adaptation. Well, it was a poor adaptation, but more than that, I think it was just a convenient marriage of an existing property and a different movie altogether. Michael Mann just wanted to make a gritty cop movie, so why not make it the Miami Vice movie? (For the record, I know this film has its fans. For me, all Michael Mann really wanted to do was create a bunch of loving shots of cigarette boats cutting through the Atlantic Ocean, and to his credit, he did that pretty well. But the poor overall quality of this movie is typified in one scene of bad acting by Jamie Foxx. As he and Colin Farrel are walking away from a building, it explodes behind them. But Foxx starts reacting to the explosion before it happens -- just a millisecond, but you definitely notice it. The fact that Mann didn't notice it says a lot about Miami Vice.)

A similar example to that -- and I know I'm breaking the rules of a film blog here -- was the Ed O'Neill vehicle L.A. Dragnet, which ran during the 2003-2004 TV season. O'Neill's character was named Joe Friday, but any other similarity to the original Dragnet was purely coincidental. I expect a similar thing from this fall's Hawaii Five-0, starring Lost's Daniel Dae Kim.

One of the most hilarious examples, which I was discussing with a friend the other week, was a lesser known property, a short story by Stephen King called The Lawnmower Man. That was a true bait-and-switch, in the purest definition of that phrase. King's short story -- not one of his most memorable -- involved an evil satyr and a nude man who eats grass, before turning on the man who hired the mowing service and eating/killing him. Like I said, it was pretty forgettable. The 1992 movie, however, was memorable, for having absolutely nothing to do with lawns or mowing. It was about a scientist (Pierce Brosnan) who uses a retarded man (Jeff Fahey) to conduct experiments in virtual reality. The retarded man becomes intelligent and evil. King apparently sued to have his name removed from the project.

We could sit here all day talking about great bait-and-switch examples, but you get the idea.

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