Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This is not the Age of Not Believing

So on the Techland blog today, Lev Grossman posted the trailer for the new Sorcerer's Apprentice movie. Just to be clear - Techland? Awesome. Lev? Also awesome. (Remember? He wrote that amazing book, The Magicians, that I really liked.) The Sorcerer's Apprentice? Well, I dunno. But that's not really what this post is about. This post is about what happens at 1:08 in the trailer, where the Sorcerer has done a Magic, and the soon-to-be-apprentice says, "What you just did? That's not possible."

And... I'm out. My disbelief is no longer willingly suspended.

First, because never in my life, if I had seen magic performed, would I have had that reaction. No, if I had ever seen magic, I would have said, "Holy shit! Magic is real!" And maybe that's a reaction that means "Warning! You're going to grow up to be a speculative fiction writer!" but I really don't think so. I think our pop culture is so permeated with magic, and the possibility thereof (how many millions and millions of people have seen or read Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings, just to name two?) that the majority reaction - especially when the person having it is a teenager - isn't "that's not possible," but "magic is real."

I get why the writers would choose to put the line in there. It's like a big neon sign, telling the viewer to pay attention, emphasizing what the title cards in the trailer are emphasizing: this isn't myth or just your imagination. That big shiny explosion what you just saw is Real Actual Magic. But it's also lazy storytelling. If your story, which, you know, is called The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and you need big neon signs and title cards to tell the audience that the magic in it is real, well, you're doing it wrong.

And while I'd believe in magic, I don't believe in your story.


  1. Nice post. Another movie not too see. More time to read.

    And also, if you don't believe in magic, why are you apprenticing to a sorcerer? Because you didn't want to be a coal miner? Because your parents made you? I would assume the sorcerer of the title would interview the candidate, even if those two words wouldn't be used to describe the process.

    To quote another character, "Bah. Humbug."

  2. From what I could gather from the trailer, the apprentice doesn't really have a choice in the matter - he seems to naturally have enormous magical talent, which the sorcerer will help him learn to use. I think. Hard to tell from a trailer.

    My grumpiness mainly comes from the fact that SFX, no matter how cool, do not a movie make. A good movie needs to tell a good story.

  3. This is an interesting point. I wonder what the Harry Potter series would look like if magic happened quietly?

    Having seen the miraculous first-hand, I have to admit that seeing it made the most impact. Well, seeing it and knowing that it wasn't a trick, really. We've gotten good enough at spotting the tricks that the real deal leaves us deeply, deeply disturbed — not because it's "not possible," (all kinds of things are not possible; we're used to that) but because of the implications that come with magic/miracles being real.


  4. And I would have completely believed a reaction of "Wow!" because seeing the numinous (magic or miracle) should leave you awed, or "How did you do that?" (which is ambiguous enough to cover "I know that's magic and want to know how it was done" and "I'm not sure what that was- magic? miracle? something else?") I could have even accepted a jaded shrug, because that would be an interesting reaction, from a storytelling point of view. But the flat out denial just rang incredibly false.