Merlin's Apprentice (2005)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Decent fantasy films are hard to come by. Either they are unoriginal, poorly acted, or absolutely butcher the book they're based on. It does not surprise me that Hallmark decided to cash in on the popularity of Sam Neil as Merlin for a second go-around. What did surprise me this time around was that it's more appropriate for younger audiences... and a lot of fun to watch.

 

All is well in Camelot. King Arthur and his knights are in possession of the Holy Grail and Merlin (Sam Neil) has decided to sleep for a season in order to rest from his taxing adventures in building the city's magical defenses. When he awakens, it has been fifty years and Camelot lies in ruin. Arthur and most of his knights are dead, and the Holy Grail vanished due to the drunken debauchery of newfound leadership. King Griffyth (Andrew Kavadas) is determined to restore goodness to Camelot, and has become engaged to the beautiful Lady Yvonne (Tegan Moss), last living heir of the original knight Sir Gawain. But Yvonne is actually in love with a knight, Graham (Christopher Jacot). As Merlin attempts to discern where the Holy Grail has gone, into his life comes a masterful young thief.

 

Jack (John Reardon) is somewhat inept in many of his magical tricks but is a tolerable pickpocket. Making the mistake of attempting to steal Merlin's wand, Jack inadvertently reveals to the master wizard that he possesses knowledge enough to assist him in learning where the Grail has been concealed. Camelot is in need of it, if peace is to be restored to the land. The peasants have arisen in revolt, raging their way through the surrounding countryside under the protection of the enchantress of the lake (Miranda Richardson). Much of the production relies on the humor to be found in the characters. Jack is one of the most likable heroes I've seen on the small screen in a long time. He keeps a pig for company and has some fabulous one-liners. Most of Neil's participation takes place in the first half; after that, the story takes a turn and Jack is foremost and center, along with a host of other talented young actors.

 

There are times when the story seems a little over-drawn, but I was never bored. One of my only complaints would be that it doesn't have a great deal of magic, and what it does contain is not entirely original. Later scenes consist of memory-probing in a fashion that felt overly familiar -- because it's not that much different from British fantasy author J.K. Rowling's similar uses in the Harry Potter books. What magic there is remains memorable -- arising three-dimensional maps from dust, creating fog to conceal wandering wizards on a spying mission, and lifting stones to form a bridge in the sky. Characters are two-dimensional and often surprising. One of the better minor plots is about a female knight who is determined to prove her way in a man's world. The mistake here is assuming that this is a sequel to the enormously popular Merlin. It isn't. Aside from Merlin himself, there are no similarities. In fact, this film contradicts much of the first one, in everything from the presence of the Holy Grail to the absence of Merlin's wife. The original is much deeper and more cleverly crafted, but this one is more appropriate for children, since it doesn't contain the troubling aspects of adultery, and incest. There is a fair amount of battle violence and implications of brutal deaths by the sword. A man slits a woman's throat for no reason other than her being there. Wizards throw spells at one another, transforming each other into frogs, tossing bodies against walls, etc.

 

There is no sexual content. Graham and Yvonne insist their relationship is "chaste" on several occasions. Merlin makes a veiled reference to her virginity in an attempt to discern if she is telling the truth. Mild innuendo is shared between Brianna and Jack in the last scene (she indicates it would be a good night to make love; we're not sure if the two are wed or not). Under enchantment, she passionately kisses him while straddling him on the floor. Audiences have been lead to believe she is a man until this moment. She later kisses him several times of her own vocation. There's minimal language. Magical elements contain nothing directly pagan in origins, but takes a more mythological approach. Items are enchanted, and the Holy Grail has been known to crumble men into dust who touch it with unworthy hands. I found Merlin's Apprentice very enjoyable to watch.