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Merlin's Apprentice (2006)



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I'm writing this review with my head tipped back. In the last half hour, I guess I had rolled my eyes too much, because I sprained an eye muscle, and now I can only look down. Don't let this happen to you.

This mini-series, a loose sequel to 1998's Merlin, makes its predecessor, which I thought was weak to begin with, look like a masterpiece. It's just not possible to convey in words just how stupid these characters are and just how idiotic the writing is. You know how someone can put costumes and makeup on a dog, and he just looks so ridiculous and pathetic and mortified that you can't help but feel sorry for him and curse the cruelty of the owner? That's what it's like watching the actors recite this stupid dialogue.

And geez, there's a lot of it. Dialogue is cheaper than special effects, I suppose, but must it be so terrible? Virtually the entire second half, and much of the first, consists of one character losing his faith and wallowing in despair, while another character makes some pseudo-inspiring speech about how it's important not to lose hope and persevere. Sometimes such scenes are lined up one after the other, and it's just excruciating. Occasionally, though, for a change of pace, we get a scene where somebody turns to somebody else and says the dreaded words, "All my life...." Yes, yes, all your life you were this and wanted to be that, and now you can change, because you've found love or something. Don't explain it all. There are guys with swords currently trying to kill us, so how about we get back to the battle? Inevitably, though, we must suffer through what so-and-so had to endure "all his life." Even at the end, when the story is over, we get a couple of "all my life" speeches just to round out the running time, or finish off the audience, or whatever other vaguely conceivable motive there might be for these stupid characters to keep talking. The best scene in the movie is a brief moment where Merlin enchants his apprentice so he can't talk. Ah, sweet, merciful incoherent mumbles!

In case I haven't made myself clear -- and reading over what I've written so far, it does indeed seem that I've not quite been direct enough -- allow me to quote some of the dialogue. The most painful speeches are unquotable, on account of they're too long and too excruciating to revisit, but here's a brilliant one-liner: "There's a little magical proficiency deficiency on my part." A proficiency deficiency. Not just a "magical deficiency," which is perfectly accurate and succinct, a "magical proficiency deficiency." What, is the rhyme funny or clever or something? Or did whoever wrote that line have an efficiency deficiency?

Here's another great line: "It is the subtleties of human nature that I find the most elusive." No kidding? It's not the blatantly obvious things about human nature that are hardest to discern?

If only the dialogue were as entertainingly awful as that, there would be a saving grace. But as I say, most of it is absurdly clumsy and/or overwrought and/or interminable. And if it's not the dialogue spraining your eyes, it's the weird staging of the scenes. Few scenes don't have at least one thing or other that just feels wrong. A guy shouldn't be able to walk unnoticed into a palace and into the room where the king is discussing military strategy. Then there's a character who suddenly realizes Merlin disobeyed an order from the king, despite that he was there at the time, days if not weeks ago when it happened. Nobody behaves naturally -- they're always holding grudges, engaging in self-pity, being righteous or evil, violent or placated, as the screenplay demands.


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