The Young Magician (1987) | I Finally Found It!
As a change of pace, and in order to avoid a large block of text at the beginning of this article; I decided to create a video about my experience with The Young Magician that would both serve as an introduction to this review; as well as a live review of my thoughts before, during, and after watching the film. This is also why the video is rather long, but it does come in two parts.
The first part is here at the top, where I talk about my difficult and nearly endless search for this title from my childhood, and I comment on the front and back covers of the VHS box. The second video, which you can find further down, shows my reactions as I watch the movie (out of context of course, but that’s part of the fun), and I explain my after-thoughts on the movie and what you can expect from it.
The rest of this review, in its textual form, will attempt to clear up some details that I may not have explained as well in the video. And I will explain the finer points of the title and whether I think it is indeed worth checking out. The videos are more or less a test run of a potential addition to these blog reviews.
So, let us begin:
If you did not decide to watch the opening video, that’s quite alright. It’s really just a 10 minute story about how I once saw, enjoyed, forgot, remembered, searched for, and eventually found this movie from my childhood; and have since added it to my movie collection. So now we will discuss what this film is all about.
The Young Magician, simply put, is a family oriented film that was directed and filmed in Poland (I believe), distributed and re-dubbed into English here in America, and presented at a few different Children’s Film Festivals before being released on Home Video by f.h.e (Family Home Entertainment).
It’s a story about a young boy named Peter, who has an uncanny natural gift for telekinesis. Throughout the course of the film, he struggles to control his ability, while in the process, alienating his school, his friends, and becoming a test-subject of the local government scientists.
During the last third of the film, he meets another young prodigy: a bass cello player and self-proclaimed genius, named Alexander; who helps Peter to concentrate and hone his skills in order that they don’t take control of him. This is what then allows Peter to help save his city from utter destruction when an untested, combustible substance falls out of a helicopter, and lands in the cat-walk of a nearby factory; which the local officials have no way of dislodging without certainly setting the substance off. After Peter saves the day, he shows his gratitude to his new friend Alexander by returning the favor and helping him to achieve his biggest dream: to become part of the local Philharmonic Orchestra.
Now if you’d like to see some of my live reactions as I watch The Young Magician, as well as my after-thoughts on the it; then you can check out the second video right here. If not, then you can continue on with the written portion.
So if you did not decide to see the video just now (or even if you did), there are many odd moments that come up during this film, and I will try to touch on a few of them as we go along. But first I have a pretty big burning question… How in the heck does Peter gain his telekinetic abilities; because it is never once explained?
Before I re-watched this film, I had assumed that there was some sort of magical, mystical person who rode into town one day with a magic shop, and bestowed these powers onto Peter without him knowing it, after he had randomly decided to check out the magic shop one day. And after Peter gets home, he attempts to make things happen (more playing around than being serious), but then realizes that he actually does have these powers.
But nope. Instead we see Peter attend a magic show where the “Mystical Tarley” makes a girl float horizontally across the stage, and Peter is the one picked out of the audience to help guide her along: proving that anyone can do magic. The problem I have with this is that it’s a magic show; and yet Peter is able to make things move and float and act all crazy the moment he gets back in the car with his family after the show ends.
So at what point are these powers given to him? Or if they are natural to him personally, then at what point in his childhood (before the events of this film) did he show any signs of being telekinetic? Shouldn’t we have been given a narrative cue or a specific scene where we see the transference or awakening of these powers? Because if the magic show is all we get, then that’s a rather weak explanation. It’s like if a magician brings someone down to pick and card, put it back in the deck, and then they suddenly have the ability to count cards at black-jack tables the moment they get back home.
Another thing that I had misinterpreted from my memories of this movie, was that I thought Peter was running away from mobsters or an evil gang of bank robbers or something, during the latter half of the film. But in actuality, it turns out that the police and the local government had been doing some CAT scans and brain wave tests on him, and were keeping him under observation. So Peter decides to get himself out-of-dodge after hearing from a nurse that they were about to commence brain surgery on him.
Even earlier than this, Peter had also been trying to run from the parents of one of his school friends, whose party Peter had thrown into chaos by making the cake and the soda cans explode from outside their living room window. And now he was being chased by the angry parents, as well as a wedding that the angry father had crashed into while chasing after Peter. It was rather an embarrassing sequence on many levels, lol.
Perhaps the most “by-the-numbers” part of the movie is that Peter, after having been given these powers, is forsaken by a lot of people, until the local police inspector realizes that Peter is the only one who can save the city from utter destruction. You see, earlier in the movie there were news reports explaining that the government had been transporting a highly combustible substance by way of helicopter to an undisclosed location.
This substance, entitled “The M Substance,” is apparently combustible only when exposed to air (despite what we see later); and could flatten the entire city if it should explode. Unfortunately, the fail-safe doors of this helicopter carrying the substance deploy; and the canister falls into a factory where it gets cradled in the factory’s cat-walk. A leak in the canister threatens to drip M Substance onto the floor, causing more and more explosions until the entire thing falls to the ground. So Peter, of course, is the only person capable of dislodging the canister without dropping it or losing any more of its fluid: which is what creates the circumstances for our climax.
Interestingly enough, though, that climax comes a little too early, as Alexander, our resident genius character, has a bit of his own problem that must still be addressed.
You see, he found Peter in a diner, about to be ratted out on by the waiter (since Peter was still running away from the government officials), and Alexander decides to make quick pals with Peter and get him out of the situation.
Peter then decides to show Alexander his telekinetic abilities, and Alex proves a point to Peter by explaining that Peter hasn’t been practicing and concentrating with his abilities: he’s still rather rudimentary and rough. So Alex puts Peter to a few tests. Or rather one, because apparently the plot doesn’t have enough time for a Rocky-style montage; even though this is 1987.
So despite not having a training sequence, apparently moving a bottle very slowly across a table is enough for Peter, which allows him to move that canister I explained before. But now Alex has a problem: he is determined to get into the local Philharmonic, but the director of the orchestra won’t see him because he’s only twelve years old. Alex feels as if he wants to give up on it all, but Peter convinces him otherwise. And despite never hearing Alex play even once before this point, Peter is utterly and undauntingly convinced that Alex is an absolute genius.
So you know what Peter does during the last few minutes of the film? He goes into the office of the Philharmonic director, and he threatens him with his telekinetic abilities by breaking all of his priceless knick-knacks. Which apparently works, because in the very next scene, Alexander is ready to go on stage as the star performer.
Now don’t get me wrong, Alexander proves himself to be a very talented cello player. In fact there’s no “hand double” here; it’s really the same kid from before playing the cello now. So there’s reason not to believe he deserves a chance to play. However, he is still 12 years old. And not everybody has to make time in their professional lives to see him at this young age. And I really think the filmmakers were a tad unwise by letting Peter use his powers for good, but in a very wrong fashion. How are children supposed to react when they see Peter threaten a man with his abilities after we just saw him use his powers to help everyone in the city and prove himself to not be a danger to people? Are they supposed to root for him? And what are they supposed to take from his actions in their own world outlook?
I only question this because this movie claims on its box to be “family-friendly” and “good for all audiences.” And usually when you claim that, you make sure that there isn’t anything that could be construed as something that would negatively affect children; especially because these types of films are marketed at very conservative and “moral oriented” families. Now I’ve seen reviews of different films where most parents say nothing but wonderful things about them, and how their children learned so much from watching. But then other parents will point out that during a certain scene, their children copied something that a character did, and it almost harmed their children because it taught them to do something downright dangerous.
Now in most cases I would question the parents for not keeping closer tabs on their children. But that isn’t always fair. No parent can be infallible; and no one can have eyes everywhere to watch their children 24-7, even though they’d like to and we may expect them to. So therefore I would have to question the filmmakers or the local distributors of films that are marketed to very “value-oriented” and possibly “conservative” families, who want to know every minute of every day what their children are exposed to. Because these companies are trying to provide something that is good and wholesome and teaches children “good” values and “good” lessons. And so putting that scene at the end of this film was not a very wise decision on their part. Or the distributors leaving that scene in for the sake of the American audiences wasn’t a wise decision.
However, if it weren’t for the intended market of this tape, I probably wouldn’t talk about this scene all that much; and I probably wouldn’t harp on it, even if I do still think it’s odd.
Something I may not have explained all that well in either video up top, is the situation with the English dub. You see, it appears to me, very clearly, that either most or all of the actors in the Polish film were indeed speaking English. But apparently the English wasn’t clear enough or audible enough, or perhaps just not convincing enough; so the US distributors at f.h.e decided to have an all American dub made with native voice-actors in order to perk up the soundtrack. Which is the main reason why I felt that the acting on screen and the acting in the soundtrack don’t really match up very well. The mouth shapes never try to match up either, but the juxtaposition of the sound with the video is the weird part; because the actors themselves look so bored and dull and out of it. Whenever something dramatic or serious is going on, they just don’t seem all that into it. But the voice actors are all over the emotions: giving some of the most enthusiastic voice over performances I’ve ever heard in a dub.
Another thing I try to explain about the dub is that the character of Alexander, the Boy Genius, is played by a female voice actor rather than a young male one. And while I do think it was an odd choice for a live-action 12 year old boy, the voice actress does do a really impressive job. If you didn’t notice, you’d probably swear that it was a high-pitched guy’s voice. It’s sort of a very tenor-like sound, somewhat feminine but not entirely. And that could either have been a reflection of the actual actor’s voice, or a decision made in voice casting to give the character a slightly feminine sound. I can’t be sure. But nonetheless, I do like the voice. Even among the rest of the actors, it stands out as a highlight. =)
Now the final question of the night: Do I still think this movie is as good as I remember it? To that, I would have to say Yes, and No.
Unlike most films, I have a different way of approaching this one, and I don’t think I would say this about other films because it doesn’t make much sense; but… if I were still 7 years old today, I’d probably still think this film is interesting. And so the 7 year old part of me somewhat understands what I saw in it back then, and can sort of get a similar amount of entertainment out of it. But honestly very very little. So it is more of a No, really. It’s nothing to write home about, and not really something I’m sure most people would want to track down and purchase. This was just a very unique part of my childhood that I just had to hunt down out of curiosity and a feeling of some unfinished business.
Something that just hit me, though: this film would have been 10 times better and more impressive, if it simply had an epic and rousing musical score. Like something written by Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner. In fact, listening to any epic fantasy score like they’ve written, while watching the climax of this film, really makes a whole different effect; even if the cinematography and acting is rather low-quality.
If you want a “good” film about Telekinesis, I’m sure Zapped! and Zapped Again! will tide you over quite nicely. I haven’t seen either of them myself, but I’ll make a point to someday.
I do hope some of you checked out at least the second video, which I feel is the more entertaining of the two by far. That exact “type” of video will not be a reoccurring thing however, due to copyright reasons. I just felt this film wouldn’t be much of an issue due to its obscurity. But I will make an attempt to include more videos of my initial thoughts on certain films. And if any of you should like to hear my thoughts on recent movie releases or anything that you may see in my DVD/Blu-ray Collection Video that is not planned for review on this blog already; then I could easily make up a video about it and post it here on its own.
Well, thanks so much for joining me everybody for this trip down memory lane. And I shall see you very soon for another, more typical venture.