While we may not be able to nail the specifics — eye colour or height — the basics are easy — kindly old man with a long white beard, pointy hat, flowing robe. That’s the likeness of the magician that has graced movies for decades — including this weekend’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Nicolas Cage as a magician and Jay Baruchel as his nerdy protege — but over the years there have been a number of interpretations of the character. Here’s a look back:
George A. Romero brought the Arthurian legend forward to present day, and, of course, along with that comes a modern take on Merlin. Played by Brother Blue, an Ivy League-trained actor and pastor, in his only onscreen credit, the wizard is a harmonica-playing hippie with butterflies painted on his face and forehead who spouts Woodstock-inspired dialogue like, “Magic got to do with the soul, man. Only the soul’s got destiny. It got wings. It can fly. That’s magic. The body’s just got a few minutes down here in the dirt with the rest of us.” Far out, man.
Son of Dracula
A rock ‘n’ roll Merlin! A blend of horror, comedy, and music, Son of Dracula stars Ringo Starr as the wizard in a story that could only have emerged from the drug addled 1970s. The story scarcely makes sense, but it is fun to see Ringo and co-star Harry Nilsson (along with cameos by 70s rock legends John Bonham and Keith Moon). Luckily the movie does have a great gothic soundtrack (featuring Ringo, Peter Frampton and George Harrison) making it one of the rare movies which is actually more fun to listen to than to watch.
Cabinet of Curiosities, Miscellaneous
In The Spaceman and King Arthur (also known as Unidentified Flying Oddball), a loose adaptation of adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Merlin is presented against type as an evil character intent on dethroning Arthur. Also out of character is Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, a horror film about a grandfather spinning tales for his grandson about Merlin’s modern-day store. The wizard sells magical spells and curiosities meant to help people but usually turn out to have the opposite effect. In this movie “abracadabra” usually means “abracadaver.”