Disney/Buena Vista | 2010 | 109 mins. | PG
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is one prolific guy. It seems like everywhere you look these days, he’s got a new movie or television series ready to hit the screen. Bruckheimer’s latest theatrical offering, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was apparently inspired by a 10-minute animated sequence from 1940’s Fantasia. If you’re aware of Fantasia’s brilliance that inspiration alone may give you hope for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Unfortunately, despite some impressive CGI work, this is a film that comes up short; lacking any real direction, warmth or heart. Further, for a film about magic, it’s surprising how unoriginal the whole film feels.
The prologue, set in Britain, 740 A.D., establishes that Merlin was betrayed by wizards named Morgana (Alice Krige) and Horvath (Alfred Molina), who were subsequently imprisoned in a set of nesting dolls. Faithful Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) is left to roam the Earth until he can find Merlin’s true successor, as this is the only person who can destroy Morgana and her followers permanently.
Later, living in New York City in the year 2000, Balthazar meets a 10-year-old boy named Dave (Jake Cherry), who he determines is the Chosen One. Moments later, Dave accidently releases Horvath from the nesting-dolls prison and now Horvath wants to free his fellow baddies. Of course, Balthazar has to keep this from happening; otherwise they might take over the world!
Zooming ahead to 2010, Dave (Jay Baruchel) is now a college student. Memories of that day a decade earlier come rushing back, when he is approached by Balthazar. With Horvath on the loose, it is only a matter of time before he finds a way to unleash Morgana from her porcelain tomb. Their plan: to raise the dead and set about an apocalypse. The only sorcerer who is strong enough to stop them? The Chosen One. Only Dave doesn’t know he’s that person yet.
Under the direction of Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a film with a lot of holes. Dave’s discovery of his powers washed over—no explanation is given for how he does his magic, or why he hasn’t found out about them during the first twenty years of his life—but the dastardly motive of Horvath and demonic sorceress Morgana to put an end to the world is left unexplained. Dave is the protagonist and unlikely hero, but there is no dimension or past to him outside of that single sequence set in 2000. He has no parents or family, no interests outside of physics and classmate Becky (Teresa Palmer)—both of these things, of course, play a part in the narrative—and no complexity to his standard-issue personality logline of “well-meaning doofus.” The other characters are even less thought-out. Balthazar’s humorless shtick keeps him from developing a consequential bond with Dave. For a villain, Horvath is as threatening as a kitten. Needless to say, it feels like a lot of this film really wasn’t planned out too thoroughly. Then again, the film was originally written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (Mona Lisa Smile; Flicka); then it was rewritten by Matt Lopez (Race to Witch Mountain, Bedtime Stories); then, at some point, it was rewritten again by Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) which likely accounts for some of the choppiness.
Although The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wasn’t my cup of tea, there’s no doubt that Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina had a great time hamming it up on the streets of New York City. Many will probably enjoy this one on a Friday night, as long as you don’t expect too much.
The AVC encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation is very good. Detail is magnificent throughout. Colors pop tremendously, with special optical firepower reserved for the special effects, which employ a wide range of rich hues to enhance the whimsical nature of the film. Shadow detail is supportive, helping to survey textures on the extravagant costumes and enhance evening scenes.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is active throughout. Of primary effectiveness is the dialogue, which is always cleanly conveyed, handed a slight circular position to create needed moments of tension. Scoring is hotly controlled, with a terrific low-end rumble to accentuate the suspense, while taking off on a few graceful moments of orchestral flights. DVS, French, and Spanish tracks are also available.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following special features are included:
“Magic in the City” (12:53) covers the action staged in New York, bringing this sorcerer battle to life. Interviews with cast and crew who the challenges of the sets and streets, pointing out the nuances of the production design.
“The Science of Sorcery” (10:15) explores how the film incorporated a scientific perspective to the fantastical happenings, going through props and locations to point out the relatively practical applications of the magical weapons.
“Making Magic Real” (11:46) celebrates the practical effects of the film, with the cast and crew selling the sorcerers realm with rigs, air cannons, and lighting effects.
“Fantasia: Reinventing a Classic” (10:13) captures the effort made to outdo Mickey Mouse and his trouble with mops, isolating the special effect achievement that brought the sequence to life.
“The Fashionable Drake Stone” (2:09) talks to actor Toby Kebbell about his transformation into an evil magician, patterned after the new icons of the Las Vegas strip.
“The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art” (3:46) discusses the creation of the magical Russian nesting doll that brings about all sorts of foul activity in the picture.
“The Encantus” (2:23) heads to the literary realm, covering the practical and digital work used to create the sorcerer’s guidebook.
“Wolves & Puppies” (3:07) showcases the animal cast of the feature.
“The World’s Coolest Car” (1:32) summons the 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom, used in the film as Balthazar’s personal ride, and a car actually owned by Cage.
“Deleted Scenes” (7:47) cover Balthazar’s journey to find his apprentice, Dave’s trouble with a classroom science experiment, and his inability to grab the attention of his true love, Becky.
“Outtakes” (3:14) is a traditional collection of mix-em-ups, highlighting the giggle fits and Baruchel shrieks during production.
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