“The war between sorcerers was fought in the shadows of history, and the fate of mankind rested with the just and powerful Merlin. He taught his secrets to three trusted apprentices, Balthazar, Veronica and Horvath. He should have trusted only two.”
It was one of the most memorable Walt Disney moments in the long history of animation. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Fantasia would become the most recognizable piece of the film. It would be released many times over the years since 1940, so that even people who had never even heard of Fantasia recognized Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice who abused the power he had learned to bring a broom to life and do his chores while he slept. The magic got out of his control and mayhem ensued. The images linger still. Now the combination of Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub, and The Walt Disney Studios has teamed up for a new adventure film very loosely based on that original material. This is the same team that brought us the National Treasure films and part of the team that continues to bring us the Pirates Of The Caribbean films. If you liked those franchise films, you can expect more of the same in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
“As Merlin lay dying, he gave Balthazar his dragon ring, saying it would guide him to the child who would one day grow to be his successor, the Prime Merlinean. Balthazar would search for centuries and never, it is said, will Balthazar waver from his quest, for mankind will never be safe until Morgana is destroyed by the Prime Merlinean.”
The film begins in Britain during the middle of the 8th Century. Merlin (Stephens) is betrayed by his apprentice Horvath (Molina) who sides with the evil Morgana (Krige) to kill Merlin and capture a powerful spell. But his two other apprentices manage to stop Morgana and entrap her in an enchanted nesting doll known as the Grimhold. But, Veronica had to sacrifice herself, so she remains entombed with the sorceress. Balthazar manages to defeat Horvath, trapping him with the others. But they are merely trapped and not destroyed. Balthazar must find the Prime Merlinean before someone manages to rescue Morgana and her band of baddies.
It’s now the 21st century. Enter 10-year old Dave (Cherry). He follows a wind-swept piece of paper left by the girl he has a crush on. The page leads him into an antique store where Balthazar (Cage) exposes the boy to the ring. The ring comes to life and attaches to the young boy. Finally, Balthazar has found the Prime Merlinean. But awkward Dave manages to release Horvath. It’s potentially a bad scene until Balthazar traps both sorcerers in an urn where they will remain for a decade. No one believes young Dave, and he ends up treated as if he were crazy.
Ten years later both Balthazar and Horvath emerge from their prison. Dave (Baruchel) is now a college student and teacher’s assistant. He’s become quite a gifted physicist. The early experience has left him shy of others, so he doesn’t have many friends. But his teaching assignment does manage to put him back in touch with that girl of his 10-year- old’s dreams, Becky (Palmer). Life might finally return to normal for Dave, until Horvath comes looking for the Grimhold that Dave tossed in the street that day ten years ago. Balthazar comes to the rescue and tells Dave the story of his destiny. Now it’s Balthazar and Dave up against Horvath and a flashy new age stage magician named Drake Stone (Kebbell) who happens to be a real sorcerer and a follower of Morgana. Can the sorcerer and his new apprentice stop the bad guys from reviving Morgana and destroying the world?
The movie never lets up. The pace is often frantic, and the f/x and stunts are all extremely impressive. The casting is a bit of a mixed bag. Nicolas Cage is really no stranger to eccentric characters, and he fits in quit well with the character of Balthazar. Alfred Molina has had me sold as a master villain since he put on those extra arms as Doc Ock on the best of the Spider-Man films. He’s even better here. The character has a sense of flash that reminds you of the classy bad guys in literature. He’s very much a Moriarty kind of character. There’s an after-the-credits scene which is quite short but sets the character up for a return. I wasn’t so sold on Jay Baruchel as Dave. He reminds me a lot of Christian Slater. He has that same wise-guy grin that always did put me off somewhat. He’s fine in the action sequences, but I just don’t really find myself investing in his character. Teresa Palmer is quite good as Dave’s love interest. She’s the representative of the audience in the movie. It’s her discovery of all of this that keeps the idea fresh and offers that hint of innocence that we’re supposed to find in Dave. Instead he comes across as just neurotic, while Becky carries the emotional center of the film. She looks good without being typically glamorous. I would like to see her more involved should another film make its way out of the Mouse House Factory. Finally, there is Toby Kebbell as Drake Stone. If you hate the David Blain type of magicians out there, this is the perfect mock-up of those kinds of performers. There’s chemistry with Molina that doesn’t really exist as much between Cage and Baruchel. You can feel the disdain that Horvath has for the character and his old-fashioned snobbish attitude. With Alice Krige in a very limited role of Morgana, these guys carry the bad guy ball throughout the film. It’s always entertaining, to say the least.
One of the coolest aspects of the film is the idea that magic has some basis in science. Dave is a physicist, and it’s the sorcerer’s ability to use all of their brain that gives him his scientific and magical talent. Most of the magical aspects have some loose scientific foundation. For instance, an object can be set on fire by imagining the molecules get vibrated quickly enough that the friction causes heat. The next thing you know, there’s flame. Now, the film doesn’t really completely stick to the science rule. Dragons come to life with very little idea about how that could be possible. I guess some of it just has to be taken on faith. It’s just rather nice that some effort was made here to anchor the film in some kind of realism. Again, I’m not trying to say that the film’s magic or science is believable. There’s just that added dimension.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 24 mbps. This is a very visually atmospheric film. There’s a ton of eye candy happening all over the place. The high-definition image presentation does not disappoint. Colors are vivid, particularly during a scene in Chinatown where a parade dragon comes to life. The image explodes with color … literally. There are also bright magical weapons. Detail and sharpness are also first-rate. There’s a scene with a huge tesla coil that demonstrates perfection in the film’s contrast and sharpness. The set designers really did their jobs, so there are a lot of subtle things going on underneath the flashy visuals. It all comes across quite well in this superior image. Black levels are superb. You’ll find not only wonderfully inky blacks but amazing shadow definition. This is a show-off piece to be sure.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also quite splendid. There are plenty of audio bites to go with all of that energy in the magical weapons. The final confrontation just soars to life audibly. The surrounds can be quite aggressive, and the subs roar to life when necessary, which happens to be most of the time. The score is an exceptional one and shines in this audio presentation. Even amid all of the considerably loud mayhem, you’ll still here the quietest of dialog moments just fine.
All of the extras are in HD.
Deleted Scenes: (7:47) There are 5 with a handy play all option.
Magic In The City: (12:53) This feature looks at the set design and real New York locations. I get a little tired of hearing that the location was a character in the film. It’s gotten to be more than a little cliché these days.
The Science Of Sorcery: (10:15) Take a look at how the magic was achieved on the screen. There’s plenty of behind the scenes moments that reveal much of the film’s secrets.
Making Magic Real: (11:46) Yet another look at the magic stuff and some of the stunts from the film.
Fantasia – Reinventing A Classic: (10:13) Cast and crew talk about the original Fantasia segment.
There are also short features on: The Grimhold, The Encantus, The Car, and the Wolves and Puppies on the film.
DVD and Digital Copy
BD Live Material and DBox enabled.
Let’s be honest. This is strictly a popcorn movie. If you’ve enjoyed the likes of the National Treasure and Pirates films, you are very likely to enjoy this one. If you’re looking for something more serious or substantive or if you want to see something very much like the Fantasia segment, I’m afraid this one is apt to disappoint. The film was intended as yet another potential franchise for the team, but that idea is very much in danger at this point. The film only pulled in a disappointing $63 million at the box office. A fair amount of change, to be sure. But not when you spent nearly three times that to make the thing. The film did make its budget in the foreign market, and that might be the saving grace that gives the team another crack at this. I expect if there is a follow-up it will be a bit more subdued. The problem, of course, was the expectations. I’m not sure that any of the film’s advertisement campaign really portrayed the film accurately. I think Disney wanted this to be something very much connected to the beloved Fantasia segment, but that’s not what this is. It’s a fun film, but it fails to be anything more than that. It cost a ton of money, and it’s easy to see where all of it went. The visuals and cinematography are really quite stunning and beautiful. It really will boil down to money. If you’re looking for a sequel, “The bad news: Your return/loss? Way too high.”