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The Sorcerer's Apprentice Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010) movie poster The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Theatrical Release: July 16, 2010 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Jon Turteltaub / Writers: Matt Lopez (screen story & screenplay); Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard (screenplay); Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal (screen story)

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Balthazar Blake), Jay Baruchel (Dave Stutler), Alfred Molina (Maxim Horvath), Teresa Palmer (Becky Barnes), Monica Bellucci (Veronica), Omar Benson Miller (Bennet), Toby Kebbell (Drake Stone), Alice Krige (Morgana le Fay), Jake Cherry (Young Dave Stutler), James A. Stephens (Merlin), Gregory Woo (Sun-Lok), Wai Ching Ho (Chinese Woman), Jason R. Moore (Subway Mugger), Robert B. Capron (Young Dave's Pal), Peyton Roi List (Young Becky Barnes), Nicole Ehlinger (Abigail Williams), Ethan Peck (Andre)

Buy The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray + DVD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy


and Kelvin Cedeno

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's ordinarily golden touch was more of an unprofitable red on this summer's aspiring tentpoles from Walt Disney Pictures. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time failed to gross half of its $200 million budget domestically after a soft Memorial Day weekend opening, rendering its subtitle unnecessary.
Then, opening a month after the behemothic Toy Story 3, The Sorcerer's Apprentice stumbled big, barely earning back a third of its $150 million budget. Sure, worldwide, Prince and Sorcerer's grossed a staggering $550 million combined, but so exorbitant were the production and marketing costs that no one could consider the two movies financially successful.

The more appealing of the two, Sorcerer's Apprentice purported to provide a new take on the best-known sequence from Walt Disney's 1940 animated film Fantasia. You should definitely see that movie, but if you haven't, you've probably at least seen images of Mickey Mouse in red robe and astral blue hat commanding bucket-carrying broomsticks to do some hard cleaning for him. Mickey isn't found in this film, which by extension is also based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1797 ballad and Paul Dukas' 1897 symphonic poem.

The film opens with two prologues. The narrated first, set in 8th century Britain, explains that one of the great Merlin's three apprentices turned on him out of duty to the evil sorceress Morgana. Merlin dies, but not before entrusting a faithful apprentice, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), with the task of locating the Prime Merlinean, the only boy who will be able to defeat Morgana. The second prologue, set in 2000 Manhattan, follows 10-year-old Dave Stutler (Night at the Museum's Jake Cherry) on a field trip. A two-choice note ("friend" or "girlfriend"?) he passes to the pretty blonde classmate he has eyes for takes off in the wind and city foot traffic, leading Dave to an artifacts shop. There, he meets Balthazar (who a spell has prevented from aging over the past 1,200 years), tries on a dragon ring, and is determined to be the chosen one. However, Merlin's wayward apprentice Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), long trapped in the same Russian nesting doll as Morgana herself, escapes for some good vs. evil sorcery that gets both he and Balthazar stuck in an urn for ten years.

Jump to the present day, where Dave (now Jay Baruchel) is a physics-loving NYU student. Upon being freed, both Balthazar and Horvath come looking for the young man, at cross purposes. Horvath intends to free Morgana, so she can resurrect an army of the dead and destroy the world (of course). Balthazar wants to keep Morgana trapped and return Horvath to the same place (the "Grimhold"). As the title suggests, Dave becomes Balthazar's apprentice, learning about magic in a scientific way to which he can relate. There's also a girl, actually the same one from ten years ago (now Teresa Palmer), who is also enrolled at NYU and is open to reconnecting with her old pal Dave.

In Chinatown to retrieve the Grimhold, Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) discovers the thrills of being apprentice sorcerer to Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage).

Don't come into this Sorcerer's Apprentice expecting an extension of the Fantasia segment. Sure, the gist of Mickey Mouse's feature film debut is recreated and in inspired fashion, complete with Dukas score and specific shot homage. But the rest of this film is its own entity entirely, full of original ideas. In fact, Sorcerer's may be too full of ideas. It keeps spitting out new ones, barely giving viewers enough time to process and appreciate them. There are devices and rules and wolves in the subway and flying steel birds in the sky. While most of the inventions arise with an air of intrigue, they're not fully explored before moving onto something different.

Often, the something different is action and visual effects. While I understand such elements are fundamental to a modern spectacular adventure film, they don't do much for this one. They ran up costs, surely, and now they have lost much of their power being translated to television viewing. If you were going to cut anything from the film (which keeps under two hours, unlike Bruckheimer's National Treasure and increasingly overblown Pirates of the Caribbean movies), it would have to be the throwing of plasma orbs and tossing about of people. Such bits don't really add excitement or anything else.

Though that may deflate the interest of movie thrill-seekers, it doesn't cause the film to come undone. Full of distinct personality, the three central characters supply a strong core. As the lead, Baruchel puts on an unnecessary nerdy voice for most of the film. It's easy to take, though, because his comic timing and delivery is just that good. He adds a lot of humor and isn't so much playing a nerd (as another actor might have easily failed at) as being his natural, geeky self (besides that exaggerated voice anyway). Cage, who is also executive producer, seizes the opportunity to create a strong persona, something like what Johnny Depp did with Captain Jack Sparrow. Balthazar is nowhere near that endearing or memorable, but the eccentric wizard amuses in a typically Cage way, complete with an unusual look (shoulder-length gray hair, a light beard, and an old trenchcoat). Then there is Molina, giving another villain his classically trained touch. Horvath isn't as flashy or ambiguous as his Prince of Persia part, but that's okay.

Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), Merlin's bad apprentice, sics some newly-realized wolves on Dave at the subway station he's followed him to. Dave (Jay Baruchel) shows Becky (Teresa Palmer) the good time that can be generated with a musical electrical show performed by a Tesla coil.

The film is directed by Jon Turteltaub, who previously worked with Bruckheimer and Cage on the two National Treasure movies. Like the first of those, Sorcerer's seems to bring something new and different to the Disney family entertainment table. You can find some common ground with other contemporary adventures, things like Percy Jackson & the Olympians more readily than, say, the Harry Potter films. But there definitely isn't much in the way of familiarity. When was the last Disney movie with a collegiate lead? Jonathan Taylor Thomas' I'll Be Home for Christmas, maybe?
How often do "family movies" ask a Canadian city to stand in for New York? Here, Turteltaub and company opt for the real thing, incorporating genuine locales where appropriate, while not limiting themselves creatively. Not much of the comedy panders to the young, either, although there is a dog who farts and pees.

Being different, reasonably authentic, and sort of edgy aren't enough to make a movie good. And in fact, some of the film's artistic vision probably contributed to its theatrical underperformance. All things considered, though, I enjoyed The Sorcerer's Apprentice just as it is. It's big and expensive, but retains heart and character. The action may be uninvolving, but the comedy made me laugh. As a smaller production (dropping some of the effects sequences), the film could have performed as it did and not been tagged with the shame of a flop. Hopefully, Disney and the industry at large can differentiate between a bad movie and something that people just didn't need to see in addition to multiple viewings of Inception and TS3.

Post-script note: how crazy is it that 2000 can now be used as a period setting? In that regard, however, the film fails in two glaring ways. Firstly, they haven't gone and reinserted the Twin Towers to lower Manhattan's skyline. And secondly, the song establishing the prologue may be non-diegetic, but it is clearly supposed to take us back ten years, despite the fact that Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" is from 2002. Whoops! A nice and appropriate opening credits song, nonetheless.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is given the three-release approach that appears to be Disney's standard, but only for a brief moment. All three versions include a fairly lightweight DVD. The 2-disc combo reviewed here pairs it with a Blu-ray Disc. To them, the third edition adds a digital copy disc, no longer mandatory and now more clearly factored into the list price.

Buy The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010) Blu-ray + DVD Combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 5.1 (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue keepcase in Embossed, Reflective Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and
in 3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($44.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's transfer is, in a word, superb. The pairing of Disney and Bruckheimer usually means a lot of things get thrown on screen, and this film is no exception. There's a lot of visual eye candy rendered with fine detail and consistent sharpness. The dark, stylized color palette is accurately replicated without any instances of noise or other digital defects. Viewers have come to expect perfection from a Disney/Bruckheimer transfer, and that's exactly what they get here.

The DTS-HD 5.1 track also is also of reference quality. Bruckheimer productions aren't just visually busy; they're audibly so, as well. Hardly a scene goes by without some surround activity as we get everything from car chases to plasma bolts. These, along with ambience of New York City, are all mixed in a convincing and arresting way. Dialogue is crystal clear and doesn't fight to make itself heard against the onslaught of effects or the broad, full score. No complaints are to be had here.

The DVD delights by its standards, not coming up short in any noticeable way. A strong audio-visual experience is had in the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and Dolby 5.1 soundtrack.

It takes many men in bright green bodysuits to recreate Mickey Mouse's famous mop scene, "The Making of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'" reveals. Dave catches Balthazar paging through the books of a Washington Square Park vendor in the DVD's one and only deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

For being such a big-budget spectacular, The Sorcerer's Apprentice gets a pretty pitiful collection of bonus features on DVD. The 22-minute featurette "The Making of The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is actually a pretty good companion piece, covering the concept, visual effects, and creation of the Fantasia homage sequence thoroughly.

The DVD's only other item is a 2-minute deleted scene of Dave encountering Balthazar browsing books in Washington Square Park.

Actually, there are two additional bonus features, but they are just familiar comedy teams trying to sell you on new technology. The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa push Blu-ray 3D in an animated short (4:24), while "The Suite Life"'s Cole and Dylan Sprouse shill Blu-ray (4:45) in the same way they have been for almost two years now. These are classified as bonus features on the menu.

The Blu-ray Disc adds a number of exclusive bonus features, beginning with four additional deleted scenes (5:48).

"Magic in the City" shows us some of the New York replicas used for stage shooting, including this Chrysler Building eagle. Toby Kebbell admits he's repulsed by his self-promotional character's sense of style in "The Fashionable Drake Stone."

"Magic in the City" (12:52) looks at the New York setting. We're shown footage from location shoots as well as the crafted sets meant to evoke the city. The elaborate Chinatown street and Drake Stone's self-worshipping abode are both given the most attention here, allowing us to take in the details, designs, and props of these locales.

For a look at Dave's area of expertise, there's "The Science of Sorcery" (10:15). Nikola Tesla and his invention, the Tesla coil, are given a fair examination as we learn how he came up with the idea and what his peers thought.
The workings of the coil are also explained a bit, as is the role it serves in the story.

"Making Magic Real" (11:46) details director Jon Turtletaub's preference to use as many practical on-set effects as possible, to ease postproduction CG enhancements. Things like placeholder LED lights in palms are showcased.

The cast and crew pay homage to the segment that inspired this film in "Fantasia: Revisiting a Classic" (10:13). The first half just praises the film's namesake, but the second dissects the scene from an effects point of view. The team show how actors in green suits holding the mops are later removed digitally. Direct references the live-action version makes to the animated one are also pointed out.

"The Fashionable Drake Stone" (2:08) is a brief look at the comic supporting character's hair and wardrobe. We learn how much was suggested by actor Toby Kebbell, and a hidden Mickey is even pointed out at one point.

Alfred Molina proudly displays a rendering of himself in "The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art." Director Jon Turteltaub scratches the (motion capture dotted) head of a not-so-very intimidating wolf in "Wolves & Puppies."

"The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art" (3:45) reveals different ideas considered for trapping the characters before deciding on nesting dolls. Some concept artwork is displayed, and the actors react to seeing their Grimhold selves.

"The Encantus" (2:22) sheds some light on the origins and design of the spell book. The prop makers showcase some of its inspirations along with details the audience never gets to see in proper.

Revealing more movie illusions, "Wolves & Puppies" (3:07) focuses on the subway station wolf chase and their subsequent transformation. We see that the on-set wolves behave identically to dogs, causing the visual effects team to tweak their faces slightly to make them more evil.

"The World's Coolest Car", apparently this one-of-a-kind Rolls Royce Phantom, just so happens to belong to Nicolas Cage. Business expense, anyone? With Nicolas Cage on one page and a dragon on the other, the main menu's Encantus reads like Jay Baruchel's 2010 scrapbook.

"The World's Coolest Car" (1:32) essentially boils down to one fact: Balthazar's car in the film is actually owned by Nicolas Cage and is a one of a kind. On account of that, we hear about how protective everyone was of the vehicle.

"Outtakes" (3:14) offers nothing we haven't seen before. It's mostly just the actors bursting out into laughter during takes,
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though one amusing segment features Jay Baruchel having a rather awkward experience with a mop.

The DVD's main menu makes use of Dave's Encantus, putting clips among animated illustrations on the turning pages, while a nearby Tesla coil generates electricity. The Blu-ray's rendering changes its background as you toggle through the pop-up menu to match the opened submenu.

Both the FastPlay-enhanced DVD and Blu-ray contain promos for Disney Blu-ray, Tron: Legacy, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, A Christmas Carol, Disney Movie Rewards, African Cats, Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000: 2 Movie Collection, Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, The Incredibles Blu-ray, and The Lion King: Diamond Edition.

Nic Cage gets it done as masterful ancient sorcerer Balthazar. You're right if you think Monica Bellucci is too big an actress to accept a prologue cameo and walk-by; Veronica returns for the Bowling Green Park finale, still possessed by Morgana le Fay.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't a great movie, but I'm not sure that even its makers wanted it to be. They were probably just looking to make a piece of fun entertainment and in that regard, they have succeeded. It's not riveting or memorable and kids might not be that crazy about it, but it diverts and without immediately recalling something better (despite its inspirations).

Disney's DVD is another blow to the most popular home video format of all-time, but its excellent feature presentation and solid making-of featurette do not disappoint on their own merits. With over an hour of exclusives, the Blu-ray delves deeper and -- most will say -- deep enough.

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Jerry Bruckheimer + Nic Cage + Jon Turteltaub: National Treasure National Treasure: Book of Secrets | Bruckheimer + Cage: Con Air G-Force
Bruckheimer + Alfred Molina: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time | Jerry Bruckheimer: King Arthur Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Nicolas Cage: Knowing Ghost Rider Next Kick-Ass The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans | Teresa Palmer: Bedtime Stories
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Fred Molina: An Education The Hoax Enchanted April | Monica Bellucci: The Brothers Grimm Bram Stoker's Dracula (Collector's Edition)
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2010 Movies: The Karate Kid Toy Story 3 Grown Ups Ramona and Beezus Marmaduke Diary of a Wimpy Kid Alice in Wonderland

Related Interview: Jon Turteltaub, director of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and the National Treasure movies

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Songs List (in order of use): Jimmy Eat World - "The Middle", Fiction Plane - "Denied", OneRepublic - "Secrets", Tobias J. Record & Ashley Witt - "Drags", BT - "Le Nocturne de Lumiere", "Superstition", Jay Baruchel - "I'm Awesome", Paul Dukas - "L'Apprenti Sorcier", GROUPLOVE - "Gold Coast", O + S - "New Life", Ruscola - "Your Body is Calling Me", Alpha Rev - "Phoenix Burn"

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Reviewed December 6, 2010.

Film screencaps from DVD.