THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Cage, Jay Burachel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: November 30, 2010
“Civilians mustn't know magic exists. That would be complicated.”
“Says the guy in the 350-year-old rawhide trench coat.”
I must admit that when I now see a trailer for the latest Jerry Bruckheimer production, I'm not as giddy with anticipation as I once was. By that I mean, when I first saw the previews for the likes of The Rock, Con Air, Enemy of the State, Gone in 60 Seconds and the original Pirates of the Caribbean, I lit up immediately. But having been slightly disappointed by the third Pirates movie and the painfully mediocre Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, I was left wondering if there was any spark left in the Bruckheimer factory.
After seeing The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I'm happy to say that the spark is still there. This is a fast-paced, eager to please adventure fantasy with sharp wit and amazing special effects to spare. For me, it represents one of the best cases of pure popcorn escapism done right in a year when so many other movies of this type failed (I'm looking at you, Prince of Persia).
The movie also reunites star Nicolas Cage with director Jon Turteltaub, who collaborated on the National Treasure movies, which were also produced by Bruckheimer. Watching this movie, I was instantly reminded of the high level of entertaining thrills of the first National Treasure. It simply goes to show that Turteltaub and Cage, who also co-produced the movie, are quite a reliable pairing when it comes to making a big scale adventure movie.
The movie does open with an exposition-heavy setting up of the story, which had me worried for a bit with its over-explaining of every detail the audience. And I won't delve much into this portion because it would basically take me six paragraphs to detail what happens and why it's important to the rest of the story. And what's the point of me explaining to you what's explained in the movie's opening in a much more efficient form?
All that is needed to know is that a powerful sorcerer named Balthazar Blake (Cage), who was an apprentice to none other than Merlin himself, has been on a thousand year quest to find the Prime Merlinian. This is the person who will become Merlin's successor. A metal dragon ring, given to Balthazar by Merlin before his death, is the key ingredient that will help in locating this individual.
Balthazar's path leads him to an unlikely candidate in Dave Stutler (Jay Burachel), a self-proclaimed physics nerd. Balthazar tells Dave that he holds special abilities that he, of course, is unaware of. He insists that Dave undergo sorcerer training at once, because it just so happens that the future of the world is at stake.
An evil sorcerer named Horvath (Alfred Molina), has been reawaken and plans to go forth with a plot he initialized over a thousand years ago. It involves unearthing Merlin's nemesis, the powerful witch Morgana (Alice Krige), so she can continue with a spell procedure that would result in bringing the dead to life and enslaving all of mankind. Naturally, he and Balthazar engage in a series of magic-fueled battles on the streets of New York, which is where the movie's ultra-marvelous visual effects come into play.
There is thing distracting Dave from realizing his true calling. Her name is Becky (the quite fetching Teresa Palmer), who's in his physics class and the one girl he's had a crush on for the longest time. But just as their romance begins to blossom, Balthazar warns Dave that he can't afford to have any distractions if he is to keep focus on his training, which is clearly more important.
Basically, this is a story about a chosen one that we've seen countless times before and the movie doesn't really add anything groundbreaking in that regard. But what The Sorcerer's Apprentice does have is an effortless pace, terrifically engaging performances, and some of the most astonishing visual effects you will see in any movie this year, and those qualities more than make up for the not so original plot. Every dollar of the huge budget was put to grand use, and when you think about it that's very important when making a contemporary adventure involving sorcery.
The visual effects sequences do merit some mentioning, because they dazzle the eyes to no end. One of the first big set pieces is in a Chinatown parade, in which a dragon float turns into an actual fire breathing dragon, which then precedes to chase down a terrified Dave in and out of a nearby building. Another moment when Balthazar brings to life a bird statue with just a single touch, so as to use it as a transportation device, is visually dynamic to say the least.
What caught me by surprise, even though the movie's title was kind of a hint, was a sequence midway through that pays homage to the classic animated short of the same name. As Dave prepares to clean up his private laboratory, he unintentionally brings to life a series of mops, which then leads to disastrous results. We even get to hear the legendary Tchaikovsky music during this sequence.
And I want to take this opportunity to say to whoever came up with the concept of combining sorcery and car chases for this movie...you rock, sir or madam. Not only do we get to see a sorcerer transform an antique car into a high speed sports car while racing through the streets of Manhattan, but we see that same car fly through a mirror and land in a mirrored environment. That scene alone is eight different kinds of awesome.
It also helps a great deal when you have Nicolas Cage anchoring the movie with that one of a kind manic wit and slightly weird demeanor that only he can bring to a role, which he very much does in the role of Balthazar. Up and comer Jay Burachel, whom you'll recognize from several Judd Apatow comedies, is cast perfectly as the geeky sorcerer in training and the banter between him and Cage is at times priceless. And it's a joy to watch Alfred Molina ham it up in a sniveling villainous role, in addition to the fact that it's a joy to see him redeem himself after his thankless and forgettable role in Prince of Persia.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a rousing two hour popcorn escapist entertainment package that is very much a fitting movie for the entire family. Not only is it the best Jerry Bruckheimer production in quite some time, but it's also the best live action Disney release since the original National Treasure. The effects are great, there's plenty of charm and wit and there's barely a dull moment.
I've praised the visual effects endlessly in this review, and there's no question that a main ingredient in their flawless appearance is the outstanding video presentation courtesy of this Disney Blu-ray release. The entire movie carries a super slick look to it, as any mega-budget movie should, Every frame carries with it a superb level of lighting and color display, which the 1080p enhances to full pristine beauty. But I'm telling you, when those big effects moments show up (especially that dragon in Chinatown), pepare to have your jaw hit the floor. A flick with this much of a visual punch deserves to be seen only in the high def format.
The DTS HD mix pretty much takes flight once you hear bursts of lightening bolts during the Jerry Bruckheimer Films logo, and not for a second does it let up. The various effects and action sequences are accompanied by a level of surround sound that is intense and quite well balanced with the dialogue and music delivery. Trevor Rabin's score is heard in a most thunderous form, especially during the action/effects bits. In a nutshell, expect all your speakers to get a good working from this one, as if some magical figure is about to materialize before you!
On this Disney release, we get a good number of featurettes (though many of them are brief) all of which cover mainly technical aspects of the production...which is understandable for such an effects-filled adventure. Among the featurettes, there's “Magic in the City”, which discusses the many location shoots within the Big Apple, “The Science of Sorcery” delves into the scientific side of sorcery and how various props and locations play a pivotal role in that regard. “Making Magic Real” takes a look at some of the practical effects used in the movie and given how much CGI is featured, you may be surprised at what you see. “The Fashionable Drake Stone” is an up close look at Horvath's magician sidekick character. “The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art” looks at the creation of a Russian nesting doll, a crucial item in the movie. “The Enactus” reveals how the sorcerer's guide book (or “enactus”) came to be from both a practical and digital perspective. “Wolves and Puppies” shows us the various animals who appear in the movie, and “The World's Coolest Car” reveals that the 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom used by Balthazar in the movie is actually a car from Nicolas Cage's personal collection. By far, the best featurette of the bunch is the one titled “Fantasia: Reinventing a Classic”explores how the filmmakers went about shooting the sequence inspired by the Mickey Mouse animated short, and I was surprised by how they did it. Rounding out the extras are over seven minutes worth of Deleted Scenes and an Outtakes reel.
The Blu-ray also comes with a bonus DVD disc edition, which includes a featurette titled “The Making of The Sorcerer's Apprentice” and one Deleted Scene.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is, for me, a movie that has reignited the spark in both Disney's live action movie department and the Bruckheimer production house. It's a purely splendid crowd pleaser with some of the most stunning visual effects you'll ever see, charismatic performances and an energetic pace, not to mention Nick Cage in slightly crazy mode...which is always a winner in my book. Worth checking out on this marvelous Disney Blu-ray release!