Disney // 2010 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 30th, 2010
It's the coolest job ever.
"Love is a distraction. Sorcery requires complete focus."
I'll do my best to explain this in as coherent a manner as possible. Here's the deal:
A long time ago, Merlin was the world's most powerful sorcerer. He was a good guy and used his powers in a responsible manner. The sorceress Morgana was much less ethical, and wanted to use her power to destroy humanity and take over the world.
Merlin had three apprentices: Balthazar (Nicholas Cage, Ghost Rider), Horvath (Alfred Molina, An Education), and Veronica (Monica Belluci, The Passion of the Christ). Balthazar and Veronica were good-hearted folks and had feelings for each other. Horvath was a selfish tool and wanted to take over the world, so he teamed up with Morgana and plotted to betray Merlin.
After Morgana murders Merlin, Balthazar casts a spell to trap Morgana inside of a mystical doll. Unfortunately, the spell also traps Veronica inside the doll, meaning that Balthazar can't rescue his one true love without unleashing his worst enemy. Over the years, other evil sorcerers attempt to free Morgana, but Balthazar simply traps them inside the doll, too. Eventually, he even manages to trap Horvath.
Fast forward to the year 2000. A young kid named Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry, Night at the Museum) turns up in Balthazar's mysterious antique shop. Balthazar realizes that Dave is the Prime Merlinian, the fabled savior who will eventually be able to defeat Morgana. Unfortunately, Dave accidentally releases Horvath, forcing Balthazar to trap both Horvath and himself inside an antique vase. Dave leaves in a bewildered state.
Fast forward to the year 2010. Dave (now played by Jay Baruchel, Million Dollar Baby) is now 20 years old. At long last, both Horvath and Balthazar manage to break free and immediately begin a race to find the doll containing their magical peers. Balthazar tracks down Dave and informs him that sorcerer training must begin immediately. Dave reluctantly agrees, joining forces with Balthazar in an effort to find the doll, recapture Horvath and save mankind from destruction.
Actor Nicolas Cage and Director Jon Turteltaub tapped into a gold mine with the "Every part of American history is part of an elaborate, cheesy conspiracy" National Treasure franchise, so it's only natural that they would attempt to replicate their success. The Sorcerer's Apprentice (very, very loosely based on the animated segment of the same name from Disney's animated classic Fantasia) was less successful at the box office (whether a sequel will be made is still unknown as of the writing of this review), but it's slightly more engaging than the National Treasure flicks.
I'm having a difficult time determining whether or not I can actually recommend The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as it's a film that frequently finds ways to prevent itself from reaching its full potential. The concept is fun -- two old wizards battling it out on the streets of New York with a geeky young college student caught in the crossfire -- but the details of the plot are so elaborate that the film ends up spending entirely too much time simply unspooling the narrative. The somewhat lengthy plot description above is actually a rather condensed version of the set-up. I'm not opposed to overstuffed plots if there's some sort of reward for keeping up (Guy Ritchie's gangster flicks come to mind), but The Sorcerer's Apprentice would have been vastly more enjoyable if it had spent more time on fun character interaction and less on scenes explaining why the characters are doing what they're doing.
When the endless exposition does ease up, what the film has to offer is actually rather enjoyable. I know a lot of people are fond of beating up on Nicolas Cage these days, but it must be admitted that the man is pretty convincing as a raggedy street wizard. Cage is in wise mentor mode; quietly dispensing wisdom and displaying the weary persona of a man who's been living a rather boring life for the last thousand years or so. The actor avoids going over-the-top this time around, but nonetheless brings a subdued tongue-in-cheek quality to the role that prevents Balthazar from becoming tedious. Molina doesn't get to have as much fun as he did in the other 2010 Bruckheimer-produced blockbuster (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), but he's enjoyably nasty. Baruchel is essentially doing a live-action version of the unlikely hero he voiced in How to Train Your Dragon, while Toby Kebbell (RocknRolla) nearly steals the show as Horvath's preening assistant. The female actors all do what they can, but the script short-changes them: Teresa Palmer (The Grudge 2) is given the thankless role of "the girl," Monica Belluci has absolutely nothing of interest to do and Alice la Krige's (Star Trek: First Contact) Morgana is a tiresome one-note villain.
As this is a Bruckheimer film, there's a pretty heavy action quotient. Dave and Balthazar are forced to battle an increasingly challenging series of baddies as the doll is slowly opened layer by layer in addition to dealing with intermittent attacks from Horvath along the way. The action is polished but generic, rarely demonstrating any innovation that would set it apart from any other run-of-the-mill summer action flick. The spells the sorcerers cast are too frequently unimaginative, as most scenes eventually result in everybody throwing fireballs at each other. The best special effects sequence is one that pays direct homage to the source material, as Dave casts a spell on some mops and brooms in an attempt to clean up his lab. It's a fun sequence, but it feels entirely disconnected from the rest of the movie.
Being a brand-new big-budget Disney blockbuster, you would expect The Sorcerer's Apprentice to look and sound great in hi-def. If that's what you assumed, you're absolute correct: this 1080p/2.40:1 transfer is simply gorgeous, offering eye-popping detail and remarkable depth. Like the National Treasure movies, this flick has a attractively glossy-yet-sunburned palette. There's a pretty significant portion of darker scenes (much of the action occurs at night), but blacks are deep and shadow delineation is superb. Not once did the image seem muddled or murky. The audio is equally sensational, as the impressive surround mix packs a real punch without overwhelming the dialogue or more intimate elements of sound design. A romantic sequence in which Dave uses Tesla coils to recreate a pop song (long story) is particularly dazzling, as the musical plasma bolts zap through your speakers. Trevor Rabin's score is a typically choppy, grim Bruckheimer effort (the producer is known for demanding a very particular sort of sound on his movies), but it comes through with considerable strength.
The supplements are somewhat disappointing, as the package is mostly comprised of engaging-but-lightweight EPK-style featurettes: "Magic in the City" (13 minutes), "The Science of Sorcery" (11 minutes), "Making Magic Real" (12 minutes), "Fantasia: Reinventing a Classic" (10 minutes), "The Fashionable Drake Stone" (2 minutes), "The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art" (4 minutes), "The Encantus" (2 minutes), "Wolves and Puppies" (3 minutes) and "The World's Coolest Car" (2 minutes). In addition, you get some deleted scenes, outtakes and an additional disc containing a DVD copy and digital copy.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice could have been a delightful family film, but instead it's merely passable entertainment. Ten-year-old boys are likely to find it pretty fun, but older viewers will may grow weary of its generic offerings before the credits roll. The supplemental package is similarly passable, but the Blu-ray looks and sounds dazzling.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy