Fantasy films are definitely a niche market. Right now, America is breaking box office records with the first part of the seventh and final Harry Potter film currently in theaters, and earlier this year, a remake of Clash Of The Titans did respectably well while the attempt to bring the first Percy Jackon and the Olympians book to the screen did not. Then, of course, you have the cash cow that is the Twilight series. Well, Disney has tried to make their mark in the genre by bringing The Sorceror's Apprentice to the silver screen. As sort of a live action version of Fantasia (but not exactly), the film is a fantasy adventure film that, like Percy Jackson, takes an ordinary outcast boy from present day and gives him an extraordinary gift... and burden. This tale, having nothing to do with Greek mythology as Jackson did, uses sorcery and magic with a scientific twist to tell a save-the-world tale set in New York City of epic good vs. evil proportions.
First off, don't let the PG and Disney tags fool you -- The Sorceror's Apprentice, while having some family values (mainly choosing good over evil, doing the right thing, and being selfless -- even giving your life for others despite what you want), the film is also very, very intense and driven by fantastical visuals, creatures, and action violence. There are even a few horror elements to the film. And the magic element, although very driven by mythology and sort-of fairytales, does show the villains using imagery like pentagrams, and related junk, to reinforce the evil black magic aspects of the story. Meanwhile, the heroes are harnessing the "good" magic of Merlin to fight the evil forces. This kind of stuff walks a fine line between fantasy and reality as there is truthfully nothing good about real-life spiritual "magic" involving pentagrams and other Satanic stuff (but the heroes are never shown using pentagrams, just "Merlin's symbol"). In the end, The Sorceror's Apprentice works as a fantasy story to not take seriously, but young children who might not know better certainly shouldn't see a film with such subject matter. However, The Sorceror's Apprentice never looks or feels like the kind of movie in which a young audience is intended. And when the film is taken to the present day with a twenty-year-old hero, that might give you more of an idea of really who the film's audience probably should be. The Sorceror's Apprentice didn't perform too well at the box office over the summer this year, and that may in part have something to do with its aim at children when the content doesn't quite match up for the target audience.
The opening sequence in The Sorceror's Apprentice deals with an evil witch named Morgana besting the legendary Merlin, killing him and then being beaten by one of the magician's three apprentices, Balthazar. One of the other apprentices, Horvath, betrays Merlin and the others and is imprisoned after Balthazar later catches him. When Manhattan resident Dave Stutler has a chance meeting with Balthazar at the age of 10 in the year 2000, Horvath is accidentally awoken and a fight breaks out that imprisons them both for ten years. Now at the age of twenty, Dave is in college and trying to get his life on track when Balthazar shows up once again. For much of the film, Horvath is very much on a warpath to try to kill both Balthazar and Dave and ultimately free Morgana so they can destroy the world (now... why they want to "destroy the world" and what good that will do them isn't exactly explained?). Throughout the course of the film, there are quite a few startling or intense images. When Horvath returns, we see a horde of cockroaches escape from a jar and crawl all over each other to form Horvath. During a Chinese parade, we see a dancing paper dragon come to life (and we briefly see the people underneath the decoration suddenly inside the belly of a real dragon -- and their feet become its feet -- but they end up okay later on) and see an ancient Chinese villain with creepy eyes and the outline of a dragon sort of burrowing slowly under the skin of his chest. A child who is a witch (and looks a little like the girl on that creepy poster for The Orphan) is in a short scene and very, very creepy in a sequence that feels lifted from a horror film (we see her outside a window and as the person, who she will kidnap, turns around, the creepy girl is then inside the room with her and smirking at her). There are also a couple instances where one of the villains has changed their appearance to be someone else and we briefly see their face distorted as they change back to themselves. All of the potentially disturbing stuff is brief, but it's also somewhat jarring since it's relatively unexpected for a "Disney" film and what is otherwise supposed to be a family movie. The finale also has some creepy magical moments where Morgana is misty and almost like an apparition and we see her pull her image apart to dodge attacks. If it weren't for the Fantasia-inspired dancing mop scene or the film's lack of profanity, you probably would never imagine this was a PG-rated Disney flick (although, this Disney did put its name on the uber-violent Pirates of the Caribbean and Prince of Persia films, but they were all also rated PG-13. While The Sorceror's Apprentice is certainly not nearly as rough as any of those movies, it just barely squeaks by with its PG rating... much like Percy Jackson earlier this year did as well).
Aside from the content, I have to admit that The Sorceror's Apprentice is actually a lot of fun. While it's not the best fantasy film you'll ever see, Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel (Who?! You actually should recognize his voice from How To Train Your Dragon since he provided the voice for the film's main character, Hiccup) look like they're having fun throughout Apprentice and while the movie uses great actors to carry their story, it never pushes the adults to the background so much that you feel like the movie dumbs things down too much (Percy Jackson actually bordered on doing that as it followed more of a central trio of teens instead of the master/apprentice relationship here). Cage is great as Balthazar, sporting a much better hairdo than, say, he did in Next, and not succombing to all of his signature quirks to seem more "Nicolas Cage" and less like the character he's supposed to be portraying. Baruchel is also pretty solid as our title nerd/geek character who is given the tremendous task of having to save the world. Teresa Palmer is good as Dave's love interest, Becky Barnes, and although that whole subplot is just a bit contrived, it's still pretty cute. Lastly, Alfed Molina is wonderful as the film's key villain and he makes a great nemesis for Balthazar. The rest of the cast do well to support the central cast, adding to the film.
To say that the movies gives itself over to the fantasy world maybe a little too much would probably be an understatement, but it helps to balance on grounding the movie in reality just enough to not seem too cartoony or goofy in its delivery of the more fantastical plot elements. For example, Balthazar states that the magicians and sorcerors of the world hide in plain sight, trying to keep a low profile, but there are more than a few moments in the film where there are lots of civilian onlookers -- or there should be. And it seems to be hinted by Balthazar that those not in the magic world cannot see everything that is happening around them, but when the climax takes place in Battery Park in NYC and not A SINGLE police officer or civilian is seen anywhere during the whole spectacular light show, it seems just a little too much to have to believe. Still, it isn't enough to ruin the movie or dismiss it entirely, because in the end, it's just a fun adventure film and one to just sit back and enjoy and not take too seriously. I have to say though, that the filmmakers' efforts to ground the film in reality by filming as many physical effects and in as many actual on-location New York City places as possible did not go unnoticed. Some of the effects because of it are some of the best I've seen in a film of its kind.
Overall, I found director Jon Turtletaub's (who is responsible for the National Treasure films) latest Disney outing to be an above average fantasy/adventure film that's worth checking out for older kids and families who enjoy light-hearted action films without all the sex and profanity that PG-13 movies generally display. But be warned that there are some disturbing visuals and some intense action to keep in mind before viewing the movie. Also, the magic element may be worth skipping the movie for altogether as well. In the end, though, The Sorceror's Apprentice may not be all that it was hyped up to be, but it's still a pretty fun adventure movie (and fast forward to the end of the credits for an additional scene that's only about 15/20 seconds long, but teases at the possibility of a sequel, leaving that door wide open if they should choose to continue this story any further).
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/28/10)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
I didn't happen to catch The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the theater, so my first viewing was at home on Blu-Ray and I was very, very impressed with the quality of the digital picture. The film looks excellent in high definition and the big special effects that the movie relies so heavily on translate wonderfully in Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack offers the film in HD and standard DVD, while the BD includes several bonus features...
Magic In The City (12:51) - The first extra is a doozy. "Magic In The City" focuses on taking the action of the story to New York City and doing a lot of on-location filming -- from a car chase in the real Times Square to a dragon attack on the streets of the real Chinatown, the production team did a lot of great on-location work to ground the story in reality... and choose fantastical views of the historic, larger-than-life city for the story. This is an excellent behind-the-scenes featurette with some really great set footage. (Note: for those who may be offended, director Jon Turtletaub uses "crap" once in an interview and shouts "holy jeez" in an on-set moment reacting to an effect)
The Science Of Sorcery (10:27) takes a look into how science inspired the way the film looks at the "magic" performed in the film (like the plasma bolts and such). This also touches on how the effects were created and at how the filmmakers tried to ground the sorcery in a realistic realm of science. The featurette ends with a little tribute to Nikola Tesla's "Tesla Coil" technology and how that inspired the screenwriter to base everything in a foundation of physics and science. (There's a lot of great behind-the-scene footage here as well -- especially how they filmed those plasma bolt shots)
Making Magic Real (11:44) - This is another look into the special effects of the film and how the director wanted to use as many practical effects as possible (which was noticable in the film and added to it). This featurette goes in-depth into how they created several sequences -- from The Crysler Building eagle flying and interacting with the actors, to the real fire used during the training sequences, to even the Times Square car chase and the bull in the finale. This is yet another great behind-the-scenes video.
Fantasia: Reinventing A Classic (10:12) - This is an entire featurette dedicated to the dancing mop sequence which is a total nod to the iconic Mickey Mouse scene in Fantasia. It breaks down how they filmed the sequence with real actors in green suits moving the mops and tools, and then how they removed the actors painstakingly digitally. This is a fun watch too. (Jay uses "crap" once in this one)
The Fashionable Drake Stone (2:08) is totally dedicated to the rock star-ish magician character of Drake Stone and how they designed Toby Morrell's character to be over-the-top and flashy. It's a lighthearted and amusing look at how they literally fashioned the villain for the movie.
The Grimhold: An Evil Work Of Art (3:45) is about the Russian nesting doll that contains the evil spirits of several different sorcerors in the story. It shows how they designed each layer and even the different effects of how each villain emerges from it. So, if you didn't like the cockroach-filled entrance of Horvath at the beginning, or the gross, globby and gooey entrance of Morgana, then you just might want to skip this making-of featurette.
The Encantus (2:21) continues the breakdown of the artistry in the movie. This shows how the gigantic book was designed and compiled with real archemical references and articulately created. Art fans will love this little segment. It also ends with a cute little deleted moment between Balthazar and Dave from the finished film about the book.
Wolves & Puppies (3:03) focuses on the real wolves that were used in the movie. The fact that the wolves were real in the film really helped the realism of the scene in the finished film. This is an adorable one for the animal lovers. The coolest part of this video reveals that the real wolves were actually so friendly that they had to put reference dots on their faces during filming so that the mean faces the wolves make during the movie could be inserted via visual effects over the original wolves' friendly faces!
The World's Coolest Car (1:32) reveals that the 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom that Balthazar drives during the movie is actually one of Nicolas Cage's own cars! For the action sequences, however, they did create a mock-up of this car (since the original is the only one in the world), but it's still pretty cool to know it's one of Nic's personal treasures.
Deleted Scenes (7:47) - There are five deleted scenes included on the Blu-Ray disc (and only one on the DVD -- the third scene on this list). The first takes place in 1840 in India when Balthazar is trying to find the chosen Merlinian. There's just a snippet of it in the finished film, but this whole scene wasn't needed. The next scene shows Dave in physics class doing a demonstration of the Tesla Coil. It's a smart cut because it's just another humiliating moment for Dave and a bit uncomfortable to watch. The third scene shows Dave meeting Balthazar outside the university at a book seller's table. It's actually another smart cut because it's pretty corny. The fourth shows Dave tutoring Becky in a coffee shop when a guy named Andre shows up and flirts with her (and he subtly references Dave's botched presentation in the second deleted scene). It's another kind of awkward scene that also wasn't missed from the final film. The last one shows Dave finding Tank the dog in the Rolls Royce and assuming it is Balthazar (referencing the scene in the movie where Balthazar tells Dave that he's going to try to possess Tank). Dave pours his heart out to the dog about the trials in his life and realizes it's just Tank when the dog starts passing gas. We definitely didn't need a bed-wetting joke and fart gags, so this was a good cut as well. All in all, all the deleted scenes were wise deletions.
Outtakes (3:13) - This gag reel pretty much consists of some adlibbing on set and the cast cracking up during takes. It's not the funniest outtake reel, but it's worth a watch.
The Making Of The Sorceror's Apprentice (22:01) - Like with the Prince Of Persia combo pack, the DVD gets its own exclusive Behind-The-Scenes featurette. Running at 22 minutes, it covers most of what the Blu-Ray covers but with some additional content. The downside to its exclusivity to the DVD is that it's shown in standard definition (and requires you to switch discs). It starts with the Fantasia tribute and shows more footage about it while covering the topics of the separate featurettes (like New York City, the special effects, etc) on the Blu-Ray in this all inclusive making-of piece. There's a lot of repeat footage here, but also extra tidbits as well.
Overall, the Blu-Ray treatment of The Sorcerer's Apprentice is an excellent viewing experience and the bonus features are really excellent and thorough, giving a great look into how the movie was made and hearing a great deal from the cast and crew about the process.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/28/10)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
We briefly see a guy and girl kiss passionately, and another man and woman briefly kiss passionately too; We see Dave's friend Bennet lying on a floor facing a girl in a room only lit by candlelight with romantic music playing when he receives a phone call from Dave (Bennet and the girl are both fully clothed). The girl gets up and leaves the room when Bennet answers the phone, but it's kind of obvious that Bennet's intentions are for the night to lead further; Dave calls Becky "sexy."
Possibly two uses of "h*ll" and two uses of "G-d"
We see Dave and Bennet in an apartment or dorm room when they're discussing what to do for Dave's birthday. Bennet comments that Dave should go out with him and his friends and get drunk, but Dave turns him down; When police question Balthazar about reports of a real dragon attack, he tells them that the people have been "hitting the Saki pretty hard." But Dave corrects him that the drink is a Japanese drink (and the people are Chinese in Chinatown)
In an antique store, we see some creepy, old images. One looks like a doll head in a jar and there's a shrunken head in a jar elsewhere; A spell causes a paper dragon decoration, which is covering two or three people, to come to life. We then see the people who were wearing it inside the real dragon, with the decoration that was surrounding them now looking like the inside walls of an creature's stomach (pink and muscular); We see an evil sorceror with a dragon shape on his belt come to life and as he manipulates a real-life dragon outside of his body, it causes the shape on his belt to begin to move under the bare skin on his chest (it's not gory, but kind of gross); When Morgana is later seen as sort of a misty, ghostly form, she pulls herself apart to avoid being hit by plasma bolt attacks. At one point, she literally separates her head (vertically down the middle) and it looks somewhat fleshy in the moment it's apart before she pulls it back together; When Morgana causes a firey pentagram to form above the city, it starts to awaken the dead across the globe and we briefly see a skeleton's skull form decayed flesh on its face and come to life (but it later bursts into a puff of smoke)
Lots of fantasy action violence. The movie opens up with Morgana stabbing and killing Merlin. We also see brief images of soldiers lying dead after a battle; Lots of plasma bolts and fire being thrown, throwing characters around and into things, causing things to break and shatter; A pack of wolves chase Dave; Horvath threatens to kill Dave throughout the film; A sorceror sends hundreds of needles flying at Balthazar, who uses his coat to protect himself (and we see them sticking out of his coat for the rest of the scene); Dave gets thrown around and beaten up throughout the movie; Horvath touches a man with his cane, stealing his power and killing him; Off screen, Horvath kills a witch who looks like a little girl, taking her power. We then see her lying dead; A car stops short of hitting Horvath and the driver threatens Horvath not to mess with him. Horvath then sends two daggers threw the windshield of the car, presumably killing the driver; Four daggers just barely stop short of hitting Balthazar in the head; Horvath holds a girl captive, threatening to kill her; A man mugs Dave and Becky. Dave then causes a garbage can to catch on fire and hurls it into the mugger; There is a car chase through Times Square that ends with a car being crushed, but the driver and passenger escape; A big fight with magical powers involves characters being thrown around and hit with magic surges of power, etc. This results in a character dying but being brought back to life using magic powers and a villain being destroyed; A dragon comes to life and terrorizes Chinatown, chasing Dave. We later see it blow up; Horvath causes a big metal bull to chase Balthazar and we see it crash up and throw cars; We see Morgana possessing Veronica; Morgana briefly possesses Balthazar; There is other assorted fantasy violence too.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most
reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.