It’s official. Hollywood completely believes we have no imagination. It has now been deemed necessary to give a logical, scientific explanation as to why people can levitate things, shoot fireballs, and strike with lightning. What happened to a force that surrounds us, binds us, and holds the universe together? Oh, right, those were midichlorians.
Now, we’ve moved on with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where humans naturally have the ability for magic, but just can’t harness it. Merlin had the ability, and so does his final apprentice, that average nerdy guy Dave (Jay Burachel) who gets typecast in everything he does. Enter Nicholas Cage too as Balthazar, the person entrusted with training Dave to take on whoever becomes the evil-doer of the week.
The whole film is based on the piece from Fantasia where Mickey controls the mops to do his bidding (that in turn based on a 1797 poem), recreated here in (of course) realistic CGI, utterly missing the point of the original if still a nice homage. Everything else is new, like the backstory that surely doesn’t exist solely because of Harry Potter, or any other knock-off.
The formula is familiar, the effects are mundane, and whole thing seems to be searching for a personality, or an excuse to show off the magic. Dave takes his girlfriend Becky (Teresa Palmer) into the subway where they are held up at knife point. Conveniently for all involved, no one else is around, the perfect opportunity for Dave to utilize all he’s learned without spoiling his powers to all of humanity.
You would not be blamed for misinterpreting Sorcerer’s Apprentice as some kind of spin-off to Percy Jackson, and the only reason Harry Potter doesn’t mingle is due to the contemporary settings of these otherwise familiar affairs. Regardless of where it all happens, they all follow the same path, the awkward kid finding a meaning for his life, realizing with awe he has powers, and then taking on the movie villain of the piece, Apprentice given the presence of Alfred Molina for most of its running time. All that does is weaken the final confrontation when another stock villain pops up to initiate the predictable finale.
Try as it might, upping the amount of random magical powers that are awfully convenient in a pinch or creating a massive dragon to terrorize Chinatown, Apprentice never feels like it’s going anywhere, at least not anywhere new. It’s as Jerry Bruckheimer finally clued in that magic makes money and whipped this thing up, picking and choosing the best bits while molesting a classic. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]
Maybe 10 minutes of this movie take place during the day or in general sunlight outdoors, the battle for all humanity contained to the night. That leaves the excessively gaudy orange and teal color scheme to dominate against the rich, depth-filled blacks. Credit is due for the black levels, every single scene delivering immense dimensionality, and when mixed in with the occasionally hot contrast, the image leaps off the screen.
It doesn’t need much texture to remain at that level, which a good thing for this AVC encode. Fine detail is typically at a premium short of the numerous close-ups. The mid-range simply isn’t that eye-catching, the colors poorly resolved in spots as there were not enough shades of orange to lather the screen with. Sure, those close-ups are exceptional, brimming with high-fidelity detail, but when that camera pulls back, it’s all a wash. It’s far too smooth, probably the result of the digital intermediate, not the film stock or the encode. Environments pass by without too much impact, fairly general these days,
The film utilized a new Kodak film stock, one which apparently has a minimalist grain structure. It’s barely visible for most of the film. When it is, the encode has no trouble resolving it cleanly, further keeping it from view. There are no spikes or moments of noise to take note of either. In fact, the only time the encode seems to be at fault with anything happens during the Chinese parade, the giant dragon bursting up from the mountain of confetti, that insane amount of movement too much for the compression to handle at 33:57. Blocking becomes evident, and a few shots in this scene reveal the same issue to a lesser degree. It’s nothing severe and passes quickly enough that it’s easy to ignore.
Sharpness is stable. Despite the amount of dark interiors, excessive effects, and various other tricks of the trade, sharpness remains like the black levels: perfect. Colors outside of the restrictive orange/teal palette can shine, the vivid reds of the Chinese dragon prior to transformation a sight to see, and the lighting powers/Tesla coils are superbly vibrant. It’s a shame there isn’t more of them. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
The DTS-HD audio mix is perfection, an aggressive, striking presentation loaded with surround effects and unrelenting bass. Magic in this world of the apprentice is greeted by a deep, powerful jolt of bass. It’s unleashed anytime a spell is cast, or molecules are shaken… err, whenever a spell is executed. It’s a deep, tightly wound, grumbling bass too, thoroughly satisfying. The opening prologue is a bass haven, magicians in their prime flinging spells at one another while the low-end tries to keep up, and it does.
All of the future assaults are the same, even minor stuff like the footstep of Alfred Molina at 11:20 as he comes back to life. It’s a tremendous thud. The dragon assault is spectacular too, the precursor a fantastic wrap-around display of ambient audio, then moving into bass as the creature springs to life and attacks. Every flame is captured in the sub with force.
The surrounds are more than generous too, Dave’s Tesla coil display at 20:39 (and a later one too) just awesome. Electricity crackles in each speaker as the power is generated from one coil to the next in flawless form. A car chase at 1:14:00 splits the stereo channels wide, and the surrounds even further. Placement is precise and natural, not overdone.
Fidelity is perfect, a few lines of obvious ADR only a mild distraction. The elements work together in harmony, the score carrying weight amidst the mass of other sound effects and dialogue. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Extras exist purely as promotional fluff, beginning with a series of featurettes, the first being Magic in the City. That looks at the location shoot and the origin of the idea. Science of Sorcery focuses on how the idea to blend science and magic came to be, without anyone mentioning it was rather dumb in the first place. Making Magic Real, again missing the point, focuses on the effects, practical and digital included. Fantasia: Reinventing a Classic takes a look at the scene that inspired this update. Those four run about 45-minutes total.
A sting of much shorter pieces look at the fashion of the Drake Stone character, the Encantus, the wolves (and the admittedly adorable pups), and the car (actually owned by Nic Cage), totaling out to 11-minutes combined. Five deleted scenes, some outtakes, a 3D promo, D-Box support, and trailers remain. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]