Friday, November 19, 2010

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Blu-ray Review

I recently had the chance to talk about this film with it’s director, Jon Turteltaub which you can read here and now I’ve had the chance to watch his movie on Blu-ray to see the finished result. I wasn’t sure how the movie would turn out as it was based on the most popular cartoon segments in the original Fantasia and starred Mickey Mouse as the mischievous apprentice.

Now it’s a live action film, with Jay Baruchel playing the Mickey Mouse role but in a more expanded world than the cartoon was set in.  Now there are forces of good called the Merlinians (after the wizard Merlin) who are attempting to thwart the forces of evil known as the Morganians who are led by Morgana le Fay.  With the heavy focus on Arthurian legend, I was wondering if we would get to see Excalibur at some point in the movie but alas it did not show up.  On the plus side, there is a lot of magic in the movie and this new version pays it’s respects to the cartoon by including the out of control mops that must be stopped along with the  famous music from Paul Dukas from the original.

Film (3 1/2 stars out of 5)

In the year 740 A.D., the battle between the wizard Merlin (James A. Stephens) and his foe Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige) is in it’s final stages.  One of Merlin’s apprentices named Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) has betrayed him and joined the Morganians for reasons of his own.  That betrayal allows Morgana to mortally wound Merlin before his remaining two apprentices, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) and Veronica Gorloisen (Monica Bellucci) can intervene.  Balthazar and Horvath start fighting and just before Morgana can attempt to kill Balthazar, Veronica uses magic to absorb Morgana’s life force into herself.  Balthazar, realizing that Veronica is about to be killed from the evil within her, imprisons both Veronica and Morgana within a magical container called the Grimhold which looks like a Russian nesting doll.  Once he returns to his the side of his dying master, Merlin tells him to take his dragon ring and find his future successor who will inherit all of Merlin’s powers and will become the Prime Merlinian and the only person that can fully defeat Morgana.

Decades and decades go by as Balthazar searches for the foretold candidate across the world and during that time he battles the forces of Morgana and imprisons them in the Grimhold too.  Each person imprisoned in the Grimhold has their own nesting doll inside it with their image painted on the side.  Finally, in the year 2000, Balthazar meets a young boy named Dave Stutler who wandered into his store following a scrap of paper that contained an answer from a young girl named Becky whom he had asked to be his girlfriend.  Baltahazar quickly discovers that the boy is the candidate he’s spent so long looking for when the dragon ring comes alive for Dave but before he can do anything about it, Dave accidentally releases Horvath from the Grimhold. With Horvath free from the Grimhold,  a battle quickly begins between him and Balthazar and they battle for control of the Grimhold and they accidentally are both imprisoned into a vase with a ten year lock to allow enough time to pass so Jay Baruchel can play Dave for the rest of the film.  With both of the wizards gone without a trace and no discernible damage from the magic battle that took place, Dave is ridiculed and humiliated for his attempts to explain his absence to his teacher.

10 years go by and Dave has relocated to a different school and gone through therapy to help him deal with what happened long ago.  In the meantime, the ten year lock on the vase ends and Horvath  escapes first and he tracks down Dave demanding to know where the Grimhold is now.  When Dave can’t answer him, he sends a pack of wolves to kill Dave but Balthazar rescues him and takes him to safety, where he explains that Dave is destined to become a wizard and that he will teach him the ways of magic on the way to Alderaan.  (Just kidding about Alderaan!) So Dave becomes the sorcerer’s apprentice and begins to learn how to cast spells.  Horvath gets his own dark disciple, when he enlists a Chriss Angel type of magician known as Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell) and so begins the fight between the two master sorcerers and their apprentices.  With Morgana wanting to cast a spell known as “The Rising,” which would raise an undead army of sorcerers, it’s up to Balthazar and Dave to stop them.

I enjoyed the movie and the way that magic is portrayed in the real world and there’s a lot of excellent set pieces like the battle in Chinatown with a dragon that are very well done.  There’s also a great car chase (this is a Bruckheimer produced film after all), and all of the special effects are done very well.  Nicolas Cage does a nice job portraying the ageless Balthazar with the right mix of seriousness and humor and Jay Baruchel is funny playing his usual role of Jay Baruchel.  Alfred Molina is as good as he always is as the villain Horvath, who may have valid reasons for turning against his former comrades.  Teresa Palmer is lovely and believable as the older Becky although she did take the revelation of magic being a reality probably better than most people would.  The movie is a lot of fun and I liked it more than I thought I would.  It’s slickly produces and well-directed, and I think it’s a good family film from Disney who usually excels at making these kind of films.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

Once again, Disney outdoes themselves with another reference quality disc.  The film is framed at 2.40:1 with a flawless 1080p transfer that puts most other discs to shame.  Colors are eye-popping especially in the Chinatown sequence where there is a beautiful explosion of color from all of the confetti and lights.  Detail is super sharp and black levels are solid and suitably inky which is good since most of this movie takes place at night.  Flesh-tones are natural and the contrast well-defined.  This is a gorgeous looking movie on Blu-ray and the magic spells look amazing.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is so good that my wife complained that the bass was shaking the house even after I had turned down the volume!  When I watch a movie that has an audio track as good as this one, I tend to want to crank it up and let it wash over me which usually gets me in trouble with my wife but I can’t help it.  This movie’s deep powerful LFE output combined with excellent use of all of the satellite channels really brings the movie to life.  From the dragon’s roar to the swirling magic spells that encompass your room, this is a truly impressive surround mix.  Dialogue is clear and the soundtrack and effects are well balanced and swirl around the room, going from speaker to speaker especially during the famous re-enactment of the battle between the apprentice and the brooms and mops.  This is a reference quality surround mix and one that should show off the capabilities of your home theater system.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

While all of these extras are presented in full 1080p resolution (which I applaud), I wasn’t as happy with how this material was presented.  All of these extras are pretty short (with the longest being around 13 minutes long if I remember correctly), and it seems like someone took a decent sized behind the scenes documentary and chopped it up into a bunch of little clips just to make it look like there’s a lot of extra content.  I wish they had just kept it all together because I really liked seeing how they pulled off the magical effects and how they tried doing as much of it as practical effects as they could.
On the Blu-Ray:
  • Magic In The City – They talk about what it was like to film in New York City.
  • The Science Of Sorcery – They talk about magic and how science can look like magic to the uninformed.  There’s more of a focus on Tesla and his inventions.
  • Making Magic Real – A clip showing how they did a lot of the magic as a practical effect on the set and augmented it with CGI later.
  • The Fashionable Drake Stone – Toby Kebbell talks about his character and his wardrobe and lifestyle.
  • The Grimhold: An Evil Work Of Art – A look at all of the different versions the Grimhold went through before it they decided on the final design.
  • The Encantus – A very cool look at how they created the wizard tome that Merlin owned.  I would love to own that book!
  • Wolves & Puppies - A look at how they converted well trained wolves into ferocious wolves with CGI.
  • The World’s Coolest Car – We discover that the Phantom Rolls-Royce that was used in the film actually belongs to Nicolas Cage who loaned the car to the production to use in the movie.
  • 5 Deleted Scenes – A mixed bag of deleted scenes.  Some were decent and others were rightfully deleted.
  • Outtakes – Clips of the cast breaking up but nothing worth watching.
On the DVD:
  • The Making Of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (DVD only)
  • Deleted Scene:  Balthazar Recruits Dave

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

I enjoyed the movie and the audio/visual quality of this disc is amazing but I’m not as happy about how the special features were handled.  During my talk with the film’s director Jon Turteltaub, he mentioned that he thought there was too much content on the disc and he especially didn’t want the deleted scenes added, which may explain why the disc feels anemic as far as the extras go.  There’s no commentaries or an in depth behind the scenes look at the production which in this day and age, I think is inexcusable.  Whoever decided to cut up what little extras there are into mostly 1-2 minute segments should be forced to watch Troll 2 as punishment.  Aside from that complaint, the movie and the audio and visual presentation of this disc is excellent and I recommend it as a purchase.

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