The Sorcerer's Apprentice
July 14, 2010
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. The very words warm you as you are flooded with joyous memories and images of what may be the most iconic ten minutes of film in the history of movies. Just thinking about a little mouse named Mickey with his oversized red robe and blue sorcerer’s hat covered in golden moon and stars conducting a symphony of magical mops and brooms gone awry, brings a smile to your face and your heart, and maybe even a few goosebumps. And you wonder - how can anything compare with this bit of 1940 Disney magic? Well, I’ll tell you. Fast forward 70 years and then whip up a spell that calls for the magic of Jerry Bruckheimer, the talents and charm of Nic Cage, the wonderment of Jay Baruchel, the imagination of Matt Lopez and the brilliance of Jon Turteltaub, throw in a few Tesla coils plus the magic of Merlin and Walt Disney, and you’ve got yourself a 21st Century, live action SORCERER’S APPRENTICE for the ages! Now THIS is magic! Forget about Harry and Hogwarts! Mickey’s original magic mesmerizes in live action with more fun and fantasy than Merlin himself could muster. Myth, legend and science all come together in electrifying, time altering fashion.
Balthazar Blake is somewhere beyond the 1000 year old mark. A disciple of Merlin, he has searched the world over for a young boy prophesied by Merlin to defeat those sorcerers who turned to the dark side with the intent on destroying the world by recalling the dead souls of all evil before them. Known as the Prime Merlinian, and a direct descendant of Merlin, this boy holds the key to the preservation of not only the world, but good magicks.
Dave Stutler is a nerdy little 10 year old who is picked on by his classmates, especially when it comes to his crushing on the very pretty Becky Barnes. While trying to express his feelings to Becky in a love note, catastrophe happens as the wind whips the note into the sky and out of Becky’s hands before she can read it. Embarrassed and afraid someone might see his note, Dave takes off after it, running through the streets of New York until coming to the Arcana Cabana Curiosity Shop. Mysteriously, his note slips through the mail slot in the door, prompting aa now curious Dave to go in after it.
Arcana Cabana is unlike anything Dave has ever seen before. Looming large around him are some of the strangest things he has ever seen, including proprietor Balthazar Blake, who knows why Dave has been drawn to the shop - Dave is the Prime Merlinian, a suspicion confirmed when Merlin’s dragon ring magically walks onto Dave’s finger. But overwhelming a 10 year old with mystical mumbo jumbo isn’t the way to enlist his cooperation and help. It also doesn’t take long for instructions of "Do Not Touch Anything" to turn into a complete fiasco when Dave breaks the Grimhold, a Russian nesting doll looking thing that is "a prison for the very, very scary and wicked Morganians", unleashing one layer of evil with Maxim Horvath, a sorcerer who turned on Merlin and Balthazar, swearing allegiance to the evil Morgana. Balthazar managed to trap Horvath in the Grimhold where he has remained all these years but with Horvath now free, he holds the power to release all of the other entombed evil entities and must be stopped. But it will take the Prime Merlinian to help. Blowing the shop to bits, Balthazar and Horvath engage in all manner of magicks with plasma and fireballs, telekinesis, gravity inversion and explosion after explosion until both are pulled into an urn where they are destined to remain for 10 years. Unfortunately for Dave, while he thinks everything is really cool, albeit frightening, his teacher and classmates call him crazy when he regales the events that have unfolded in the shop, sending him to an emotional Siberia and transfer to a new school.
Fast forward ten years. Dave is now an NYU physics major. Still nerdy, time has not healed the emotional wounds of his youth and in fact, it was the events at the Arcana Cabana that pushed him further within himself and into the world of science. Lacking self-esteem and still having only one real friend, imagine Dave’s surprise and joy when Becky appears in his physics class at NYU! Of course, seeing her again only makes him more stumbling, tongue-tied and clumsy. But what really turns his world upside down is the reappearance of Balthazar who, along with Horvath, has been released from the urn. With Horvath poised to release the forces of evil, the urgency for Dave to begin his training under Balthazar increases tenfold, yet Balthazar fails to tell him exactly what’s at stake should he not fulfill his destiny.
Although wanting nothing more than the courage to ask Becky for a date, Dave can’t seem to walk away from Balthazar and begrudgingly begins his apprentice training. Blending science and sorcery, can Balthazar and his young apprentice stop Horvath? Will Dave get Becky? Will good magic be saved? Will New York City survive the magical onslaught of the ages?
As 1000 year old Balthazar Blake, Nic Cage has never been hotter. The driving force behind THE SORCERER’s APPRENTICE, Cage " began to have an interest in Arthurian mythology and the Grail cycle, particularly ancient England. And I was trying to find a way to start making a movie that resonated that in some way." And he wanted "to play a character who had mystical abilities." In Balthazar, he achieves not only his own desires, but gives us a wildly engaging and entertaining character. Strong, handsome, with a wry wit, it’s impossible to take your eyes off Cage every moment he’s on screen, due in large part to his charisma and the choreography of his hands. "I really felt it was important that my character use his hands like a conductor; magic is coming out of the hands." Spellbinding.
Jay Baruchel is perfect as the shy, timid and insecure apprentice, Dave Stutler. Like a kid in a candy store, Baruchel felt that he has long been groomed for this role having, "practiced shooting energy out of my hands my entire life." His chemistry and repartee with Cage is believable and fun, providing comedic moments that balance the intensity of the action and magic. But for Baruchel, playing Dave wasn’t just like playing any other character. He had some big shoes, er - gloves, to fill. "There’s a gravity to it. It’s not lost on me. When we were shooting the Sorcerer’s sequence, the famous "Fantasia" sequence, doing our version of it when the mops come to life; everyday I came to work like ‘You really can’t mess this up.’ Worse case scenario, every time someone else sees the cartoon "Fantasia", I will be irrevocably connected to it. When you’re paying homage to one of the more iconic sequences in film history, it’s a big one. I tried my best to fulfill everything I had to do, do everything I had to do in terms of paying homage to the character and to the sequence while looking for moments where I could kind of maybe do my own thing with it. I was scared shitless."
Alfred Molina appears to have easily stepped into the shoes of everybody’s favorite fun villain - at least in a Disney-Bruckheimer picture. As Horvath, Molina is evil wickedness with a touch of class. Scene stealing and fun, he is at his funniest and most villainous when going toe-to-toe with Horvath’s own apprentice, Drake Stone played by Toby Kebbell. Fashioning Stone on illusionist Chriss Angel and others who " get to that celebrity level where they think they are the only important thing in the world", Kebbell is over-the-top, eliciting more than his share of laughs and giggles.
Written by the team of Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard based on a story by Lopez, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE has everything one could possibly want for a fun-filled film. Characters are well written with depth and structure. The magical storyline is well executed and explained and not just held together by one effect after another. Described by Matt Lopez as this script being "a fun one", that fun and his joy are evident on watching the screen. The one script weakness however, is the Dave-Becky relationship. While important to Dave’s character and the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, the film uncomfortably slows when scenes revolve round these two. The lulls, however, are momentary.
What I find most refreshing and interesting about the script though, is the meld of magic and science. For Turteltaub, it was important to bring in the idea of electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla with the Tesla coils and the shifting of the elements because "if magic just sort of exists on its own on a fantasy level in a movie, it’s really lacking any basis in reality. It hurts the sense of reality in believing the characters and believing the story, so the more realistic we could make things, the better. Grounding it in science gives it all a believability and makes you realize that maybe we’re all closer to magic than we thought. Within science, you’re going to find all that magic you’ve been looking for." Also key is the student-teacher relationship as expressed through Balthazar and Dave. According to Cage, "it was something I wanted to do as a homage to teachers in general. To sing an ode to teachers. To sing their praises. That’s my father. It was sort of my gift to him." Turteltaub echoes Cage’s sentiments and the "wonder and a sense of the importance of friendship and that teacher-student relationship when it goes beyond its simple form and gets to the point where you’re making each other’s lives richer, not just your knowledge deeper."
A long time fan of director Jon Turteltaub, I believe his work with THE SORCERERS APPRENTICE is brilliant. Facing the challenge and responsibility of honoring and not defiling the apprentice sequence in "Fantasia", according to Turteltaub, "It’s tricky to salute something and still be true to what you’re doing yourself. The most important thing for me was that the sequence in the movie with the mops and the brooms must be relevant to our story. I watched the "Fantasia" piece over and over and over again to really see what we could do that is like that, yet we can’t just go and do exactly that. No human could photograph something as remarkably as that was animated, but it still has to feel like it fits into our movie. It became extremely daunting. I’ve never done a scene where I’ve been more aware of the press and critics while I’m shooting it. You know that it’s got this bullseye on it. I’m trying balance not just what’s right for the movie, but keeping the audience entertained and yet being aware that if I go a little too far to the left or to the right, I’m going to get bashed over the head."
Using smoke and mirrors, CGI, stunt choreography and even the actual setting on fire of Alfred Molina’s fingers, the effects are mind-boggling. One thing Turteltaub learned with this film is "that you shouldn’t overestimate but you better not under estimate the value of visual effects. They are dangerously complicated, can really muck up a process, but they also are crucial to telling your story, to getting emotion, to getting comedy. Visual effects cannot be an after thought. They have to be integrated into the initial fabric of the movie." Here, each effect is an eye-popping seamless meld with the story. One of my favorites, Merlin’s dragon ring. Created just for the film, the ring is a genuine emerald but to enhance the emerald’s already magical powers, according to Turteltaub, "we had a little wire that ran down [Cage’s] arm so that it would light up."
Common to all Turteltaub films is the importance of the score and here, not only did he have the score to worry about, but the incorporation of Dukas’ symphony. "[Music] is a catalyst. It’s also a crutch. Nothing is more important to the mood, tone and emotion of a scene than the music." Here, the score buoys the film, elevating it to new levels. "The music is key to the whole thing. The new arrangement of it is fun. It’s classic but it’s also relevant for the score we have." This is the third movie Turteltaub has done with composer Trevor Rabin, describing him as "so extraordinarily responsive. [Rabin] is so sensitive to what your needs are. This was really exciting for him to blend classical and modern music."
Beyond the new "Fantasia" sequence, another difficulty faced was the opening backstory of Merlin and Morgana. It sets up the film, provides a great history to Arthurian magic and is enthralling and engaging with perfect execution. "You’ve got to get out a lot of information but it has to be entertaining as well. When you’re doing a historical prologue there’s a film language that allows you to use a little shorthand. So, load it up at the beginning, makes sure everyone’s well armed with the information they are going to need and let ‘em go."
Adding to the polish and gloss and visual excellence of the film is Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography whose work Turteltaub describes as "remarkable." And then you’ve got William Goldenberg, one of the best editors in the business honing every scene with his own form of magic.
Believing the movie gods were with them from beginning to end, particularly Walt Disney, Nic Cage believes there are "many magical moments throughout the whole film." Fun and fantasy from start to finish, let THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE wield it’s magical wide- eyed wonder over you. And make sure you stay for the credits. There’s a little surprise you won’t want to miss.
Balthazar Blake - Nicolas Cage
Dave Stutler - Jay Baruchel
Maxim Horvath - Alfred Molina
Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Written by the team of Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard based on a story by Lopez, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal.