*/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras D
starring Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer
screenplay by Matt Lopez and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard
directed by Jon Turteltaub
by Walter Chaw Disney was headed this way before The Little Mermaid--then Pixar--gave them the illusion of a new direction. But all along, the dirty little secret in the House of Mouse has been that, Eisner or not, the company's sensibilities lie in the exhumation and unnatural reanimation of their vault product, whether it be in repackaging the old grey mares or offering dtv sequels to the same, or mounting big-budget revamps of past "glories." Then, accidentally, they made a good film with the first Pirates of the Caribbean, which reminds of a certain thing with blind squirrels and nuts. So it comes as no surprise that Disney, dealing with a congenital paucity of imagination, has reached the point where it's actually making movies based on a portion of a movie. Next up? That Spaghetti Scene from Lady and the Tramp: The Movie. But first, there's Jon Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, hoping to conjure up (ha) the nominal success of their National Treasure franchise on the back of a specious premise cobbled together so they can repurpose part of Fantasia in live-action. Bad idea? Really bad idea.
Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) is one of Merlin's (James A. Stephens) best disciples, but he's unable to save either Merlin or girlfriend Veronica (Monica Bellucci) from the evil Morgana (Alice Krige, thanklessly typecast). Flash-forward to the modern day as Balthazar searches for the "Prime Merlinian" to...I don't know, and the way they keep pronouncing the nonsense word "Merlinian" made me think they were saying "Meridian," meaning that for about half the picture I kept expecting the International Date Line to appear as the arch-nemesis. Anyway, the Golden Child is Dave (Jay Baruchel), a nerd with a heart of gold longing for junior-league Naomi Watts Becky (Teresa Palmer), a date with whom is delayed by the aforementioned Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence. Lucky for Dave, his terminal uncoolness will be countered by Balthazar's revelation that Dave is, in fact, the Prime Merlinian--you lose a day when you cross him or something. Also, he can shoot plasma balls from his palms, thus drawing a line of lack-of-inspiration true and dire directly to Renny Harlin's already-completely-forgotten The Covenant.
There's a sequence in Chinatown that's only racist in the way Disney is ever racist (that is, ignorantly and exuberantly), and the eagle on the Chrysler Building coming to life would be sort of amusing, I guess, if only it weren't leading to the same old tired mano-a-mano showdown in which Balthazar is about to be smoked but Dave finds his mojo just in time to save the world and steal a kiss. From the girl. Stupid, predictable; a bit where Dave and Balthazar enter into a "mirror" world in downtown Manhattan represents exactly what's wrong with the whole thing: there are so many wonderful possibilities one should explore in a "mirror" world, it's a shame that the people left with the money and resources to do so weren't interested. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is obnoxious and attention-deficit, the kind of movie that imagines an audience of Joe Lunchboxes and then dutifully provides in spades what it thinks these phantom demographics want. Without having seen it, you've seen it--and not even the spectacle of another bizarre, insupportable Cage performance remotely rewards the effort of sitting through it. Rent Vampire's Kiss instead.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The Sorcerer's Apprentice bullies its way onto Blu-ray in an impressive-as-hell 2.40:1, 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that hums with filmic fidelity through a thin, self-conscious patina of barely-perceptible grain. Colours are gorgeous, blacks are stygian; look especially to the multiple fire sequences for a demonstration-quality example of sharpness and commensurate lack, utterly, of digital artifacts. The irreproachable image is matched by a thunderous 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that showcases a pair of genuinely impressive set-pieces, the first the abovementioned parade calamity in Chinatown (which not only is amazingly hectic and detailed but sounds it, too), the second the chase sequence, which has breaking glass erupting with logic from every corner of the room. This presentation is so good on a technical level that it almost distracts for minutes at a time from the complete inanity of the project.
A shit-ton of special features amounts to nothing much. Start with "Magic in the City" (13 mins., HD), publicity fluff that talks up the MAGIC of shooting on location as if this were 1947 instead of 2010. It's really Times Square, enthuses Baruchel. You don't say. "The Science of Sorcery" (11 mins., HD) reveals that Tesla was a real person and that Tesla Coils are real things--no matter that this has no bearing whatsoever on the film's successes or failures, there you have it: confirmation. "Making Real Magic" (12 mins., HD) shows how wires attached to pulleys can implode walls and how despite the CGI neverland in which we find ourselves, tech wizards are still building sets and stuff to destroy. And "Fantasia: Re-inventing a Classic" (10 mins., HD) does its best to convince that it was an act of real inspiration to turn a revered short into an antic feature-length film starring Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater's homuncular little brother. "The Fashionable Drake Stone" (2 mins., HD) has this generation's Stephen Geoffreys, Toby Kebbell, vamping about his David Copperfield-cum-Criss Angel shtick and the difficulty of wearing platform shoes.
"The Grimhold: An Evil Work of Art" (4 mins., HD) focuses on the nesting-doll prop, while "The Encantus" (2 mins., HD) is a similar piece on Balthazar's spell-book prop. "Wolves and Puppies" (2 mins., HD) explains that the dogs were sometimes dogs and sometimes not, and "The World's Coolest Car" (2 mins., HD) discusses the custom Rolls manufactured for the film. Eight minutes of deleted scenes and three more of outtakes--the usual garbage from the cutting-room floor, including people forgetting lines and such--round out the extras. The best takeaway from all the puffery is Baruchel relating how Cage casually bemoaned his status as a man pushing fifty and still acting like an asshole. Trailers for Tron: Legacy and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 cue up on startup and join promos for Disney's A Christmas Carol, Phineas and Ferb Across the 2nd Dimension, African Cats, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, The Incredibles, The Lion King, and Alice in Wonderland under the menu heading "Sneak Peeks." A second disc is a DVD copy of the film, though there's another permutation of this release pointlessly bundled with a Digital Copy. Originally published: May 10, 2011.