The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a classic Mickey Mouse segment from the equally classic Fantasia, so Disney’s decision to create a live-action version was nothing if not risky. Nicolas Cage portraying the sorcerer was equally bold, and to be honest was more than a little puzzling. Granted, maybe a mute Nicolas Cage would be a good thing, considering the sorcerer in Fantasia didn’t say a word. Instead, the new version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice not only has Cage talking, but acting — and doing so quite well. In fact, the live action version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is solid all around, both as a film and as a Blu-ray release. And that magic was a bit unexpected.
The plot of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice goes far beyond an unassuming kid controlling mops and brooms, although that famous Fantasia scene does make a fun cameo. Really, the film amounts to a coming-of-age story for both the college student “apprentice” and the centuries-old sorcerer. The first 15 minutes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice quickly tell the story of an age-old battle for supremacy between Merlin’s own apprentices, with Merlin claiming that one day an heir with his bloodline with surface with the power to eradicate the evil sorcerers from the face of the Earth. Centuries pass, and Nicolas Cage’s character finally locates Merlin’s heir in the form of a New York grade schooler who ends up being mocked after the big “revelation” from Cage. Fast-forward another 20 years, and the humiliated boy is a mal-adjusted college engineering student who reluctantly but eventually embraces his magical powers to defeat the evil sorcerers and, yes, get the girl. Cage battles his own demons too and eventually gets his ages-old girl as well. Fancy that.
Since it’s a story based in magic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice relies heavily on special effects, and its New York setting provides plenty of Gotham City-like dark scenes. Throughout it all, the 1080p video transfer remains surprisingly diverse, looking appropriately blue in the urban and nighttime scenes while retaining a nice warm palette in the indoor or fire-heavy sequences. The contrast and color balance also show nice depth, with dark blacks and bright whites that never look pushed. The detail is impeccable as well, with individual textures (and there are a ton on these costumes), environmental nuances and even Cage’s nigh-patented chin stubble all showing up in perfect HD detail.
Probably most surprising, though, is the integration of CG-based characters, props and effects with the real-life actors. I expected several scenes to delve into the realm of “that looked awkward,” particularly where a dragon-like Griffon from the Chrysler Building provided rides to Cage and Co. So often such effects end up looking like the actors were riding on a mechanical bull, but in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice they look as natural as possible considering the characters were mounting a fictional and articulated metal beast. It really helps you suspend your disbelief for those 109 minutes and lose yourself in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice universe.
The DTS-HD Master Audio helps largely in that regard as well. Again, with all those magic effects, the surround channels get a great workout as spells and debris swirl around the camera. Even the movie’s sole vehicular scene — which provides some great D-BOX moments, which we’ll review shortly — benefits from the 5.1 audio, with engine noises and environmental sounds getting appropriately loud or muffled based on the camera’s location inside or outside the car. Yet the audio piece d’resistance comes during the final two minutes of the film, when the Apprentice and his lady friend take a long-awaited flight on the Griffon. The right-rear audio of the Griffon screeching while it comes in for a landing was so positional and distinct that I literally jumped up from my seat and — for a split second — waited for a wounded forest creature to jump from the corner and eat my face. I haven’t had a surround-sound moment that intense for at least a year.
The bonus features leave a little to be desired, although some of it may be relative due simply to the main feature’s quality. All the usual suspects are there, from the filming-in-Manhattan feature (Magic in the City, 13 minutes) and an 11-minute feature about the scientific plausibility of magic (The Science of Sorcery)to a couple short features about props and fashion and Making Magic Real, which spends 12 minutes talking about pulling off the film’s special effects. You’ve even got 11 total minutes of Outtakes and Deleted Scenes. But nothing really screams “watch me now” with these bonus features. Maybe it’s just Disney’s way to get you to buy the Blu-ray combo pack of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 to get your animated “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” fix.
Then again, when the video and audio quality are this good, and when the movie (though no masterpiece) is entertaining, who’s going to spend much time on bonus features anyway? The Sorcerer’s Apprentice intrigued me upon its theatrical release, but I never bothered seeing it because I was cautious about Cage. With its Blu-ray release, I’ve finally delved into the modern adaptation of the classic Disney short and left pleasantly surprised. Quite pleasantly, in fact. And that’s probably the biggest magic trick this Blu-ray Disc could have possibly conjured up.
If you’re interested, you can buy this one from Amazon using this link: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo+Digital Copy).
- Score: 8.4
— Jonas Allen