Sorcerer's Apprentice

Earlier this week I took a trip to Jerry Bruckheimer‘s Santa Monica offices to get a special sneak preview of scenes from Jon Turteltaub‘s upcoming film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The movie stars Nicolas Cage as Balthazar Blake, “a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina).” Here is the rest of the official plot synopsis:

“Balthazar can’t do it alone, so he recruits Dave Stutler (JAY BARUCHEL), a seemingly average guy who demonstrates hidden potential, as his reluctant protégé.  The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash course in the art and science of magic, and together, these unlikely partners work to stop the forces of darkness.  It’ll take all the courage Dave can muster to survive his training, save the city and get the girl as he becomes THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. .  The screenplay is by Matt Lopez and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard from a screen story by Matt Lopez and Larry Konner & Mark Rosenthal.”

Sorcerer's Apprentice

We got a chance to preview two scenes that will be shown to the attendees at WonderCon this weekend. The first scene involved a 9 or 10 year old version of Dave, Baruchel’s character, who ends up wandering into a New York City building housing a lot of magical artifacts from around the world, and discovering that he has been picked to be Balthazar’s (Cage’s character) apprentice. Dave accidentally knocks over an ancient chinese nesting doll which unleashes an evil sorcerer named Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Cage and Molina battle it out using magic until accidentally betting trapped in a magical urn which traps whomever who opens it for ten years. The second clip we screened takes place ten years later, Dave is now grown up and played by Baruchel. The scene involved Dave being cornered in a bathroom by Drake Stone, a Criss Angel-like magician played by Toby Kebbell, who just happens to be Maxim’s apprentice.

It is very hard to make any judgements based on two short scenes, but I can tell you that what I saw worked pretty well. The magical battle between Cage and Molina was especially entertaining. The sorcery in the film is not the result of long complex incantations (ala some of the stuff we’ve seen in the Harry Potter films), but instead instant Star Wars Force-like powers. For example, at one point Molina telekinetically controls a sword, which he uses in his attack against Cage. I’m interested to see more from the film, but right now much of the movie’s special effects-heavy sequences remain unfinished. From my current viewpoint, it looks like it could be fun.

I know you’ve probably seen the movie trailers, and judging by the comments on this site and others, you might not be impressed with what you’ve seen thus far. And honestly, that’s not a bad thing. Bruckheimer knows how to play low expectations into a monster hit. Look for example at Pirates of the Caribbean, a movie based on a theme park ride which was mocked until word of mouth from those who saw the film spread. And people I know claim there is the same kind of buzz internally for Sorcerer’s.

After entering Bruckheimer’s small screening room, Turteltaub asked us about the buzz  for the film. It seems he is perfectly fine with the low expectations. Turteltaub jokes that the downside of a “surprise hit” is that “it means that everyone thought you sucked and were surprised you created something good.” Turteltaub had a surprise hit with National Treasure, a film panned by critics but loved by audiences, which has now spawned a franchise (they’re working on the story for a third film now).

I personally loved the first National Treasure film. Sure, you can’t take it seriously, but it is very fun popcorn movie. And while many critics slammed the film for being a Da Vinci code copy (the screenplay for National Treasure was actually in development before that book had been released), I think most people will agree that the end result is far more entertaining than either of the movie adaptations of Dan Brown’s novels.

When asked about using the original Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia for inspiration, Turteltaub admitted that it’s both a blessing and a curse:

“There’s something very wonderful and important and classic [about it], which means you’re going to be criticized and judged and scrutinized.”

The film features a scene inspired by the famous Fantasia segment, and Turteltaub revealed that the film’s score will also incorporate Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice theme into the film’s score.

“There are bunch of little nods that some people will get and some will not,” said the director. “Some are anything from cinematography, shots that we lit to do that. Some wardrobe things. Dave with his hood on in shadow gives you the look of Mickey in the hat. Little stuff like that.”

Turteltaub, knowing that they were going to be “scrutinised for that sequence,” decided that it was important to make it an integral part of the film’s story.

“First of all, it’s the entire story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, but it can only be a scene in this movie. Our thing was, okay, if we’re going to do it, the scene has to be integral to the story. And it is – in this case, he ends up getting a date with Teresa Palmer’s character Becky and she shows up in the middle of all that mess and he has to send her away and that blows his date and it gives him this big crisis of ‘I’m a terrible sorcerer, I can’t do all this, everything’s a mess and I just screwed up a shot with a girl.’”

We were also told that the initial idea for the project came from Nicolas Cage. The actor has always been into magic, and developed the project with Disney’s blessing before it was brought to Bruckheimer/Turteltaub.

I recorded a short video blog talking about the visit with Alex from FirstShowing (filling in for Frosty). You can watch that video blow embedded below:

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