Now, I may have had some initial problems with the film, itself, but as far as the transfer for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice goes … I’ve got to tell you … this is simply stunning right from the get-go. There are moments during this presentation that the 2.40:1 image is so damn beautiful, so awash with utterly gorgeous colours, acutely resolved definition and finite detail that you wish you could just step right into it and never come back out. Whilst the AVC transfer, right across the board, is never less than highly impressive, just be aware that once the action shifts to Chinatown, whatever screen you view this on will swiftly come alive with such incredible vibrancy that it could possibly mesmerise you. The street is filled with colourful confetti fluttering all about, and this transfer is pretty much immaculate in its reproduction of each and every tiny piece, making the picture resemble a work of art.
But then the colour fidelity is jaw-dropping from start to finish. The primaries have a luxurious depth of saturation that literally melts from the screen. Midnight blues are smooth and entrancing, greens and yellows decadent and striking. The image is warm, very warm. But this is not a defect, just the desired visual aesthetic lovingly captured and given possibly the best display that it has received. When the big sheets of green flame erupt, or the crash-landing of the fiery dragon fills the screen, there is no hint of smearing, glitching or blooming taking place. I'm not saying that any of this is true-to-life, of course. If it was we'd all be living inside a massive rainbow. But this is fantasy colour … and it looks extraordinary.
Black levels are reference quality. Period. No ifs or buts about that. Shadows are deep and strong. No detail whatsoever is lost within them. Contrast is, correspondingly, excellent. The film is set predominantly at night, or takes place in subdued lighting, yet the film always seems to glow with the neon of the city streets, or the spectral beams and plasma-balls of showboating sorcerers, or the multi-coloured flames of Merlin's Circle. Skin-tones and eye-colouring are perfectly natural despite this spellbinding incandescence. Really, I've not seen a more beguiling palette on disc for a long time … well, not one that wasn't encased around an animated movie, anyway.
Although I wouldn't describe the image as massively three-dimensional, there is considerable “pop” to it. Views up and down streets, the obligatory overhead shots of the cityscape and the sight of characters placed front and centre amid the vast expanse of Dave's subterranean laboratory establish considerable depth. The roaring car chase is equally as bold, as is the chaos in Chinatown. The film feels big and wide, and the disc's image provides reassuring integrity to such scope.
There is grain structure retained in the transfer and despite that bright and wonderful gleam of the picture, the image remains pleasantly film-like. Fine texture is revealed in the faces and the fabrics, the fur of Horvath's collar, the weathered leather of Balthazar's rawhide duster-coat. Inscriptions and paintings on the Grimhold and on the walls of Drake Stone's apartment, and the hand-drawn illustrations and text within the Encantus spell-book are beautifully rendered. Plasma-balls, arcing beams of magical power and the crackling energy emanating from the Tesla Coils have a sharpness,a vibrancy and an immediacy that is crystal clear and literally pulsing with rich visual life. Background detail is equally as smartly embroidered The CG elements are also strongly delineated, although a couple of shots do appear slightly softer in comparison to the live action around them. But the scales on the dragon, the wispy tendrils trailing behind its head and the slimy bits that we see hanging down on the inside of the beast are all vividly displayed. Shattering debris from the numerous crashes and bashes, the grooves in the stone floor of the lab, the dust falling away from the secret doorway in the basement, and the reflections of the speeding cars all possess solid definition that is clearly drawn in even the most minute and the most fleeting of images. But look at the artefacts and oddments in Balthazar's old curiosity shop – the picture becomes so inviting that you wish you could linger for awhile to peruse the shelves.
With no edge enhancement, no overt noise reduction and no trace of banding, aliasing or any compression artefacts, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice instantly hits the top-tier of transfers. Overall, this is one mightily rewarding image that truly stands out as praise-worthy demo-material. You know what? I'm going to give this a 10 out of 10 for its gorgeous comic-book visual beauty.
And guess what - the audio quality is just as impressive, folks.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track conjures up a powerful display of fully room-immersive dynamics that throws effects around every channel and drops the floor from beneath you with incredibly deep bass during the amazingly bombastic action sequences. The film's sound design is incredibly active and this track is more than able to handle it with dazzling aural dexterity.
In Dave's bunker-lab we get the full surround crackle and snap of Tesla Coils zapping across the soundfield. And, once the music kicks in with Stevie Wonder, we get splendid separation and seamless movement from speaker to speaker, almost like an impromptu amp/receiver set-up test. Directionality is spot-on, with lots of split-channel whiz-bang and concise positioning of effects and surround ambience. Plasma-balls whoosh and whump all over the place, bodily impacts – and there is a lot of them - are meaty and solid. When things shatter - tables, window, mirrors, walls, urns, doors (lots of things shatter too!) - there is direct force and detail brilliantly realised within. The dragon hurtling through the tenement blocks of Chinatown offers a bravura performance for rib-crushing power and the intricacy of destruction. When the giant eagle lands or adjusts itself on its skyscraping perch, you will feel the weight shifting around. The surrounds are wonderfully utilised with a natural ease and panning is transparent and effortlessly fluid at all times. The car chase is wonderful, with speeding metallic crunches and engine roaring that streams past you with vigour. The smashing of store-front windows is both scintillating and directional. Honestly, there is nothing to fault with the width and spatiality of the information that is delivered right across the environment.
Okay, so we know that the sub gets plenty of action. But the really impressive thing that I noticed about this depth of bass, was how quick and responsive it was with regards to some of the more specific effects. Energy balls literally tttthhhwappp!!! with a propulsive sizzle that you can feel as clearly as you can hear. Even the little things, such as the Dragon Ring clasping itself around Dave's finger, have resounding depth and crisp, clean definition. The undulating metallic groaning of the big eagle from the Chrysler Building, and the thudding of the bronze bull's hoofs. The sloshing of the water during the magic mop and broom sequence, the knocking on the door up above the laboratory – fine positioning all round. But, once again, it is the audible “sucking-in” of air as those plasma-bombs are conjured that really stands out and provides heaps of sonic atmosphere.
Needless to say, dialogue is never less than perfectly rendered, and Trevor Rabin's score gets a tremendous showcase, offering real power and fully detailed orchestral sweep. Although there are subtleties amidst the cacophony, you are not going to recall any of them. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an aggressive, action-fuelled broadside of an audio experience and I can't think of a reason not to give it that top-ranking 10 out of 10.
No-one would blame you for assuming that the extra features here – a series of nine glitzy promotional good-time featurettes – would be of the powder-puff, back-slapping variety, and yet, despite the shallow and commercial set of ethics that they all adhere to, they are actually surprisingly entertaining.
It is a bit naff that there isn't a Play All option with them but, for the record, these last anywhere between three and ten minutes. We get a look at the locations and the set design. The visual effects are copiously covered, from plasma-balls and flames to giant metal eagles and bronze bulls. There's great footage of the green-suited prop-hands lending life to the mops and brooms during the section about creating the homage to Fantasia's original scenario. We learn of the difficulty of directing a street full of hundreds of none-English-speaking Chinese extras. There's a jokey look at Drake Stone's wild and eccentric wardrobe and we get close-up examinations of the Grimhold and the spell book, the Encantus. Oh, and a closer inspection of Balthazar's outstanding car, the uber-cool Rolls Royce Phantom. But, best of all, we meet the wolves and the little cubs who were cast as the ferocious pack in the film. Man, they are all gorgeous! Throughout all of this, we hear light-hearted banter from the cast and the director and the production team. Sadly, we even hear generic soundbites from money-man Bruckheimer too – an absolute master at stating the obvious.
A brief selection of Deleted Scenes comes next, and this actually has a Play All option. A couple of these are quite lengthy and offer some interesting new angles on Dave's relationship with Becky and with Balthazar, though it is also clear that they were really unnecessary at the end of the day.
A montage of Outtakes provides some slight titters as the cast goof around and fluff lines and improvise. Not as funny as I'd have liked it to have been – because I love outtakes – but there are a couple of great moments as Cage creases-up at the ridiculousness of it all.
Over on the DVD, we get just one of those Deleted Scenes and a twenty-one minute Making Of that, pretty much covers the things that we have already seen in all those featurettes, but blends them all together in a much smoother fashion. This does contain a lot of new imagery, so it is worth having a little look at if you want a more fluid approach to the material.
No commentary, and nothing that pushes the capability of the format. Nothing particularly magical here, then – but solid background to the film, none the less.
Ten minutes into The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I was convinced that I was going to hate it. Yet, come the finale, I was forced to concede that I'd actually loved it. Having now watched Bruckheimer's and Turteltaub's modern take on the classic old scenario another couple of times, I still shudder at the crassness of that woeful beginning, and I cannot defend its cliché-ridden narrative, but I can happily admit to being swept along with its giddy momentum, vibrant visual excesses and that go-for-broke combination of fantasy and humour. Winning turns from Baruchel (who you may have to adjust to first) and Cage go hand-in-hand with great comic timing, a surprising amount of action and that glamorous appeal of big budget production values that Disney fare so often splashes across the screen. Molina and Kebbell also make for a good double-act and even if her screentime is severely limited, it is great to see the luscious Monica Belluci standing proud and spell-casting at the finale.
The story hasn't got a shred of originality to it, but this doesn't matter one iota. And even if it is surprising that the Merlin myth only gets short thrift here – merely acting as a springboard for the plot – this is a reasonably clever update/revamp/homage (take your pick) to Mickey Mouse's ill-advised clean-up job in Fantasia.
What is undeniable is that Disney's disc has hugely rewarding AV quality and is certainly something that you will reach for when you want to impress. Both audio and video are rapturous to behold, although the extras are somewhat perfunctory and light.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a treat, folks. It offers nothing particularly new to the genre, but it fast becomes an adrenalised and comical romp that benefits from a couple of left-field characters and an undeniable willingness to stimulate the senses with visual splendour. Dodgy beginning aside, this is great entertainment.
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