Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan, fighting against the forces of evil, in particular his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), while searching for the person who will inherit Merlin's powers. This turns out to be Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a physics student, whom Balthazar takes as a reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling apprentice a crash course in the art and science of magic and sorcery, in order to stop Horvath and Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige) from raising the souls of the evil dead sorcerers ("Morganians") and destroying the world.
The film opens in Arthurian times with a prologue scene setting up the mythology of the movie. Balthazar, Horvath, and Veronica are the three protégés of Merlin who learned everything about magic and sorcery from Merlin. Until one day when Merlin’s arch nemesis Morgana invades the castle and kills Merlin thanks to the betrayal of Horvath. Balthazar and Veronica, who are lovers, arrive too late. We later learn that the reason or Horvath’s betrayal is due to his love for Veronica and her act of choosing Balthazar over him. Veronica does a spell that merges the soul of Morgana into her own in order to save Balthazar. Morgana’s scheme ultimately revolves around the destruction of the entire human race and raising the dead, so for the good of the world, Balthazar traps both Horvath and Morgana (now inside Veronica’s body) into a magical nesting doll. Merlin, with his dying breath, tells Balthazar that Morgana must be trapped until the day he finds the prime Merlinian, a direct descendant of Merlin, who is the only one that can defeat her. We then see a montage of Balthazar through the ages visiting children giving them a small silver dragon trinket that Merlin game him. This object will help identify the prime Merlinian. Balthazar also traps other Morganians in the nesting doll as well.
We then jump to the year 2000 in New York City. Dave is a ten year old fourth grader going on a field trip with a crush on a girl named Becky. He passes her a note to check a box whether she wants to be his friend or girlfriend. She checks one of the boxes and then leaves it on a bench. When Dave tries to pick it up the wind picks it up and flies away. Eventually the paper ends up inside an antique shop Dave goes in looking for it and accidentally bumps into and almost breaks an ancient urn. Balthazar who shows up behind him catches it. He tells Dave that this urn is incredibly old and whoever opens it will be trapped for ten years. Dave mentions he’s looking for a note that just coincidentally ended up here. Balthazar believes this to be fate and hands him the tiny silver dragon. In Dave’s hand, it comes alive and twirls around Dave’s finger. Dave is the prime Merlinian.
Balthazar tells him to wait there as he goes to look for something in the basement. Meanwhile, Dave moves his finger and notices something bumping into the wall each time he moves his finger. Finally, the nesting doll bursts through the wall and lands in front of him. Dave picks it up and accidentally opens it, releasing Horvath. Before Horvath can kill Dave, Balthazar pushes him at the window and they have an epic wizard fight, with Dave just trying to get out of the way. Dave takes the nesting doll and tries to leave but Horvath won’t let him. Balthazar opens the urn from earlier which sucks both him and Horvath into it. Dave runs outside and throws the nesting doll into the street. His teacher and the rest of his class find him, worried. He is freaking out and talks nonsense about wizards and tries to show the teacher inside but there is nothing there. A jar filled with water had broken on his pants and the other kids see this and they all taunt him about peeing his pants.
Ten years later, Dave is a physics student at NYU with his own private lab in a private basement. At a Physics 101 class, he runs into Becky for the first time since they were ten. She just barely remembers him. He had switched schools after the incident and has become convinced it was all a hallucination. She works at the college radio station as a DJ. He follows her to the station and a lightning strikes the station antenna, knocking out there electronics. Dave offers to help and gets it all fixed. Becky is incredibly grateful and he says he did it because he noticed how important it was to her.
The urn in which Balthazar and Horvath are trapped in is in some random couple’s apartment, bought from a flea market. The urn bursts open and Horvath is free again. He asks them if he’s the first to arrive. They faint. Horvath throws the urn from the apartment and before it smashes on the street Balthazar escapes. Dave comes home to find Horvath waiting for him, asking him where the nesting doll is. Dave doesn’t know since he threw it into the street. Dave runs away and Horvath sends a pack of wolves at him. Dave ends up at the railroad station and falls down on the train tracks. Before the wolves attack him, they become transformed into puppies. Balthazar comes flying in on a giant metal eagle. Dave gets on and slows down Horvath and flies away. Horvath just barely dodges a passing train.
Balthazar and Dave land on a roof and the metal eagle transforms back into a gargoyle. Dave is freaking out but Balthazar calms him down and explains the situation to him, leaving out the part about him being the prime Merlinian. Dave says he doesn’t want any part of it. Balthazar summons Dave’s dresser and pulls out the dragon ring and asks him why he kept it. Dave says he was going to sell it on E-Bay but Balthazar tells him that he is a terrible liar which is a good thing. Dave promises he’ll help him up until they find the nesting doll and then he can go back to his life. Balthazar summons a spell to help him find it. Storm clouds hover over the downtown area indicating that that is where they must go. Horvath goes back to the former antique shop and is able to sense what happened to the nesting doll. He sees that a Chinese woman has picked it up. He knows that he must go to Chinatown. Balthazar goes to the car impound lot and retrieves his car to stay inconspicuous. On the drive to the nesting doll, Balthazar teaches Dave a basic fire spell.They reach Chinatown where a big celebration is happening. Dave waits outside while Balthazar goes inside. Upstairs he meets the old Chinese woman and he speaks Mandarin to her. She says he speaks wonderful Cantonese. It’s Horvath in disguise. He has already unleashed one of the Morganians, Sun Lok, from the nesting doll. They fight and Sun-Lok ends up on the streets, where Balthazar tells Dave to run. Sun-Lok transforms one of the fake dragon floats into an actual dragon which chases Dave. Horvath and Balthazar fight and Balthazar gets the upper hand, taking the nesting doll away from him. Dave runs up a fire escape as the dragon chases after him, having trouble conjuring up the fire spell. He shoots it just in time defeating Sun-Lok.
In the car, Balthazar asks for the ring back per their agreement. Dave decides not to now that he’s had a taste of magic and wants to learn more. They need a place to practice and they decide to use Dave’s lab. Balthazar gives Dave the book that holds the entire history of sorcery including the things they just did today. Dave agrees to take on the responsibility and they begin training. Meanwhile, Horvath goes to visit the current Morganian, a Criss Angel type magician celebrity named Drake Stone. He is pampered and uneducated in the dark arts. Horvath intends to teach him as well as utilize him to set up his plan to raise the dead and destroy humanity. He decides to do this in the Financial District of New York using the satellite dishes.
On a break, Balthazar and Dave have dinner sitting on a bench outside Becky’s radio station. Balthazar is very negative on the relationship and tells him that love is not good for a sorcerer. Dave says that she is the one for him and that he loves her. Dave gets up and follows her as she leaves the station. They go down into the subway station and a mugger robs them at gunpoint, stealing her grandmother’s bracelet. Dave chases after him and clumsily uses his magic to knock him out. He comes back with her stuff back, impressing her and she notices something different about him. He offers to help tutor her on the physics at his lab. She agrees as she boards the next train.
At his lab, Becky arrives and introduces Balthazar as his uncle who leaves despite his best efforts to stop Dave from pursuing this. Dave shows off his Tesla coils and science projects and shows off a cool musical element to his coils. The next day he walks her to yoga class and they make a date for the next day. In the bathroom, Drake confronts Dave and pushes him around. Horvath arrives and tells him that Balthazar is keeping something from him. He demands to know where the nesting doll is. Balthazar arrives just in time and traps Horvath inside the bathroom mirror and knocks out Drake. Back at the lab, Dave demands to know everything and Balthazar tells him, including what happened to his great love Veronica and the fact that the prime Merlinian will be so powerful that he won’t need the ring to do magic.
Dave tries to get ready for his date and clean up the lab but he gets frustrated with the mess so he uses his magic to get the brooms to come to life. When he comes back from his shower, the entire lab is a bigger mess with the entire floor flooded and everything inanimate coming to life and causing a giant mess. Becky knocks on the door and he rushes to the door and has to tell her to leave. As he tries to deal with the ever escalating mess, his electric lab equipment almost electrocutes him until the timely arrival of Balthazar, who with a wave of his hand cleans the mess. He chastises him for taking shortcuts. They get into a big fight with Dave storming out. Horvath gets the school records of Dave using a “Jedi mind trick” on the registrar’s office. He finds out where his private lab space is.
Dave sees Becky with her friends and sees how he doesn’t belong and leaves. Becky sees him and follows him to the roof where Balthazar had taken him to at the beginning. He’s about to throw the ring away until Becky stops him. She tells him that nothing is ruined with them and she really cares for him. At his lab, Dave returns and Balthazar says there’s no need to apologize but Dave pushes him into a grating and traps him. It’s Drake in disguise. Horvath arrives as well and they search for the nesting doll and find it. Balthazar frees himself and tries to fight them but almost loses until Dave arrives and saves his life. Drake and Horvath leave with what they were after and Dave and Balthazar give chase. What follows is an exciting car chase which ends with Horvath and Drake getting away.
Back at Drake’s apartment, Drake wonders how they open it. Horvath uses a parasite spell to steal Drake’s power and life force and uses that to free the next Morganian, a witch from the Salem Witch Trials. This Morganian goes to Becky’s radio station and kidnaps her. Dave and Balthazar arrive at Drake’s apartment, searching for Horvath. They split up. Balthazar gets trapped in a Persian rug quick sand trap. Dave finds the nesting doll almost too easily. Just as he goes back to the front door, he finds Horvath with his cane to Becky’s throat. Horvath demands both his ring and the nesting doll or Becky dies. Dave relents and gives him both. Horvath fires an energy bolt at the two, which they dodge, and flees just as Balthazar has freed himself and arrives. Dave apologizes but Balthazar says he would have done the same thing. Balthazar goes to the balcony and flies away on his giant metal eagle, to Becky’s shock. Dave offers to help but Balthazar says he can’t since he’s powerless without the ring. Horvath kills the Salem Witch to steal her power in order to free Morgana. Dave tries to drop Becky off but she won’t have any of it. She’s involved now. Dave comes up with a plan using his Tesla coils strapped to Balthazar’s car. He also finds a note with a necklace telling Dave to give it to Veronica when this is all over.
Balthazar arrives to the Financial District to find Morgana standing in the middle of the circle with Horvath’s assistance summoning her raising the dead spell. Dave and Becky, in the car, already see the spell taking hold in the sky. Dave stops the car and tells Becky to climb the building to move the satellite in order to disrupt the spell. Before she goes, Dave asks her what box she checked off at the beginning of the film in case he dies. She’ll tell him when he doesn’t die.
Horvath finds Balthazar and fights him off. He raises to life the metal bull nearby and it chases after Balthazar. Horvath is about to be victorious when Dave drives in and uses the Tesla coils attached to the car to give a great shock to Horvath’s cane, defeating him and his bull. Becky successfully disrupts the satellite dish wrecking the spell. Balthazar absorbs Morgana’s soul from Veronica’s body, freeing her. Balthazar tries to get Dave to trap him in the nesting doll but he won’t. Morgana leaves Balthazar’s body and frees herself. Morgana blasts at the group but Dave blocks it without the help of the ring. He really is the prime Merlinian. They get into a huge battle where Morgana blasts at Veronica and Balthazar. Dave is able to summon up enough energy to defeat her completely.
He sees Veronica over Balthazar’s body. He’s dead. Dave won’t accept this and uses his magic to resuscitate him. He lives and Balthazar and Veronica kiss, finally reunited. Becky arrives and she and Dave kiss. She tells him that she checked girlfriend. Dave asks her if she wants to go to Paris and the giant metal eagle lands next to them. They fly away to Paris happy and victorious.
After the end credits, Horvath takes his hat from Balthazar's shop.
- Nicolas Cage as Balthazar Blake, a one-thousand-plus-year old sorcerer of the "777th degree." Based on the magician in Fantasia.
- Jay Baruchel as David "Dave" Stutler, a highly intelligent college student who becomes Blake's apprentice.
- Jake Cherry as Young David "Dave" Stutler
- Alfred Molina as Maxim Horvath, an evil sorcerer, Balthazar's rival and former friend and the main antagonist.
- Teresa Palmer as Rebecca "Becky" Barnes, the love interest of Dave.
- Peyton List as Young Becky
- Toby Kebbell as Drake Stone, an apprentice-Morganian and celebrity illusionist, who joins forces with Horvath.
- Omar Benson Miller as Bennet Zurrow, Dave's roommate.
- Monica Bellucci as Veronica Gorloisen, a sorceress, and the love interest of Balthazar Blake.
- Alice Krige as Morgana le Fay, a wicked sorcereress and the primary antagonist.
- James A. Stephens as Merlin, the legendary wizard killed in AD 740 by Horvath and Morgana.
- Gregory Woo as Sun Lok, a Chinese wizard.
- Nicole Ehinger as Abigail Williams, a witch in the second-to-last layer around the Grimhold, who was accredited for starting the Salem witch trials.
- Robert Capron as Oliver Twistmeyer, Dave Stutler's best friend as a child.
- Ethan Peck as Andre Dunlap
- Sierra, Takoda, Samson, and Bandit from Howling Woods Farm as the wolves.
The basic idea for the movie was mostly Nicolas Cage's, who wanted to explore a mystic world and play a character with magical powers, and following a suggestion by his producer friend Todd Garner, decided to make a feature length movie based upon the Fantasia segment of the same name. On February 12, 2007, this film was announced by Disney. References to the original animation include the scene where Dave animates broomsticks to clean his laboratory, and having Mickey Mouse's hat in the post-credits scene.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is set in New York City, and most scenes were shot on location, in places such as Washington Square Park and Chinatown's Eldrige Street. Dave's laboratory was filmed in either an abandoned subway station located under the New York City Hall or a studio recreation of it. In the early morning hours of May 4, 2009, a Ferrari F430 being driven during filming of a chase sequence, lost control and careened into the window of a Sbarro restaurant in Times Square, injuring two pedestrians, one of whom was struck by a falling lamppost. Filming resumed the following night, when yet another accident occurred. The two accidents were blamed on rain making the roads slick.
To make the magic more believable, it was decided to an emphasis of practical, on-set effects, such as making real fire, with fluids or flash powder being used for colored flames. To provide a lighting reference for the plasma bolts, the actors wore gloves with LED displays to make them glow before adding the computer-generated shot. For floating objects, they were either thrown with wires or held by stuntment wearing green chroma key suits.
The film has received generally mixed reviews. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 42% based on 163 reviews, with an average score of 5.2/10. The critical consensus is: It has a likeable cast and loads of CGI spectacle, but for all but the least demanding viewers, The Sorcerer's Apprentice will be less than spellbinding. Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating from 0-100 of top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 46.
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter has said that "The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a tired relic of summer-movie cliches, clearly beaten to death by far too many credited writers." Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four and wrote "This is a much better film than Airbender, which is faint praise, but it's becoming clear that every weekend brings another heavily marketed action "comedy" that pounds tens of millions out of consumers before evaporating." In July 2010, Parade (magazine) magazine listed the film #1 on its list of "Biggest Box Office Flops of 2010 (So Far).
The Sorcerer's Apprentice made an opening gross of $3,873,997 on its first day (Wednesday July 14, 2010). It finished at #3 on its first weekend with $17,619,622 behind Inception and Despicable Me in the United States and Canada and gained another $8,928,216 on its first weekend overseas (in 13 countries) for a worldwide opening of $26,547,841. On October 28, 2010, The Sorcerer's Apprentice closed at the box-office in the United States and Canada with $63,150,991 and, as of December 12, 2010, it has earned $152,132,612 in other countries totaling up to $215,283,603 worldwide. Besides the United States and Canada, other countries where it grossed more than $10 million were Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States ($13,630,194), France and the Maghreb region ($12,930,320), and Japan ($10,632,660). Its largest overseas weekend was August 13–15, during which it grossed $14,091,169 in 42 countries. It occupies the fourth place on the all-time chart of Sword and Sorcery movies in the U.S. and Canada, and the third place on the same chart worldwide.
It has sold 1,288,735 DVD units (equivalent to $21,609,680) since its release in DVD. Adding in its box-office revenue, the film's earnings sum up to $236,893,283.
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