Franchises are high on the agenda of Walt Disney Studios and the company is hoping they have a new one with the Jerry Bruckheimer produced "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" this summer. Opening on the same weekend as Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio's "Inception," the studio is banking a modern day "Pirates" tale could play to all audiences, but it clear needs the buzz to star building now. That's one of the reasons the entire cast of the picture will be attending this weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco and why the Mouse House invited a number of journalists to preview some scenes from the adventure and to chat with Bruckheimer and the always entertaining director John Turtletaub earlier this week.
The film's first trailer only hints of a storyline where Nic Cage plays a master sorcerer who finds a trainee in the form of college student Jay Baruchel. What was revealed in the extended preview of what is really at stake in the film's storyline. As Balthazar Blake, Cage has been searching for the next "Merlin," the next great sorcerer and he has a special dragon ring that will bond itself to that "chosen one." Ten years prior, a young boy named Dave wanders into his magic shop looking for a note from a girl he has a crush on. Blake soon realizes Dave is the one (well the ring helps too), but before he can begin training him his freaked out would be protege mistakenly knocks over a Russian nesting doll. Out of the seemingly innocuous container thousands of insects appear (a sequence revealed in the trailer) and they form into a human body, that of Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), a man with incredibly nasty intentions. As soon as Blake discovers this mistake, a magical battle ensues between the two men and, accidentally, both are trapped in a jar for what we are told will be ten years time.
After the sequence was shown, and it was certainly entertaining and action packed, Turtletaub added that the experience severely affects Dave who grows up to be an introverted and socially awkward college psychics major played by Baruchel. it's unclear what he "thinks" happened when he was a kid, but he hasn't learned much magic by the time Blake returns. In fact, the next scene -- which will also be shown at the convention in San Francisco -- found Dave being attacked in a bathroom by Horvath and his own protege Drake, a Chris Angel type played with punk attitude by Brit Toby Kebbell ("RocknRolla"). Blake shows up to save the day, but the events allow us to discover what Horvath after: a mysterious woman Blake is desperate to protect.
That woman in question is Veronica and she is played by none other than the stunningly beautiful and talented Monica Bellucci. As this writer was privileged to interview her on the set of "Treasure" last year in New York, I inquired as to why she hadn't been shown in these clips, the trailer or even any the official publicity stills yet. It turns out she was a bit curious as well.
Laughing Turtletaub says, "She saw the trailer and called me and said, 'What happened?' I'm like, 'You're in, you're in. Just not so much in the trailer.' She'll probably be in the European trailer a lot more. No, her stuff is in, it's just in the very, very beginning and the very, very end."
Both Bruckheimer and Turtletaub revealed the origins for "Apprentice" came from Cage and his producing partner Todd Black, a former Disney exec.
"He likes magic and he likes mysticism and he added a lot of little things and he read up about this arena," Bruckheimer says of his frequent collaborator Cage. "Even some of the stuff he's wearing. He really gets into his roles."
Inspired by the "Sorcerer's" portion of the 1940 classic "Fantasia," everyone involved knew the famous out of control broomsticks could only make up one scene in the film. Turtletaub reveals, "The key to it, for Nic and the writers, was to make it modern day and setting it in New York City. Present day is really the hook to the whole movie that there are sorcerer's alive and well living among us."
That doesn't mean the original short has been ignored in this new live action incarnation.
"Our thing was, 'If we're gonna do it, the scene has to be integral to the story. Something has to be affected by it.' And it is," Turtletaub says. "In this case, he ends up getting a date with Becky [Teresa Palmer] and she shows up in the middle of all that mess and it blows his date. It gives him this crisis of 'I'm a terrible sorcerer, I can't do all this and everything is a mess and I just blew my shot with the girl.'"
Still, the filmmaker isn't sure most of the audience has any preconceived notions of what the original "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" actually is. Especially considering the original film was released 70 years ago. He notes that many times he'll bring up "Fantasia" and people will have no idea what he's talking about. Turtletaub suggested that an educational campaign about the original classic is in order and that it could actually help the perception of his new film. He says, "I am hoping that Disney marketing and publicity is smart enough to let it give a bit of weight and gravity to the project so it doesn't feel like, 'Oh, just trot out an old title and slap a movie together.' I know Nic approached me and approached Jerry with the idea to do 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' right. Because it's not just a little piece of Disney commercial project either, it was 'Fantasia.' It wasn't just 'let's go make some money with Goofy or Pluto.'"
Bruckheimer always exudes a quiet, calming confidence, but like many directors Turtletaub is a bit nervous about what anyone thinks of his footage. And he was already making excuses for a sneak peek that should impress the public audience at WonderCon.
"It's funny, we are showing these scenes and I'm thinking, 'They think we're gonna be showing them because they are the only two good scenes, but these are the only two scenes with effects in them that we can show you that are done enough,'" Turtletaub says. "There are even better scenes than this, but it's just not so great watching Nic battle a tennis ball."
Considering "Apprentice" isn't opening for another four month, he has more than enough time to throw in those finished special effects and deliver yet another Disney hit.
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" opens nationwide on July 16.