The Sorcerer's Apprentice
BEHIND THE SCENES - with Nicolas Cage
"The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" has sparked the imagination of some of the most creative minds in history - from Nicolas Cage, Jon Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer to composer Paul Dukas and Walt Disney.
But it all started with a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a great German writer, thinker and natural scientist who penned "Der Zauberlehrling," the enduring work of poetry, in 1797. Goethe’s 14-stanza poem is narrated by the apprentice himself, who, upon being left to his own devices by his old "Hexenmeister," takes it upon himself to arrogantly demonstrate his own magical arts. The apprentice orders an old broomstick to wrap itself in rags, grow a head and two arms and, with a bucket, prepare a bath for him. The living broomstick fills not only the tub, but every bowl and cup, and the apprentice has forgotten the magic word to make it stop, resulting in a massive flood. The apprentice takes an axe to the poor old broom, splitting it in twain…resulting in two living broomsticks. The apprentice is finally bailed out, quite literally, by the return of the old hexenmeister, who quickly sends the broom back into the closet from whence it came, with an imprecation that it will return only when he, the true master, calls it forth once again to do his bidding.
A hundred years later, the poem was adapted into a hugely popular 10-minute symphonic piece, "L’apprenti sorcier," by the French composer Paul Dukas. An immediate success for its brilliant musical coloration and rhythmic excellence, and its wonderfully jaunty "march of the broomsticks," the scherzo has truly stood the test of time and is, to a popular audience anyway, Dukas’ most enduring work.
Walt Disney discovered it some four decades after that, creating an animated version for his immortal "Fantasia," casting none other than Mickey Mouse in the title role of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." In the summer of 1937, while dining alone at Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, the still-youthful king of movie animation invited the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski to join him, and something extraordinary was conjured up between them.
Walt Disney had already utilized music as a foundation of his animated film series, Silly Symphonies, and hoped to collaborate with Stokowski on a cartoon short based on Dukas’ "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." The idea of putting classical music to animated segments was later expanded, ultimately creating the wildly risky but wonderfully ambitious "Fantasia." The 125-minute film - unusually long even today for an animated feature - opened to great fanfare on November 13, 1940, at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. The music was enhanced by a multichannel sound system, especially developed for the film, called Fantasound, and "Fantasia" became the first commercial motion picture ever to be exhibited with stereophonic sound. The film now stands as an eternal testament to Walt Disney’s artistic ambitions and unshakable will to advance the art form of both animation and motion pictures by creating something which audiences had never before seen nor heard. "Fantasia" is one of the films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" episode is generally considered the best and most beloved episode of all.
Now, 69 years after the release of "Fantasia," Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films have created a fresh story for the big screen. While inspired by those that came before it, 2010’s "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" is an all-new live-action adventure. The message remains simple and fun, yet timeless and profound. "What’s great about the story is this little lesson about cutting corners, doing things the easy way, trying to fulfil this desire we all have to grow up a little too fast," says Turteltaub.
The cinematic rebirth of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," in fact, originated with a passionate admirer of the Disney version - Nicolas Cage. "The idea came to me and my friend Todd Garner," he recalls. "I was making another movie at the time, and I wanted to explore a more magical and fantastic realm where I could play a character who had mystical abilities. I shared these thoughts with Todd, and the next day, we hit on the perfect project: ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’"
"I love the world of magic, and to be able to bring that to a contemporary audience was really appealing to me," says Bruckheimer. "I’ve always liked stories that have a magical element, and ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is one of the great magical stories of all time. We thought it would be tremendously exciting to develop the core of that concept into a brand-new story set in the modern world."
Turteltaub has known Cage since they were classmates at Beverly Hills High School. "Jon is absolutely the perfect director to bring the movie to life," says Bruckheimer, "based not only upon the long professional relationship and friendship that he has with both Nic and myself but the sense of wonder and joy that he has, both personally and artistically."
All of the major players behind "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" were fans of Walt Disney’s "Fantasia." "To me," says Cage, "it’s the most beautiful movie ever made. I think ‘Fantasia’ might have been the first movie my parents ever took me to see. It was my introduction to the movies, to Walt Disney animation and also, naturally, to classical music. The imagery throughout the entire film just transported me, and even at that young age, I think it influenced my life. Disney movies, and then going to Disneyland itself, really inspired me. I still watch ‘Fantasia’ annually, lower the lights and lose myself in the movie."
And while the film isn’t a remake of the classic Disney piece from "Fantasia," "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" pays proper homage to it, a fact that didn’t escape the director. "‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ has such a great Disney pedigree to it," says Turteltaub, "and I knew right away that I’d be dealing with something that had to be excellent, had to be special, had to live up to its important role within Disney and the history of film. That piece from ‘Fantasia’ is as iconic as any eight minutes of film that has ever been created, so to be part of that was really exciting. You think, ‘All right, where do you go with that’ - and that’s where all the creativity starts jumping."
Matt Lopez, who hails from the studio’s writer’s program, contributed to the story and screenplay, creating an epic fantasy about Dave Stutler, a college student trying to pass physics and get a date with Becky, the girl of his dreams. Dave’s world is turned upside down when the eccentric Balthazar Blake suddenly enters his life. Balthazar is a sorcerer embroiled in a centuries-long battle which pits the followers of two powerful sorcerers - the good Merlin and the evil Morgana - against each other for either the destruction or salvation of the world. When arch-nemesis and long-time Morganian rival Maxim Horvath threatens not only Balthazar and Dave but the entire world, Balthazar recruits Dave as his reluctant protégé. Together, they must stop Horvath and the Morganian forces.
"It’s a story about two quests," explains Bruckheimer. "Balthazar has been searching the world through the centuries for his apprentice, and Dave then has to discover his true potential as a human being. Dave is a very serious student and doesn’t need or want Balthazar in his life, or to be a sorcerer. But Balthazar is like a fly that keeps buzzing around, tormenting this poor kid until he succumbs to becoming this magical character. But if someone showed up at your door and said that you’re really a sorcerer, you wouldn’t believe them either.
"But in the course of the story," continues Bruckheimer, "you see the relationship build between the two of them and how Balthazar gives Dave the confidence that he needs, not only with his sorcery, but also his personal life."
Says Lopez, "The challenge was how do you reinterpret magic and show it on screen in a way that people haven’t seen before? Dave Stutler is grounded in science and dedicated to the pursuit of physics. He’s devoted to the rational world, and explaining everything in objective, scientific terms. And you put him together with Balthazar, the sorcerer, who sees everything in magical terms. These two worlds are actually one - that sorcery is to physics what alchemy is to chemistry. There’s a key line in which Balthazar tells Dave that everything they do as sorcerers is within the laws of physics - he just doesn’t know all of the laws yet. That is the core creative idea behind sorcery in the movie. I love science, and I think grounding it in that way is unexpected and will be really exciting on screen."
Lopez, who coincidentally completed his work from the old animation building in Burbank’s Walt Disney Studios, where the "Fantasia" sequence was animated, notes that in Goethe’s original story of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" poem, and even in the "Fantasia" episode, "it ends with the apprentice once again relegated to essentially the sorcerer’s janitor. You never get to see the apprentice grow into the role of becoming a sorcerer himself, which we thought would be fun to see. We also don’t get to see the sorcerer teaching the apprentice magic, so we have Balthazar do that with Dave. Except that because of the circumstances, something which should take 10 years to learn must be taught in a few days."
Notes Jon Turteltaub, "Balthazar and Dave both wish the other wasn’t in their lives. Balthazar needs an apprentice, but he certainly doesn’t need Dave. Dave, for his part, doesn’t want to have anything to do with this crazy person who intrudes on his life. So they annoy each other. But they’re both bright and able to see the right way to tease and bother the other person.
"Dave’s an intellectual who just wants to know the factual truth about everything," continues Turteltaub. "He needs to open up and see that there’s a whole world that he didn’t previously think could possibly exist, and then continue to take that and realize all the possibilities in himself. That’s a huge part of Dave’s journey."
Writers Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro introduced some key ideas. "It’s a classic hero story," says Bernard. "Dave’s journey is ultimately of someone who doesn’t believe in himself and doesn’t think he’s capable of accomplishing something great, and realizing over the course of the story that, to his great surprise, he actually is capable of being a hero. His relationship with both Balthazar and Becky serves to take him on that journey. For us, in the structure of that story was our guiding light.
"I also think that Balthazar embodies the idea of putting mankind above yourself," continues Bernard, "the idea that there are greater things out there that mean more than any individual. That’s a great concept, a warrior who has fought for man for 1,000 years."
BALTHAZAR BLAKE is a student of Merlin and a Sorcerer. More than 1,000 years old, Balthazar has been searching the globe until he finds the Prime Merlinean, the descendent of Merlin and inheritor of his great powers. When Balthazar finally discovers him in 10-year-old Dave Stutler, he finds himself with a very reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice. "For Balthazar, finding the Prime Merlinean is a journey that must be made, no matter the distance," says Nicolas Cage, who stepped into the role of sorcerer. "The relationship between Balthazar and Dave is almost like a paternal one. I think he may be the Prime Merlinean by virtue of the fact that he can wear Merlin’s dragon ring, so when I find Dave, it’s with great affection and relief. I want to guide him, instruct him and train him for a larger purpose. But for Dave, it’s pretty overwhelming to have someone walk into his life, tell him he’s the descendent of Merlin and that together we’re going to save the world. If you’re Dave, you’re going to tell the guy he’s nuts."
"The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" marks Cage’s seventh collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, his third with director Jon Turteltaub. "[Jerry] understands my sort of algebraic addition to the process - the X factor, if you will," says Cage. "I trust that Jerry will make movies that will be entertaining for people, because that is his priority. And he trusts that I will come up with the X factor that will somehow make sense of it all in terms of the character and will fit within the narrative. I think that’s why he hires actors with an alternative point of view, because it does add an extra dimension to his formula. So it is a happy marriage where there is a shorthand. I know how he works and vice versa.
"Jon is very good with comedy and he knows how to get humour out of a scene," Cage continues. "I have an interest in the darker and more edgy things, so Jon looks to me to go into more of the mystical aspect of the character and I look to him to help bring in more of the comedy that can connect with audiences. So it’s a good mix and we balance each other out."
DAVE STUTLER is a nerdy NYU physics major, lacking confidence and poise, not very popular with girls or even his fellow students. "I’m a huge, huge nerd," confesses Jay Baruchel, selected to portray Dave in the film. "I love any movies where guys shoot energy out of their hands, but I’m not usually the go-to guy for stuff like that. And then I read the script, and I was like, ‘wait a second…a guy like me gets to shoot energy out of his hands and stuff? Done! I’m here for the plasma bolts!’"
At the age of 10, Dave experiences a frightening incident when he encounters sorcerer Balthazar Blake after wandering into the bizarre Arcana Cabana curio shop. He’s given a dragon ring that comes to life on his finger, and he’s told that he’ll be a very important sorcerer himself. He then witnesses a furious battle between Balthazar and another sorcerer named Maxim Horvath, which made him want to forget the whole matter…until both Balthazar and Horvath re-enter his life 10 years later, forcing him to confront a destiny he would very much like to ignore! "Dave is his own worst enemy, the architect of his own misery," says Baruchel. "He spends his life trying to live down that moment in the Arcana Cabana when he first encountered Balthazar and Horvath. He gravitates towards physics, which is the discipline he gives his life to. When he meets up with Balthazar again, the sorcerer tells Dave that it was no coincidence that he drifted towards physics, because although illusion and magic are different, magic and science are the same thing."
"Jay is just off-the-charts talented," says Turteltaub, "extremely smart, bold, funny, great with physical comedy. His body, mind and voice all commit to whatever he’s got to do. He doesn’t have that silly look-at-me vanity that you get from a lot of funny people, it’s much more intellectually thought out with Jay. He really looks for what’s the story, what’s the character, what’s the essence, then finds the completely goofy, silly way of telling that story."
Cage adds of his fellow star, "First of all, Jay is a really good person who’s a lot of fun to be around. He has an inherent charm that comes out in his daily life and also on camera, and I think people are going to love watching him."
"I don’t want to talk about Jay Baruchel," offers Alfred Molina with mock seriousness. "I want to beat him with a stick! Jay is seriously, for my money, one of the most talented young actors around at the moment. He’s got great skills, great gifts. Jay has a real innate skill, and a confidence. I remember what I was like at that age. I didn’t have a quarter of that confidence or the sense of assuredness that he has, both as a person and as an actor."
MAXIM HORVATH was, along with Balthazar Blake and Veronica, a disciple of Merlin and a force of good more than a thousand years ago. But their mutual love for Veronica split the colleagues apart, and Horvath has instead become an ally of the wicked Morgana, who murdered Merlin and is seeking to conquer the world with her minions. He and Balthazar have battled through the ages, finally bringing their conflict to modern-day New York City. "In ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ Horvath’s mission is world domination," says Molina, who was tapped to play Balthazar’s arch-nemesis. "Balthazar and Horvath have a rivalry that’s gone on for millennia. Balthazar is maintaining the Merlinean standard of magic as a power that’s used for the benefit of mankind. Horvath is the leader of the Morganians, who take the very different view that magic should be used to subjugate humans. That’s the struggle between good as personified by Nic Cage’s character, and evil as personified by mine."
Molina’s tremendous thespian skills, his versatility and his positive attitude motivated Bruckheimer’s inclination to invite the actor to segue almost immediately from portraying an amusingly shabby (but also slyly dangerous and potentially heroic) desert chieftain named Sheikh Amar in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" to the urbane, sophisticated and often terrifying Maxim Horvath in "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." "Alfred Molina is a wonderful actor, somebody who can give any role an unexpected twist, and humour as well," says Bruckheimer.
"Alfred Molina is one of those actors that every time he’s in a movie, he’s doing something totally different," adds Turteltaub. "You can’t believe he’s the same guy you saw in the other movie, or the play; he’s always different. He also has an unbelievably light touch and fun sense of humour. Fred is a very playful guy, and I think we see that impishness in the character of Horvath, as well as bringing the gravity that the character needs."
As for Molina himself, he was good to go from the first time he heard about the role of Horvath. "As I was completing ‘Prince of Persia,’ somebody told me that I was being considered for the role, and would I be interested? I sort of tried to play cool, debonair and nonchalant, but I ended up showing heaves of "chalant." I was fascinated by the fact that they were including elements of the classic episode from ‘Fantasia,’ and really liked the character once I read the script.
"It seemed a million miles away from what I’d done in ‘Prince of Persia,’" Molina recalls. "Sheikh Amar was a conniving, opportunistic sort of rogue, while Horvath is a rather smart, debonair, Edwardian villain. A villain whom I regard as being in the classic tradition of suave bad guys: well dressed, charming, but deadly."
BECKY BARNES is a fresh and radiant NYU student - for 10 years, the unreachable object of Dave Stutler’s desire. For the coveted role, the filmmakers had little doubt that Australia-born Teresa Palmer was a perfect fit. "Teresa is somebody that we’ve liked for a long time," says Bruckheimer, "and she did a fantastic job auditioning with Jay. When you have that magic between two actors, you’ve got to cast them together."
"Teresa is just that person who walks in a room, and it feels like someone turned the lights on," says Turteltaub. "There’s a lack of misery to this person. That’s the thing Dave needs in his life, to get out of that intellectual anger and that college angst and have some joy and fresh air. Unlike every other actress who came in for the role looking for Becky’s angry side, Teresa came in and looked for the joyous side, and boy, that was just really infectious."
A college DJ, Becky Barnes loves music; the charm of physics eludes her. Thus, when Dave offers to lend a helping hand to help her study, Becky accepts…not having any idea that Dave is, in fact, a sorcerer’s apprentice, involved in potentially deadly doings. "Becky has always considered Dave more of a friend," says Palmer, "although he’s always had a crush on her. They run into each other at NYU and they spark up this connection again. Dave still has his thing for Becky and she’s a little bit wary but slowly starts to notice what a wonderful and endearing person Dave is."
VERONICA is a sorceress who has had the great fortune of being loved by Balthazar Blake - and the misfortune of being loved by Maxim Horvath. "Balthazar and Veronica are willing to do everything for their love," says Monica Bellucci, who portrays the love-interest-slash-medieval-sorceress, "and at the same time, they’re two fighters. Horvath, who, like them, was a disciple of Merlin, also falls in love with Veronica. She rejects him for Balthazar, and because of that, he betrays them by aligning himself with Morgana. It’s a beautiful and powerful story about love, jealousy and vengeance.
"In the film, I have to play a double role," continues Bellucci, "because there are scenes in which Veronica is possessed by the evil sorceress, Morgana. That’s why I wanted to be part of this project, because it was interesting to have the chance to play a double personality…and also to make a film that my five-year-old daughter, Deva, can watch."
"We were so fortunate to land Monica for the film," says Bruckheimer. "She’s a huge star in Europe and has done really great work in American films. The role needed someone who can make the audience understand why and how Balthazar can have a love and devotion that has lasted for more than a thousand years."
"We needed the right actress to play someone worth waiting a thousand years for," says Turteltaub. "She sure better be pretty and special - a woman with strength. We looked around the world for that woman, and luckily, we got Monica Bellucci. She’s got that Italian power, which is sexy and strong, and she knows what you’re thinking before you’re thinking it."
DRAKE STONE is a long, lean, punked-out illusionist who is actually a Morganian sorcerer assisting Maxim Horvath in his battle against Balthazar Blake and Dave Stutler. He’s a stage performer with an ego to match his popularity, but with no fan bigger than himself. "Drake Stone is the kind of guy who wanted to make a lot of money, get famous and kiss a lot of girls. That’s the reason I took the role," says Toby Kebbell, called on to portray the unique character. "The fact that Drake is a sorcerer with mystical powers was really exciting to me. I knew that I would get to create lightning bolts out of my hand and drive Ferraris through Times Square. What I like about playing Drake is that it’s nice to get the arrogance and pomposity that I might have in myself out in a character in a creative way. Drake Stone is a jerk - it’s always fun to play one, rather than be one!"
Kebbell joined the cast fresh from "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," in which he portrayed Garsiv, the warlike brother of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dastan. "Toby is just loaded with energy," says Bruckheimer, "and he’s the kind of actor who always surprises because you never, ever know what he’s going to do next."
BENNET is Dave Stutler’s roommate in their run-down Brooklyn tenement apartment, a fellow NYU physics student and a good friend who tries to get his reluctant friend to step out and live a little. Says Omar Benson Miller, who portrays the character, "Bennet is not only Dave’s roommate, but also his motivator. He’s one of the many people in the film, like Balthazar and Becky, who are trying to get Dave up and at ’em, making him more proactive in life, and less reactive. I try to teach him the importance of going after things, including the girl he’s in love with, his magic, his sorcery and his studies."
Another veteran of a Jerry Bruckheimer Television program, Miller is a former cast member of "Eleventh Hour" and a new addition to the "CSI: Miami" ensemble. "The genius of the way that Bennet is written is that it shows that people come from all walks of life, and they can do anything," says Miller. "That’s what we’re trying to get Dave to understand, that just because he’s the smart guy, it doesn’t mean he has to be scared to talk to the girl. Be who you are, wear it proudly, stick your chest out and say ‘Hey, this is me!’"
YOUNG DAVE is a perpetually insecure, frightened 10-year-old, in love with classmate Becky Barnes and not quite sure what to do about it. When he finds himself mysteriously drawn into the odd curiosity shop called the Arcana Cabana, he encounters sorcerer Balthazar Blake and learns - to his disbelief - that he’s going to be a powerful sorcerer one day. "Dave is very unsure of himself, awkward; he’s a geek…but the kind of geek you like," says Jake Cherry, who was cast as the young protagonist.
SUN LOK is an ancient, but perpetually young, Chinese sorcerer and Morganian. When he’s unlocked from his Grimhold by Horvath, Sun Lok wreaks havoc in Chinatown during a lively festival by materializing a fearsome fire-breathing dragon. "Sun Lok has been in a little container for thousands and thousands of years, and when he’s let out, he’s really, really angry," says Gregory Woo, who plays the mad Morganian.
ABIGAIL WILLIAMS is a very young Morganian sorcerer who was not only accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem, Mass., but actually was one. In her black-and-white Puritan clothing, Abigail looks like the embodiment of innocence…but it’s totally misleading. "I’m an evil sorcerer who kidnaps Becky for Horvath after being released from the Grimhold," says Nicole Ehinger, who was tapped by filmmakers to play the deceptive young sorcerer.
"The idea is that sorcerers and the ancient art of sorcery are alive and well in present-day New York City," says director Jon Turteltaub. "It’s much more entertaining to show audiences the magic in things they recognize than to create something.
"New York City is an extraordinary place," Turteltaub continues, "and New Yorkers are so busy achieving, they often don’t actually notice what is here. If you stop and look around, there are amazing things everywhere. If you walk through Manhattan one day, and instead of looking straight ahead you look up instead, you will see the most amazing architectural details on those buildings. New York is an entire universe."
For its adoring inhabitants and millions of visitors, New York is truly a city like no other. It has, of course, been the backdrop for countless films, including, now, "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice."
"New York has everything," says the Detroit-born producer Jerry Bruckheimer, "wonderful high rises, a fast pace, the greatest restaurants in the world, the centres of publishing and finance. It will never look as magical as it does in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’"
"This movie is a love letter to New York City," says Montreal native Jay Baruchel. "Anyone who’s spent any time in New York knows that it is truly the world’s capital. In the film, when we’re driving in Times Square or on Sixth Avenue in the car chase, we’re actually doing it. Everybody, including my mother, has been blown away, gobsmacked and awestruck by the size, grandeur and detail. People are going to see our movie and get taken away into a New York that they recognize, but have never really seen before."
Baruchel also got a kick out of shooting at New York University in Greenwich Village for very particular reasons. "It was amazing for me, because I’d always dreamt of going to NYU Film School and could never float the bill. So many great movies have come as a result of that institution, and it’s so seared into the collective consciousness."
"It’s an incredibly photogenic city," says London-born Alfred Molina, "and has such a dramatic presence and throbbing life. When the magic happens, it happens in a city which is magical in itself, so there’s a double whammy."
"I’ve never spent much time in New York before," admits Australia-born Teresa Palmer, "but there is a magical energy there that just feels so alive and energetic. It’s the sort of city where dreams really do come true, and I think the film definitely lends itself to that."
Adds Toby Kebbell, "Although New York is so much younger than London, where I live, you can have all these amazing things going on right in front of your face, and you just brush it off, because with all of the millions of people milling about, your brain doesn’t even register them."
"The goal of this movie," says director of photography Bojan Bazelli, who originally hails from far-off Serbia, "is to create ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ New York. We are not trying to particularly change the look of the city, we are embracing it, and then blending it with our own magical vision. The energy between light and dark are in almost every shot, and we used the latest technology and most creative people to give audiences a New York that’s fresh, different and alive with magic."
Of course, shooting in NYC has its challenges, including vehicular and human traffic. But filmmakers ultimately found a wide range of real locations with extraordinary history behind them. Locations spanned the city, from Times Square and Midtown Manhattan to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Production designer Naomi Shohan worked her magic in Tribeca, creating the exterior of the Arcana Cabana in the 1869 Grosvenor Building on White Street. The 7th Avenue subway station in Brooklyn’s Park Slope district was tapped for a scene in which Dave tries to use his new sorcery powers to overcome an attempted mugging.
Filmmakers utilized iconic locales - Battery Park starring Lady Liberty, the Chrysler Building and its Eagle gargoyle, Rockefeller Centre and the 15-foot-tall statue of Atlas. Other locations include the Bryant Park Hotel on 40th Street, the Apthorp Apartments, the Williamsburg Bridge (connecting Brooklyn to Chinatown) and the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
Opened in 1931, Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field was the first municipal airport in New York City, serving great aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, Howard Hughes and Major John Glenn Jr. Part of the Marcy Avenue elevated station was recreated there for a sequence involving wolves and a giant flying Chrysler Building Eagle gargoyle.
In a major sequence of the film, Balthazar and Dave go to an old acupuncturist shop in Chinatown, searching for the Grimhold. The colourful shop is attended by an old woman who’s seemingly innocuous - until she transforms into Horvath, who releases ancient sorcerer Sun Lok from the Grimhold. A furious fight inside of the shop soon spills outside, where a raucous Chinese New Year celebration is taking place, with dancers, drummers, colourful confetti and a large parade dragon, which Sun Lok transforms into a terrifyingly real and living creature.
"You want to talk about magic," says director Jon Turteltaub, "go to New York’s Chinatown. It’s an amazingly cool place."
Following an open casting call for area extras that drew more than 2,000, "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" company took over Eldridge Street for two weeks of all-night filming. This extraordinarily atmospheric street overlooks the Manhattan Bridge and the noisy subway trains careening back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
"You can’t do a scene like this on the back lot," says Turteltaub. "And I think all of the people who were participating in the parade and as background were having fun. Once the music and drumming starts, it gets exciting. The dragon and confetti are exciting. And then it gets really exciting when Nic Cage comes out to set. There’s just a really good atmosphere. This scene, although action-packed, is a celebration of New York Chinatown."
Indeed, some nights took on the air of a block party. "It’s impossible not to fall in love with the work when there’s this much energy and this much going on," Baruchel says. "It informs your performance, and you have a lot to react to."
The climax of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" led filmmakers to Bowling Green, the historic park in Lower Manhattan, for an ultimate midnight showdown between Merlineans Balthazar Blake and Dave Stutler and Morganian Maxim Horvath, who conjures up the greatest evil of them all from the Grimhold - Morgana herself, possessing the body of Veronica, the sorceress beloved by both Balthazar and Horvath. It’s the ultimate sorcerer’s duel, involving spells, incantations and raging fires, and even the famed Charging Bull statue comes to life. The world is at stake.
"Once again, a truly iconic New York location was selected for the so-called final battle," says Bruckheimer. "Bowling Green was literally the first park ever created in the United States. It’s where New Yorkers pulled down the statue of King George during the American Revolution. It’s a beautiful circle of greenery in Lower Manhattan surrounded by skyscrapers, and a very dramatic locale for this sorcerer’s battle royale."
"Morgana, the greatest and most powerful sorceress, was thrust into the Grimhold and imprisoned," explains Turteltaub. "But in order to get her in there, a Merlinean sorceress named Veronica gave up her own soul, so both Morgana and Veronica are stuck together in this Grimhold. Balthazar has been madly in love with Veronica forever, but to let her out, he has to let Morgana out as well. So the question facing Balthazar is, how can he destroy Morgana and not destroy Veronica?"
The climactic scene called for a bit of magic, much like that used to bring to life the Chrysler Eagle gargoyle. Only this time, the subject was a bull - the famed Charging Bull, a 7,000-pound bronze sculpture by Sicily-born New Yorker Arturo Di Modica, that stands at the tip of Bowling Green. On his own accord, Arturo Di Modica created the sculpture following the 1987 stock market crash. He installed it as his symbol of the enduring spirit of the American people on December 15, 1989, in front of the New York Stock Exchange as a gift to the people of the city, but the police seized and impounded the sculpture. The public outcry led community leader Arthur Piccolo to arrange to move Charging Bull two blocks south to the plaza in front of Bowling Green.
The first action sequence of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" is a spectacular sorcerer’s duel between arch enemies Balthazar Blake and Maxim Horvath in the Arcana Cabana, Balthazar’s decidedly bizarre old curiosity shop in Lower Manhattan, its spooky confines stuffed to the rafters with all manner of bric-a-brac. The magical battle is witnessed by 10-year-old Dave Stutler, who has been lured to the shop by a runaway love note he penned to young Becky.
The Arcana Cabana battle is the first time we see sorcery in action in the film, from Merlin’s dragon ring, which very magically comes to life and walks onto Dave’s finger, to Horvath’s emergence from the Grimhold, and then Balthazar and Horvath using the full range of their powers to cast spells, move objects and, in essence, blow the place to bits before they’re both sucked into a large urn - where they will remain until both return into each other’s (and Dave’s) lives in a decade.
"The Grimhold," explains Nicolas Cage, "is a prison for the very, very scary and wicked Morganians, and the more evil the Morganian, the deeper into the circles of this sort of Russian nesting doll they go. Morgana is in the centre. The obstacle is that it keeps getting taken, and every time that happens, Horvath has the ability to open it and release another very dangerous force of Morganian evil."
The Arcana Cabana sequence provides a perfect example of how interdepartmental cooperation was essential to creating a compelling and believable sequence. As with every other foot of film, the scene combined the efforts of director Jon Turteltaub along with the other magicians of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." His key creative team included masterful director of photography Bojan Bazelli, production designer Naomi Shohan, costume designer Michael Kaplan, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, legendary special effects supervisor John Frazier and his on-set coordinator, Mark Hawker, and stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge.
"This scene establishes the magic that sorcerers are capable of doing," says Nelson. "We see plasma generated and fired for the first time, fires are created through pyrokinesis, there are concussion blasts, matter is moved through telekinesis, and there’s a gravity inversion spell by Balthazar which sends Horvath hurtling up to the ceiling. It’s a true collaborative effort of practical effects, stunts, the actors, camera, direction."
In the last decade, Nelson has earned three Oscar nominations, winning for his work on 2000’s "Gladiator." His professional philosophy is straightforward. "We do visual effects for things that are too dangerous, too expensive or impossible to do," says Nelson. "My idea of a perfect visual effect is one that starts with a practical effect - a real event that can be photographed - and then goes into something that’s amazing that looks real, ending with another practical effect. We have a great group of people under physical effects supervisor John Frazier working on set, and they’re terrific at providing what’s known as ‘floor effects’ to make everything as real as possible. Then we take it someplace else."
"With this film, we knew there would be a really great mix of CGI and live mechanical effects," says Frazier. "That’s the way Jon Turteltaub likes to shoot. He wants as much of it live as possible, and then enhance it with CGI. Audiences are now so sophisticated, they don’t want to see stuff like what we did in the ’60s and ’70s that was totally mechanical. But on the other hand, sometimes when something is done entirely CGI, it looks like a cartoon rather than a movie.
"We did a lot of live effects on ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’" continues Frazier. "Magic has always been about smoke and mirrors, and we have both in the movie!"
"The first fight in the Arcana Cabana not only sets the tone, but also introduces the three main characters of the movie," says stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge. "It was all very character-driven. We have people flying around, hitting walls, hand-to-hand combat and a magical sword fight between a disembodied sword being controlled by Horvath’s cane versus Balthazar Blake using a unicorn horn."
"I couldn’t believe we started off with that huge fight scene," recalls Alfred Molina. "I always have this notion that when you start work on a film, there’ll be a couple of nice, easy days. You’ll get to know everybody, sit around, have a couple of cups of coffee, chat away and do some nice, simple little scene. But I went straight into rehearsals for the Arcana Cabana sequence. I’d barely had time to unpack, and suddenly I had a magic cane in one hand and a sword in the other, going at it with Nic. It was a bit of a shock, but it was great to start out with all systems going."
"We sent Horvath flying up about 27 feet to the ceiling of the Arcana Cabana on a cable," says Ruge, "and Fred was very game for that. We also did what we call a ‘double ratchet’ in which Balthazar and Horvath each blast each other diagonally across the room, one into a pillar and one back by the stairs. Because the set is so confined and cluttered, I had a lot of concerns about fitting the action in here, but it worked."
"George Marshall Ruge is absolutely fantastic," says Molina, "very imaginative and interesting. He likes to think of stunt work as choreography, which I think is a really good way of looking at it. George says that the moment of impact is not what’s important. What’s important is the build-up to it and the reaction from it. And of course, he’s right, because that’s where all the drama is. There’s a part of the scene in which I’m fighting Nic with a sword which I’m manipulating from a distance. It was a great way of actually showing, in an imaginative way, that these characters not only have force and strength, but that they can also transform themselves and objects with an amazing range of powers and skills."
Special effects foreman Mark Hawker and his team utilized various techniques for the Arcana Cabana sequence. "When young Dave puts on the magical dragon ring, he accidentally makes the Grimhold break through from behind the wall," explains Hawker. "We took the Grimhold and put it on an eight-foot stick with swivels on both ends. So wherever Dave moves his hand, the Grimhold follows, and it keeps that distance. Of course, John Nelson’s team will ‘paint’ out the stick with computers. We had lots of breakaway walls and furniture, and when Horvath gets pulled up into the skylight by one of Balthazar’s spells, we used a rubber skylight with breakaway glass."
Molina’s character shoots fire from his hands. "I had to set fire to my fingertips," he admits nonchalantly. "It all came down to this gloopy, plastic-like stuff they put on my fingers, covered with a fire-resistant fabric. Then they put another layer of the gloopy stuff, and another layer of cloth, which they painted to look like my real hand. There was so much stuff on my fingers that they looked like four big bratwursts. Then they lit them on fire, and it gets about a minute before I started to really feel it burn, and at that point, I simply blow them out like birthday candles.
"The technology for the effect is as old as films themselves," continues Molina, "but it looks great. We could have done it with computer graphics, but it wouldn’t have looked as good. I loved it!"
Young Jake Cherry, who plays 10-year-old Dave Stutler, also had a blast performing in the sequence. "My favourite part was when I got to destroy everything with the Grimhold," he says. "That, to me, is awesome. My favourite thing to destroy was this really big glass case, taller than me. I pushed the Grimhold in, then jammed it out, then hit some boxes which went flying around. I couldn’t believe they’d actually let me break things on set!
"I also saw the visual effect when the dragon ring walks onto Dave’s finger and wraps itself around him," Cherry adds. "It looks so cool!"
But would Jake want a ring like that for real? "Naw," he responds immediately. "That would be creepy!"
"We have huge adventures all throughout Manhattan, including a magical car chase," says director Jon Turteltaub. "It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer movie; you’ve got to have a car chase. Are you kidding? You sign a piece of paper when you work with Jerry: ‘Yes, sir, I’ll do a car chase.’"
"We not only wanted a car chase even more exciting than the one that Jon directed in London on ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets,’" says Bruckheimer, "we wanted one the likes of which has never been seen on screen before."
"Everything takes on a more magical flare than you would normally anticipate from a car chase sequence," says Nicolas Cage. "Cars morph into other cars, they go into a mirror world at one point. They’re operating by a different list of physics and rules than you would normally imagine a car chase to have."
Turteltaub says the film’s rooting in sorcery weighed heavily on the scene. "In prepping the sequence, we had to think, ‘All right, if I were a sorcerer, how would I have a car chase?’ Your car doesn’t have to stay your car and your environment doesn’t have to stay your environment. In typical car chases, your obstacles are the other cars on the road, the environment you’re in and the other person. But if you’re a sorcerer, you have the added element of being able to change all of those things. So what happens when the car you’re following stops being a slow truck and turns into a Ferrari? And what if that Ferrari turns into a garbage truck and tries to crush you?"
The chase begins with the Merlinean heroes in Balthazar’s fashionable ride of choice, a gleaming 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom. This magnificent artefact of a truly golden age turned heads everywhere, with locals and tourists posing for photos in front of the vehicle, as if it were one of the stars of the movie. It’s owner? Nicolas Cage, a noted vintage-car enthusiast.
"Most Rolls-Royce cars are special because they were handmade in limited quantities in England," says Dan Dietrich, who maintained the Phantom throughout production. "But what’s special about this one is that it’s one of a kind. There are no other vehicles exactly like it. Rolls-Royce made about 2,000 Phantoms, and of that, only 19 were made as coupes. Back then, the cost of an average Rolls-Royce was several times what a house would cost, so to make a coupe, you had to be really wealthy.
"When you purchased a Phantom back in the 1930s," Dietrich explains, "you basically got an engine and a chassis, and then it was up to you to choose the coach maker to build the body. And what makes this one so special is that the original owner bought the body out of the only Rolls-Royce dealership in Montreal and picked a body that didn’t exist before."
The car chase scene called for picture car coordinator Mike Antunez to acquire a large number of vehicles, including an exact replica of the priceless Phantom - utilized as a kind of stunt double for the real car for the chase scene.
"The replica was pretty good," says Dietrich. "It’s pretty incredible that it was built in only six weeks."
In the chase scene, which required three weeks of combined first and second unit filming over long and often rainy nights, Balthazar and Dave’s sorcery morphs the Phantom into a sleek, modern Mercedes McLaren SUV and then incongruously (and mistakenly) into a 1976 Pinto. Horvath, on his end, begins the chase in a Mercedes GL500, which transforms first into a New York yellow taxicab, and then into a speedier Ferrari F30 and, finally, into a weirdly threatening garbage truck.
"This is what I mean when I say that this movie is a heck of a ride," laughs Jay Baruchel. "We have a pretty badass car chase in our movie with the fastest, sexiest cars on Earth. In the scene, we literally drive through the heart of midtown Manhattan and right into a mirror world where everything is backwards."
The sequence required closing down lanes over a stretch of ten blocks and controlling both vehicular and pedestrian traffic in some of the most congested areas of the city, including Times Square and Sixth Avenue. It took three weeks to shoot the full scene.
In his underground lab, trying to hurry for a date with Becky for which he’s waited a decade, Dave breaks the first rule of sorcery: "Magic is not to be used for personal gain or shortcuts." In an effort to quickly tidy up the lab, Dave begins to manipulate mops, brooms, buckets and even sponges to perform his chores for him…with disastrous results!
"‘Fantasia’s’ ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is one of the greatest works of Disney animation, so we had to be very careful with how we adapted it," says producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "We didn’t want to ruin the magic, but create new magic as a loving homage to the original."
Says director Jon Turteltaub, "One of the biggest mistakes a director can make is to take on a piece in which every critic in the world will be judging you against one of the greatest things ever made. We’re taking eight of the most famous minutes in movie history, and what are our choices? We could either wisely just make a little wink towards it and then move on and try not to compete. Or we can really go for it. Let’s update, let’s do our version relative to this movie, with the technology that we now have - and for me, this is the key element - keeping the moral the same.
"Paul Dukas’ music was the inspiration for the episode in ‘Fantasia,’ while the original story from the Goethe poem was the inspiration to the music," Turteltaub continues. "So with an enormous number of people and resources, we put together what we hope is a really entertaining, fun experience which really takes the essence of Walt Disney’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and gives you our version, which is the essence of the fable, the Goethe poem, the Dukas music and the Disney animation."
Jay Baruchel was challenged and honoured by the task at hand, but never intimidated. "It’s a huge honour and a tremendous responsibility to walk in Mickey Mouse’s shoes. Those are pretty big shoes to fill, and I wondered how to do my own thing and make it funny without stepping on or moving away from what made that sequence so iconic in the first place. For me to be in this movie, and be allowed to put my stamp on and at the same time pay homage to one of the most beloved sequences in film history, wasn’t lost on me. It was an absolute treat, incredibly fun, and I loved having all those mops and brooms kick my butt. It was just magical. It was hard not to be a kid in that situation, man. I grew up watching that scene in ‘Fantasia,’ so after getting to do my own version of it, I could retire right now."
Part of what gave Baruchel so much impetus and creativity in his own interpretation of the scene was his intrinsic and thoughtful understanding of the tale’s essence. "Adam and Eve couldn’t help but eat the apple, right? It’s the old ‘curiosity- killed-the-cat’ thing. Trying to find the quickest, easiest way of getting something done is an ambition that we all share, and we’ve all had that come back to bite us in the butt cheeks, right? The sequence is about somebody trying to cut out the middleman, and paying a huge price for it."
Although the final version of Paul Dukas’ timeless music was freshly adapted by composer Trevor Rabin, a traditional version of the piece was played on set during the sequence’s filming, not only for atmosphere, but also for specific timing purposes. And although the live-action feature version doesn’t mimic the animated original, there are a few direct references - the shadow cast on the lab wall by Dave wearing his hoodie looks curiously like the one cast by Mickey Mouse in his peaked sorcerer’s cap.
When conceiving the huge underground lab set in which the sequence takes place, production designer Naomi Shohan made sure to pay her own homage to the original animated short. "The shape of the lab is reminiscent of a castle keep, which was the setting of the Disney cartoon," she notes. "The very large stones at the bottom of the arches of the lab are reminiscent of a medieval castle, and the iron staircase takes the place of the stone staircase in the Mickey Mouse version."
Special effects foreman Mark Hawker and his crew not only had to install fire rods during construction, but a watertight floor as well for the flooding that occurs in the "Fantasia" sequence. "We had to install an entire system of pumps and drains, because it had to be flooded and then drained very quickly for the turnaround on the takes. We had two six-inch diesel pumps flooding 30,000 gallons of water in through the underground lab sinks, which then reversed to suck the water out, along with 18 drains."
With the effects in place, the director could focus on the content. "What I was really excited about," says Turteltaub, "was that the scene is really about storytelling rather than dialogue, so you tell it with action and images. Our most important task is that the scene advance the story, and we made sure that we found a place in the story where this sequence belongs."
The special effects required for the scene combined the work of both the physical and visual effects departments, and senior VFX supervisor John Nelson was feeling the pressure. "When I was young, I was head usher at a movie theatre, and one of the movies we showed for about four or five weeks was ‘Fantasia,’" he recalls. "I must have seen the movie a hundred times. The legacy of being able to work and redo something like that in live action is really quite wonderful. I think what the animators did back in the early 1940s was amazing; we’re trying to make the scene beautiful and fantastic, with a deep sense of fun, which is what the original was.
"There are CG brooms, mops, sponges sliding around like kids in a water park," Nelson continues. "It’s as if the objects begin as well-behaved children in kindergarten, who then spin off into kids who have just eaten a ton of sugar when the teacher has left the room. It’s very difficult to combine CG effects with real water, but I think the audience will find it more believable when the CG mop interacts with real water."
Among the tricks employed by Nelson were "green guys," men and women wearing tight green suits and holding the props which come to life in the sequence. Explains Nelson, "The green guys are the most effective way to anthropomorphize objects and make them move."
It’s an important job. Thomas Dupont, one of the top stunt players in the industry, was called on throughout "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" to double Nicolas Cage for action considered just too dangerous. Dupont, who also lists the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy and "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" among his stunt credits, found himself wearing the green spandex suit and holding a push broom for the "Fantasia" sequence. "Anytime you forget that you’re wearing it," notes Dupont, "one of the crew members is nice enough to remind you."
PRODUCTION DESIGNER NAOMI SHOHAN
Creating a City within a City
For "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," production designer Naomi Shohan was tapped by filmmakers to highlight the iconic magnificence of New York City and find the hidden magic as well. "In the early stages, we talked about insinuating that there has always been a presence of sorcery in Manhattan," says Shohan, "and we talked about where we might find that. In Manhattan, you come upon these miraculous buildings and interiors everywhere you look. So, I was hoping to establish a kind of undercurrent of possibility.
"The Victorian buildings from the turn of the 20th century were particularly beautiful," Shohan continues, "and they have a poetry about them that lends itself beautifully to sorcery. Other sets have to do with the infrastructure under Manhattan which was being built in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, which we incorporate in the underground training lab set. I tried to create atmosphere that’s at once realistic and has to do with a kind of grubby, visceral feeling of New York City, the shoulder-rubbing, intense density of it all. In New York, you can walk down the street, open a door, and find yourself in a new world…so I liked the idea of walking between worlds."
Shohan, whose credits include "I Am Legend," "Tears of the Sun" and "Training Day," also designed sets of extraordinary detail which were either constructed inside of soundstages at Steiner Studios (site of the former Brooklyn Navy Yard) or within the confines of the 1907 Bedford Armoury, also in Brooklyn.
The massive, meticulously detailed underground lab/sorcerer training room set is the site of some of the film’s most important sequences, including the "Fantasia" sequence, and was unquestionably Shohan’s most ambitious structure created for the film.
"In the script, the lab where Dave Stutler conducts his experiments was described as a basement room somewhere," says Shohan. "From that, I extrapolated that it could be really deep underground, because he’s working with incredibly high-voltage equipment, which needs a protective space. Earth is the best insulator, and New York really does have some amazing subterranean spaces which are usually off-limits - beneath Grand Central Station, there’s a switching station which dates from the World War II era, and under City Hall, there’s an incredibly beautiful subway station that’s out of use, arched and very elegant. Our set needed to be interesting enough to sustain many scenes."
What Shohan created was an old subway turnaround, redolent of old New York, converted into a makeshift laboratory, its interior graced with an arched and tiled dome ceiling, cast-iron walkways and staircases and rusted old elevators. For Dave’s lab, the interior is tricked out with scientific paraphernalia, a plasma generator, cages filled with obsolete scientific materials, two huge, rusted generators, Jurassic-age computers with reel-to-reel disks and other detritus of the generations.
A crucial piece of Shohan’s design for the underground lab was the Merlin Circle with its seven domains - Space Time, Motion, Matter, Elements, Transformation, Mind and, most importantly, in the centre, Gold/Love - which Balthazar conjures up from the cobblestone floor of the lab. Shohan and her team did considerable research, even consulting a genuine Wiccan to figure out the symbols.
"One of the coolest sets in the movie is the Arcana Cabana," says director Jon Turteltaub, "which is a store of antiquities, obscurities, oddities and all the things that Balthazar’s collected over his millennia of existence. In our heads, it was sort of like the Staples of sorcery, so that when a guy needs a special ring, some special dust and the eye of a newt, he goes to the Arcana Cabana."
"The iron architecture of late 19th and early 20th century is some of the most beautiful in New York," says Shohan. "I thought that it was the kind of space you would want for the Arcana Cabana."
The glorious interior of the Arcana Cabana features staunch cast-iron beams, an old elevator, a skylight faded with the patina of age and no fewer than half a million assorted objects of escalating weirdness, including old books, tribal masks, lamps, a prosthetic leg, disembodied dolls’ heads, shrunken heads, musical instruments, hat and shoe boxes, medicine bottles, skeletons, a unicorn skull, musical instruments, statues, old magician posters, paintings, clocks, old framed photos and even a sorcerer’s hat which looks just like something once worn by a famous mouse. A Merlin Circle greets customers of the Arcana Cabana on the floor just before the main entrance, a sign that more mysteries lie within.
Shohan designed the penthouse lair of Toby Kebbell’s character, illusionist/Morganian/egoist Drake Stone, with proper inspiration. "We were shooting in Chinatown, in the freezing cold next to boxes of smelly fish," she recalls, "when in walked Toby in costume, hair and make-up as Drake Stone for Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub’s approval. It was just the most delightful vision. Toby plays a wonderful buffoon, taking his narcissism to the extreme. We came up with an over-the-top expression of glorious male pomposity."
Drake Stone’s domicile sports creamy walls, overly lavish furniture, a huge fireplace with a bust of Drake Stone himself, mounted samurai armour, grandiose paintings (with Drake Stone as the centrepiece), posters of past shows starring the illusionist and expensive chandeliers. In Stone’s study, there are artefacts of illusionists past, including Harry Houdini’s famous water chamber, as well as a full-size guillotine and iron maiden, dummy heads and various Drake Stone consumer products - activity books, breakfast cereal boxes, skateboards, a video game.
Shohan also utilized some non-studio structures in New York for her brilliant sets. She transformed the Great Hall of the majestic 1919 Cunard Building into Calcutta, circa 1847. Her dusty 19th-century Indian marketplace was replete with greenery, thatched market stalls selling baskets, spices, fabrics, fruit, birds, with bamboo scaffolding and colourful saris drying on clotheslines.
Filmmakers added a monkey, goats and a magnificent, purebred 17-year-old Brahma bull named Bandit, plus nearly 200 extras for the scene.
The Encantus, the magical book of spells which Balthazar Blake gives to his apprentice, Dave Stutler, is a masterpiece of both design and execution, and a wonderful example of the meticulous artistry of behind-the-scenes movie talent. "In my view, it’s a book not only of spells, but an entire history of humankind’s attempt to dictate natural phenomenon," says Shohan. "The idea was to cover a smattering of many cultures and do it chronologically."
Each of the 1500 pages were hand-aged and hand-painted to ensure authenticity. The main version weighed in at 75 pounds - not the kind of book you want to drop on your foot - but a 10-pound duplicate was created for scenes in which the book is closed, as well as a waterproofed floating version for the "Fantasia" sequence.
Filmmakers called on Michael Kaplan to create the centuries-spanning wardrobe for "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." The pro, whose credits include "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbour" and "Flashdance" was up for the challenge.
"The characters in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ were so much fun and so diversified," says Kaplan. "There were contemporary clothes, medieval, Chinese armour - I wanted each character to have their own colour palette and for each one to be recognized immediately not only from their faces, but from what they’re wearing.
"Balthazar Blake is mysterious and timeless," continues Kaplan, "kind of a dark figure even though he’s a good guy. I saw him as a shadowy figure, always in the same clothes throughout the movie - his uniform. I thought about sorcerers and their long robes and imagined that he should have a long leather coat instead, with a leather vest beneath. I wanted it to have a period feeling but not any specific period, with elements he had picked up through the ages, some never really seen: a necklace with amulets from different time periods, keys he could have used in the last century, small lockets with old hand-painted pictures of loved ones he might have left behind, stones which bring luck of protection, a shark’s tooth in a little pouch, a sun pin he wears on his shoulder, a bracelet with cobalt stones."
Kaplan worked with the actor to perfect the look. "Nicolas Cage was very specific about some of the things he wanted as part of that costume. Balthazar’s sorcerer ring, which might date back to the time of Merlin, is a green diamond, the rarest of all diamonds, which Nic feels is very empowering. Balthazar wears rings on every finger, and each one was made for Nic, because we needed so many multiples. Most of them look ancient and as if they’re from different parts of the world.
"But I didn’t want Balthazar to be a character who, when he walks down the street in New York, gets stared at like he was from another planet," continues Kaplan. "He does look a bit eccentric, but by New York standards, it’s within the realm of acceptability."
Everyone on set knew when Nicolas Cage - or at least his long coat - was approaching, from the incredibly earthy smell of the leather. Ten copies of the coat were handcrafted. "Most of the costumes were custom-made," says Kaplan, "including the hats. Balthazar’s hat was based on a fedora, but we adjusted the height to make it into a quasi-peaked sorcerer’s hat." Balthazar’s hat is emblazoned with crescent-moon and star pins, an obvious tip of the brim to Sorcerer Mickey’s famous headwear.
Dave Stutler’s look was a little less eccentric. "I wanted Dave to seem a brilliant but scatterbrained NYU student who was more interested in science than clothes," says Kaplan. "So his clothes don’t necessary always match. Dave has his little uniform of his hoodie, plaid shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, just stuff that he throws on every day. I wanted it to be cinematic, but not to look like he’d put a lot of time or care into it."
Kaplan dressed Teresa Palmer’s Becky with effortless elegance in a student-like combination of sweaters, parkas, pants, scarves, blouses, skirts and boots. Alfred Molina’s Maxim Horvath, however, harkens back to the ’20s, the era in which he was imprisoned in the Grimhold; he wears the bowler hat and spats to prove it.
"Horvath is very dapper, very well dressed, always in beautiful suits and coats," says Kaplan. "I tried to find fabrics that had metallic threads in them. It just added a level of mystique and I thought, perhaps, that his alchemy would work better if there was a fabric which was a conductor of electricity. He has an amazing fur-fringed coat with this material. Horvath wears a different homburg in each one of his scenes."
Toby Kebbell’s character - complete with three-inch boot heels - drew much enthusiasm. "Drake Stone was so much fun to do," says Kaplan. "I fashioned him after Las Vegas illusionists, no one in particular, but Drake is more over the top than any of them - he’s a rock star of the magician set. He wears beautiful snakeskin pants in one scene, he has tattoos and wears rings on every finger. Everything is emblazoned with his initials."
Kaplan travelled through time for Monica Bellucci. "We see Monica Bellucci as Veronica in a few scenes," says Kaplan. "First, there’s a contemporary costume when Balthazar thinks he sees her on a New York street, which is a trick that Horvath is playing on him. She has two medieval costumes: when she’s in the marketplace with Balthazar in happier times and when she first becomes possessed by Morgana.
"I wanted to find a way to separate Veronica from Morgana when they weren’t separate entities," continues Kaplan, "so I came up with this idea to do mirrored contact lenses for Monica Bellucci which she wears when Veronica is possessed by Morgana."
Sun Lok’s armoured skirt was comprised of more than 1,000 hand-pounded leather plates, bound row by row…and the costume department fabricated two identical skirts for the character, an enormous amount of hand work by any standard. "I really loved doing the Sun Lok character," Kaplan says. "Even though Sun Lok’s skirt was pretty accurate - we did lots of research - the rest of the costume was a little bit of a departure from reality. I just had a lot of fun, and Gregory Woo, who was cast as Sun Lok, was so excited about playing the character that he was willing to go along with what we did."
Kaplan’s team created a hand-painted Chinese robe for the character, embroidered Chinese boots, long talons, metal ear tips and a wide breastplate bearing a dragon image. And not unlike other static creatures in "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," this dragon sparks to life. Magically, of course.