Race to Witch Mountain (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 25, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“‘Race to Witch Mountain’ is a fast-paced, action film that is much different from the original. The Blu-ray release of this film also features one of the most aggressive lossless soundtracks I have heard from Disney (for a live-action film) yet. Overall, a fun, enjoyable and very entertaining film!”
© Disney. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Race to Witch Mountain
DURATION: 99 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD (48 kHz/24-bit), French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English SDH, French, Spanish, three discs including DVD and Digital Copy
COMPANY: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
RATED: PG (For Sequences of Action and Violence, Frightening and Dangerous Situations and some Thematic Elements)
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Directed by Andy Fickman
Based on the book “Escape to Witch Mountain” by Alexander Key
Screenplay by Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback
Executive Produced by Mario Iscovich, Ann Marie Sanderlin
Produced by Andrew Gunn
Music by Trevor Rabin
Director of Photography: Greg Gardiner
Edited by David Rennie
Casting by Sarah Finn, Randi Heller
Production Design by David J. Bomba
Art Direction by John R. Jensen, Synderella Peng
Set Decoration by Patrick Cassidy, Kara Lindstrom
Costume Design by Genevieve Tyrrell
Dwayne Johnson as Jack Bruno
AnnaSophia Robb as Sara
Alexander Ludwig as Seth
Carla Gugino as Dr. Alex Friedman
Ciaran Hinds as Henry Burke
Tom Evertt Scott as Matheson
Billy Brown as Carson
Garry Marshall as Dr. Donald Harlan
Kim Richards as Tina
Ike Eisenmann as Sheriff Antony
Tom Woodruff Jr./Paul Darnell as Siphon
Las Vegas taxi driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) sets off on the adventure of a lifetime when two mysterious teens ask him to drive them deep into the Nevada desert. Jack agrees to take siblings Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) to Witch Mountain, a shadowy government outpost devoted to studying inexplicable phenomena – including UFO sightings. But his young passengers are no ordinary teens. With a ruthless adversary on their trail, Sara and Seth display astonishing supernatural abilities and Jack becomes a reluctant hero as he helps them evade their pursuer. As Witch Mountain reveals its long hidden secrets, Jack discovers that his passengers are the only key to saving the world!
More action than the original! A new step forward for the popular sci-fi Walt Disney film.
As a fan of the original 1975 film “Escape to Witch Mountain”, I have to admit that I felt a bit standoffish about a retelling of the film series. With Dwayne Johnson cast as the primary character in the film, it was evident to me that the new film “Race to Witch Mountain” would be a more action-based film but over 35 years since the first film, you can only wonder how far special effects would go for and how campy but yet entertaining and family friendly, the new storyline would be.
Taking on the helm as director for “Race to Witch Mountain” would be Andy Fickman (producer for “Anaconda” and director of “The Game Plan”, “Who’s Your Daddy”). The screenplay would be written by Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”) and Mark Bomback (“Deception”, “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Godsend”). Music by Trevor Rabin (“12 Rounds”, “Get Smart”, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”, etc.) and cinematography by Greg Gardiner (“Herbie Fully Loaded”, “Elf”, “New York Minute”, etc.).
The film would star Dwyane Johnson (“The Scorpion King”, “Gridiron Gang”, “The Game Plan” and “Get Smart”), Carla Gugino (“Sin City”, “American Gangster”, “The One”, etc.), AnnaSophia Robb (“Bridge to Terabithia”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Jumper”), Alexander Ludwig (“The Sandlot 3″ and “A Little Thing Called Murder”), Ciaran Hinds (“The Sum of All Fears”, “Lara Coft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, etc.) and Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”, “Chicken Little” and “Murphy Brown”).
With the original film about two orphaned siblings named Tony and Tia who slowly remember their past and discover that they have paranormal abilities because they are aliens and learn they must go to Witch Mountain with the help of camper Jason O’Day, “Race to Witch Mountain” has little similarity to the original film but nevertheless, the premise is somewhat similar.
In “Race to Witch Mountain”, a mysterious unidentified flying object has crash landed in Nevada. The US government is on top of the case and begin to look through the various crash site for survivors and investigate the spaceship. Meanwhile, former convict and race car driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is a man not loving his job as a cab driver in Las Vegas. With a science fiction convention happening in the area, Jack knows its going to be a long day. He takes Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who is giving a presentation on extraterrestrial life to the convention and knowing that Jack is a skeptic, still invites him to her presentation which he shows no interest in.
We get to see a little bit of Jack’s life. Living in a rundown apartment in which he is unable to get any sleep and working a job as a taxi driver and not looking to thrilled about his life. The following morning, Jack’s former employer (one of Las Vegas top crime boss) has two of his henchman paying a visit to Jack and try to convince him to come back and work for him. Jack has no intention of going back but the two henchman warn him that no one says “no” to their boss but before the two henchman can make their move and rough Jack up, Jack quickly defends himself and ends up hurting the two henchman. The henchmen give Jack a warning.
After the confrontation, while getting prepared for a new day of work, Jack quickly discovers that two children have snuck into the back seat of his cab. Shocked and surprised, the two kids named Sara and Seth ask for him to drive towards the mountains and show him a large wad of cash. As long as they are paying for their ride, Jack is prepared to take them to their destination.
Meanwhile, the government has looked at footprints near the crash site and know that there are two humanoids that may have left the crash site. After combing through various videos throughout Nevada, the government is able to pick up an image of both Sara and Seth.
As Jack drives Sara and Seth to their destination, they are immediately pursued by the government officials who try to ram and pin Jack’s cab in order to get the kids but with Jack’s excellent driving skills, he manages to outwit the government officials. But he doesn’t realize that he’s getting some help by Sara and Seth who use their powers to stop the people who are pursuing them.
Jack manages to take the two kids to their destination in the middle of nowhere. The kids give him all their money but Jack feels they overpaid him. While attempting to give the money back, he realizes the kids are up to something and next thing you know, they end up in an underground area in which the US government has been using alien technology for top secret projects. The kids are able to find what they are looking for (an object that has kept the data on the project) but their joy is short lived as they discover a siphon is after them.
After escaping near death situations, Jack wants to know why there is someone trying to go after them. The two kids are a bit scared and not knowing if they can trust Jack but they reveal to him that they are from another planet. Skeptical as ever, the only way the kids can prove themselves is by showing their supernatural powers. Sara’s ability is that she is a telepath who can control objects with her mind, while Seth is able to phase through objects and become indestructible.
With Siphon and the US Government plus Jack’s former employer going after him and the kids, Jack will do whatever it takes to protect the children and enlists the aid of Dr. Alex Friedman. So, the race to Witch Mountain is on!
“Race to Witch Mountain” continues Disney’s dedication of a 3-Disc release with the Blu-ray, DVD version of the film and a Digital Copy.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Race to Witch Mountain” is featured in 1080p High Definition (with an aspect ratio of 2:40:1). Overall, picture quality is good but where many other Walt Disney films tend to utilize more daylight scenes, “Race to Witch Mountain” is shot indoors in dark spaces or outdoors during the night. There are daylight scenes but more the most part, you find the main characters trying to utilize darkness in order to give a sense of the group trying to hide out. So, for the most part, the film is not exactly vibrant or colorful but you can expect a lot of blacks and blues being utilized during the darker scenes in the film.
During the daylight scenes, there is a little softness (not by digital noise reduction) but picture quality is not as vibrant as other recently released live-action Disney-related films but I think the somewhat muted colors was a personal decision by cinematographer Greg Gardiner. But overall, picture quality is good, it’s just a film that leans more towards darkness with a lot of shadows.
As for audio quality, the audio is well done. The English 5.1 DTS-HD lossless soundtrack really capture the action. There were several scenes that I just had to replay because it really shook my living room (a scene where Jack and the kids are riding on the railroad tracks), there is serious LFE in this film and you can expect your subwoofer to be utilized. Where the dialogue is crisp and clear through the center and front channels, there is also a lot of surround and rear surround usage during the action scenes.
Frankly speaking, “Race to Witch Mountain” was quite pleasing to listen to. It’s an aggressive soundtrack and maybe not as aggressive as a film like “Transformers” or “Quantum of Solace” but still a lossless soundtrack that you can expect metal shrieking, car crashes and deep explosions that you can feel through seat. This is one of the most aggressive lossless soundtracks I have heard from Disney (for a live-action film) thus far.
Subtitles are featured in English SDH, French and Spanish.
“Race to Witch Mountain” comes with the following special features presented in HD and standard with English 2.0 Dolby Digital audio:
- Deleted Scenes – (23:21) Optional introduction by Director Andy Fickman, the following deleted scenes are featured: Intro, Extended Opening Ray’s, Extended Ray’s Telekinesis, Jack Beats Up Zacha, Tina Meets Siphon, Sara Foils Security Fence, Alex Foils Guard, Extended Goodbye Scene and the Original Ending. It’s important to note that the alternate ending which is literally an extended version is quite important and would build up to a sequel. Personally, the alternative ending would have worked but Director Andy Fickman decided to keep it simple which is understandable.
- Bloopers – (3:37) The blooper reel featuring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig and Garry Marshall having fun and messing up their lines.
- Backstage Disney – (8:20) Director Andy Fickman reveals hidden references to the original movies “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return from Witch Mountain” and other Disney tie-ins.
- Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on a Go – (1:04) Your typical Disney information trailer of what digital copy is.
With the recent release of “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return from Witch Mountain” on DVD, it was good to rewatch the classic films since so much time has passed since I watched those two films and prepare me for “Race to Witch Mountain”.
For the most part, “Race to Witch Mountain” has no similarities to the original with the exception that the antagonist are going after the children. And also, in this case, also Jack Bruno. The other major difference is that the children in “Escape to Witch Mountain” are orphans who just want a loving family and are blessed with supernatural abilities which they don’t know why. It’s not revealed of what they are until the end of the film, whereas “Race to Witch Mountain” reveals what the kids are right after the beginning and from then on the film becomes more action-based and a more aggressive cat vs. mouse type of film.
So, needless to say, the film is not the same type of film that children in the 1970′s grew up with. Where the older films were definitely crafted as innocent family films, “Race to Witch Mountain” is a film that was created to appeal to both children and adults. You know that with Dwayne Johnson, you’re going to see some major butt kicking and with these two extraterrestrial kids, really take advantage of their power and of course, with modern technology, definitely giving the film a much more modern spin to their powers, the look of their spacecraft and of course, everything looks quite slick.
It’s important to note that despite the film being much different than the previous two films, director Andy Fickman who was a big fan of the original knew that there should be some tie-in to the original. So, the original characters that played Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) in the first two films, have a significant part in this film rather than short few second cameos. Also, Fickman made sure to put a lot of references of the original film, in this new film as well (note: there is a special feature dedicated to director Andy Fickman showing the various homage paid to the original film).
For parents who are wondering if the film is safe, I watched this film with my six year old and we both enjoyed the film. If anything, its the aggressive soundtrack that I think that freaked him out (of course, I loved it) because there are plenty of explosions and action sequences that will utilize your home theater but might be a bit too much for the kids. There are scenes with the kids being manhandled by the alien Siphon and since it is an action film, there is many chase scenes and fighting. So, there is violence in that regard. But for the most part, the film doesn’t show any blood. In fact, despite the beating Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) goes through, he’s not bruised and bloody. Disney made sure the film is kept tame for families to watch.
Overall, I understand that if some parents who felt the wholesomeness of the original films has been thrown out the door with this new film “Race to Witch Mountain”. Personally, I enjoyed this film and enjoyed the hidden tie-ins of the original film and to see the original talent in this film… that was fun!
But this is a more action-driven film that focuses on a man who has had his troubles in the past, keeping his promise in making sure that these kids get to their destination. Of course, Dwayne Johnson’s Jack Bruno is no Eddie Albert’s Jason O’Day but there is a feeling of guardianship that both Jack and Dr. Alex Friedman feel for the children and are willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect them.
As for the Blu-ray release, “Race to Witch Mountain” sports one of the most aggressive Disney lossless soundtracks that I have heard so far. But it’s also important to note that the picture quality was good but not as magnificent and unlike other Disney releases on Blu-ray, there are far less special features included. But you do get the two other discs which include a DVD and a digital copy of the film.
“Race to Witch Mountain” is an enjoyable film and definitely a step forward in bringing the “Witch Mountain” to a more modern time for today’s audiences. But for those who enjoyed “Escape to Witch Mountain”, personally I feel that director Andy Fickman did the best thing by leaving the original alone and let that film be known for its merit and not copy it but showing his own respect for the original film film his way and it worked. I can also understand those who loved the originals, as they were more character driven, feel-good family storylines whereas this film goes in another direction and focuses primarily on the action. And it’s also important to note that the sequel “Return from Witch Mountain” is also a film that is very different from the original film and a bit more darker in its storyline as well. So, in a way all three “Witch Mountain” films are quite different in presentation but yet they all retain a sense of family, it’s just presented differently.
Overall, “Race to Witch Mountain” is a fun, enjoyable film definitely worth recommending!
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