Race to Witch Mountain (US - BD RA)
Gabe spends the entire film waiting for the Rock to fist fight a coven of witches...
Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), a down on his luck Las Vegas cabbie, finds himself trapped in the weirdo excesses of a UFO convention, driving rude costumed players and wacky scientists around town. One day two Aryan children suddenly appear in the back of his taxi with a large wad of cash, demanding he drive them to the outskirts of town. It turns out that these kids, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), are even stranger than they first appeared. In fact, they’re aliens, and they’re being chased by a government official named Major Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds). After a few close calls with an alien assassin and Burke’s men, Jack becomes a reluctant ally, and the race is on.
I have a vague memory of adoring the original Witch Mountain series as a kid, but I come to this remake with almost no memory of the actual film. I suppose that’s a good thing, it avoids the unfair comparisons. Unfair comparisons are plentiful, however, concerning this new film’s modern action tone. It’s basically Jerry Bruckheimer for kids. Well, except the fact that Bruckheimer produced Kangaroo Jack, but you know what I mean. Think Enemy of the State meets The Day the Earth Stood Still, with a dash of typical Disney live action. In other words, even for a remake, this is somewhat surprisingly unoriginal stuff, and pretty hard to recommend on any storytelling merit.
The good bits are pretty much exclusive to the visceral thrills of the film’s relatively constant chase. Besides homage to the original film, there are cues aimed at 2001, The Andromeda Strain, and all matter of ‘60s and ‘70s chase and espionage flicks. It’s all in good fun. Director Andy Fickman has some impressive control over suspense and action, especially for a guy who specialized in silly sex-comedy and actionless kiddy flicks up until this point. Besides this general grasp of editing and geography, Fickman fills the screen with a lot of flashy colours, and isn’t afraid to make things just a little abstract, evoking a bit of the old fashion ‘50s Sci-Fi smoke and mirrors.
Tough guy enthusiasts would rather see Dwayne Johnson doing more adult, or at least PG-13 action fare, but his talents are far from wasted in this particular slice of children's entertainment. Actually, fans could draw realistic-ish comparisons between this character and Johnson’s character in The Rundown (he could’ve changed his name and location). Johnson is funny without insulting himself, and fills the role of straight man admirably enough. Let’s get him some good work now. Just as important as Johnson’s success in a leadership role, the two kid leads are charmingly low-key, and the supporting cast is filled with the likes of Ciarán Hinds, Carla Gugino, Garry Marshall, Cheech Marin, and Chris Marquette, all of whom bring at least a B-game.
Unsurprisingly, based on vintage, budget, and all around visual tone, Race to Witch Mountain looks nearly perfect. The print is not entirely consistent, as the really dark scenes feature more than a little fine grain, but overall things are very crisp, very clean, and very colourful. Director Andy Fickman takes full advantage of digital grading technology, and almost every sequence is colour coded differently from the last. These colours are full and solid without any compression noise, and pop nicely against the few constants, like the yellow of the cab. Edge-enhancement is basically nonexistent, though some of the higher contrast whites do bloom slightly (likely an effective limitation of the cameras over the technology. As stated, grain is an issue, but no more so than any similar release. The clarity is such that the less than highest end digital effects are clearly not a part of the scene’s reality, especially green screen driving scenes.
Also unsurprisingly this DTS-MA track is impressive enough to give the system a good workout. The important things like dialogue and basic sound effects are even and consistent throughout, and augmented nicely by a whole lot of surround channel work. The car crashes are just as crunchy and the bullet hits just as punchy as anything found in any ‘adult’ action movie, and the directional effects all work as intended. The LFE effects are occasionally overwhelming, but that can be turned down manually. Bruckheimer favourite composer Trevor Rabin’s score is really over-the-top throughout the film, but it’s perfect for the film’s somewhat goofy and over-done tone. The music is mostly diverted to the front channels, with an echo channel in the rear, but the mix itself is impressively loud without overwhelming the dialogue.
Race to Witch Mountain hasn’t been given the full-on Disney Blu-ray treatment, but it does feature a few entertaining extras. Things start with nine deleted and extended scenes (23:00, SD). Each scene features an introduction from director Andy Fickman, who explains why each scene was deleted from the final cut. Most of the cuts were made for tonal reasons, and most were taken from the same sequence in the film. This is followed by a gag reel (03:30, SD). Many of these gags are taken from the deleted scenes. The final extra, besides some teaser trailers, is a guide to the Easter Egg references to the original films entitled ‘Which Mountain’ (08:20, SD). This is an interesting enough featurette, but one can’t help but notice that Disney missed a great chance at an in-movie experience mode where the references would be highlighted with descriptions.
With low expectations firmly in place I found myself enjoying a single viewing of Race to Witch Mountain. The film is entirely referential in its treatment, but the action is genuinely exhilarating, the photography is colourful, and the acting is solid throughout. This is a good place for the kiddies to start their journey into more adult action fare, and hopefully gives them an early taste for classic chase flicks. The extras are pretty minor in scope and length, but the video quality is top tier, and the audio is full of delightfully crunchy car chasing and laser blasting.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 4th August 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Which Mountain, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Ciarán Hinds
Genre: Action, Adventure and Family
Length: 98 minutes
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