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Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/4/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/5/2009

For years, when we've thought of Walt Disney Studios, animated films have immediately sprung to mind, and the company has certainly released their share of feature-length animated movies. However, that philosophy hasn't always been the case. In the 1960s and 1970s, the bulk of Disney releases were live-action films, most of which were light-hearted family comedies, such as The Apple Dumpling Gang or the Herbie series. However, Disney was known to dabble in other genres and so they released Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975 and Return from Witch Mountain in 1978, both of which were decidedly in the science-fiction/adventure category (albeit lightly so). Over 30 years later, Disney has decided to return to this series with Race to Witch Mountain. Is there still any magic left in the tank?

Race to Witch Mountain opens with what appears to be a meteor falling to Earth and exploding in the desert. The action then shifts to Las Vegas, where we meet cab-driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), a former thief who is now on the straight-and-narrow. One of his first fares of his shift is Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who is attending a conference on alien life forms and UFOs. Following this, Jack is surprised to find two tweens, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), sitting in his cab. They hand him a large amount of cash and ask him to drive them into the desert. Jack is reluctant to do this, but he can't refuse such a large fare. Soon, the cab is being pursued by Henry Burke (Cirian Hinds), a shady government agent who specializes in extraterrestrial life. It seems that Sara and Seth are more than they appear to be, and Burke and his men will stop at nothing to get them. Jack now finds himself responsible for the safety of the kids and he turns to Dr. Friedman for help.

As with the original film, Race to Witch Mountain is suggested by the 1968 novel by Alexander Key. One of the great things about Escape to Witch Mountain is its sense of mystery. When we meet the two youngsters in that film, named Tony and Tia, we see that they have special powers, but no explanation is given and even the kids don't know how they can do the things which they do. It's not until the third act that the children and the audience learn that they are aliens. This brings a very interesting twist to what is already an entertaining film.

That isn't the case with Race to Witch Mountain. From the opening credits, which are filled with UFO footage, we know that we are dealing with a story about extraterrestrials. There is no attempt at suspense or mystery concerning that subject. In fact, the movie takes an oddly non-chalant approach to this fact.

What we are left with is a decidedly bombastic action film which feels like one long chase scene. I don't know how long Jack, Seth, and Sara are actually in the cab, but it feels like hours. As they are chased across the desert, the vehicle is wrecked several times, but they simply repair it and keep going. Thankfully, they finally exit the cab during the last act of the movie.

Looking back on Race to Witch Mountain, I struggle to see what the film's appeal, or that matter, main goal, were. There is zero character development here. We learn that Jack used to be a car thief, that Seth and Sara are aliens, and the Dr. Friedman struggles for acceptance, and that's about it. The movie doesn't contain much levity, which is a shame because Johnson has shown that he can be funny. No one over the age of 10 will find any suspense in the movie and the action scenes leave much to be desired.

What does Race to Witch Mountain have? Violence. I was very surprised by just how violent this PG-rated film is. There are car wrecks, gun fights, fist fights, explosions, and a Terminator-like robot-thing which crushes everything in its path. I usually find myself discussing movies which stretch the boundaries of the PG-13, but this one surely runs amok over the PG criteria. If you have any concerns, I would recommend screening this one for yourselves before watching it with the kids.

Sure, looking back, Escape to Witch Mountain is sort of cheesy and dated. But, it remains a nicely whimsical film and it's that rare sci-fi piece which can be enjoyed by everyone. Race to Witch Mountain wants to be that kind of movie, but it quickly devolves into a familiar and boring Summertime blockbuster mold. Loud and flash, Race to Witch Mountain never shows any emotional core.

Race to Witch Mountain hassles Cheech Marin on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, and the imag is never overly dark or bright. The pictures shows a nice amount of detail and the depth, most notably in the landscape shots, if very good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, most notably in the crowd scenes. The action scenes may be too violent for this film, but they provide great surround sound action. The subwoofer effects are excellent and really had the walls shaking. Overall, a nice technical package.

The Race to Witch Mountain Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The Disc offers nine DELETED SCENES which, including introductions by Director Andy Fineman, run about 23 minutes. Most of the scenes are brief -- Fineman's intros run longer than the scenes. The only really interesting moments involve some extended endings. The Disc has a 4-minute Blooper reel. In "Which Mountain?" (8 minutes), Fineman discusses some nods to the original Witch Mountain which are hidden in the film, as well as some references to other Disney movies.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long