Race To Witch Mountain [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (6th August 2009).
The Film

The most electrifying man in sports entertainment dominated my adolescent years as "The People’s Champion" by laying the smacketh down on any candy ass that dared step into the ring with The Rock. Even though he has left the wrestling ring for acting, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s acting talent has existed ever since he first stepped into the ring as the sqeaky clean face Rocky Maivia, through his run with the Nation and role as "The People’s Champ" and carried over into his acting career. Even in the worst movies, just his presence and ability to deliver a key line can keep me interested. When he started turning to children’s movies it was a bit upsetting, since I expected him to keep up his action trend that merged his acting talent with his peak wrestling conditioning. After “Southland Tales” (2008) proved that he could be a good actor with any role he faced, I was more trusting and “Race to Witch Mountain” (2009) doesn’t prove me wrong. Though he’s dropped ‘The Rock,’ Dwayne Johnson continues to be one of the most watchable actors currently working, pulling me through the dredges of this big budget Disney sci-fi.

Based on the earlier “Witch Mountain” series (1975-1982) by Disney, “Race” follows two more alien children who have crash landed on Earth. This time around they are joined by Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), a cab driver with gambling debts, who finds himself in the middle of a chase between the two aliens, the U.S. Government and an alien assassin out to stop their mission. Narrowly escaping both, they manage to rescue a piece of alien technology from a pimped out fridge in the middle of the Nevada desert. Demanding more information, Jack discovers that these aliens are attempting to seek a peaceful resolution to a conflict of whether or not their planet should invade and attack Earth by recovering a piece of alien technology from an experiment set up by their parents. In order to find their ship to return them home, Bruno looks for help from a scientist (Carla Gugino) at a local UFO convention, but runs into problems escaping the government, the alien assassin, and a mobster that Jack owes money.

My initial opinion holds completely true: Dwayne Johnson is incredibly watchable and deals with the corniest of lines with "The People’s Acting Talent". All the cornball action and family friendly Vegas encounters seem to run smoothly under his watch, but nearly every time it cuts away from any scene with the rock the film’s strength drops threefold. The two child actors, AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig, play the part of aliens not being particularly human by not really acting at all. Both of them are either too stiff or awkward in their scenes to be enjoyable, unless Johnson is around to give some good reaction shots and lines. Carla Gugino had a big two weeks in 2009 by following up “Watchmen” with “Race to Witch Mountain” at the top of the box office, but her acting is thankfully better matched with her performance as the younger Silk Spectre rather than her older (and poorly made-up) self.

I’ve never seen the original "Witch Mountain" movies, but in terms of continuity it honestly doesn’t matter. The story about two aliens needing rescuing from government forces is a pretty basic plot for any family sci-fi movie, and this movie doesn’t stray far from the typical course of action, though with slightly less product placement than “Mac and Me” (1988). The dialogue and narrative parts of the plot are there to get you where you need to go, with some funny lines thrown in by Johnson every now and then.

From a visual standpoint the movie is actually a feat for Disney in not blowing insane amounts of money on special effects. At $50 million, it’s hard to call the budget an exercise in restraint, but for Disney I’ll be generous. Though many of the CG effects are cheesy, they actually blend in well and the thankful practical costuming on the alien assassin looks like a “Guvyer” (1990) imitator. Director Andy Fickman’s resume is a little odd and inconsistent before, ranging from tame Disney or teen comedies to “Reefer Madness” (2005), but he seems to understand the essentials of what the film should look like and adds a nice touch to the entirety of the film by treating the action and sci-fi sequences seriously rather than full on Disney camp.

Overall, “Race to Witch Mountain” is one of the better live-action children’s sci-fi movies to come out of Disney in some time. The child acting is really poor, but Dwayne Johnson balances it all out for me (but I am a pretty ardent fan of his, buying even his autobiography “The Rock Says…” (2000)). The biggest surprise was probably the visual style of the film that is far more ambitious than I would have expected. In terms of wrestlers turning to children’s films it’s above and beyond any of Hulk Hogan’s missteps, but I still would love to see Johnson take on some more serious dramatic roles, I honestly think he could pull it off.

Video

Presented in 1080p 24/fps with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and AVC MPEG-4 encoding, the film looks really crisp and clear, as it should in high-definition, but doesn’t try to come across as too sharp and squeaky clean like the overly photoshopped cover would have you believe. Fickman’s directing did surprise me and it may have contributed a bit with the combination of llighting and production design that give the film far more weight than I expected. There are some moments where the lighting and grain get a bit off, or the odd moment of CG popping out from the background, but the amount of practical set design and effects is pleasantly surprising and shows up well in Blu-ray.

Audio

The disc includes audio tracks in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 at 48kHz/24-bit, as well as optional French, Mandarin. Portuguese, Spanish and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio. The DTS-HD audio sounds good, bringing together the explosions and Dwayne Johnson’s masterful dialogue. The levels tend to emphasize the effects work over the rest of the sound, which makes sense for a big sci-fi/action production, but can be a bit much when you’re trying to pay attention to Dwayne Johnson’s dialogue. However this is mostly a problem when you’re trying not to disturb neighbors, so pumping up the volume to take the entire thing in isn’t out of the question if you have the opportunity and ability.
There are English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese, 3 different Chinese (my player doesn’t specify dialect, but there are three separate options and they’re all specified in Chinese on the menu), Thai, Korean, Bhasa and Malaysian subtitles.

Extras

The 3-disc set is another showing of compatability by Disney, bringing together deleted scenes, bloopers, a featurette and bonus trailer as well as a digital copy of the film. Short on special features (I could have used a Dwayne Johnson commentary) but heavy on trailers.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“Which Mountain?” runs for 8 minutes and 20 seconds, this brief featurette is the only Blu-ray exclusive and comes about as close to a making of as the set will get. This featurette covers the little references and nods to other Disney films within the film. It starts out with a bunch of different behind the scenes looks at how the film was made, but that’s about all. Though it’s fun to see the different references thrown into the film, it’s a nice featurette that seems wasted in Blu-ray exclusivity rather than a part of a larger behind-the-scenes look. It doesn’t help that all of the scenes and introductions are in standard, DVD level, resolution.

Bloopers runs for 3 minutes and 38 seconds. A generic blooper reel made better by the presence of Dwayne Johnson.

There are 9 deleted scenes in all, with an introduction by directorAndy Fickman. Together they run for 23 minutes and 21 seconds, or individually described below:

- “Intro” runs for 38 seconds, Fickman explains the purpose of deleted scenes.
- “Extended Opening Rays” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds, Fickman says the scene was cut due to too much comedy, it’s an extended scene of Jack and the kids walking in to the diner.
- “Extended Ray’s Telekinesis” runs for 3 minutes and 15 seconds, Fickman again says it’s too comedic, the kids mess with Jack’s mind in the diner.
- “Jack Beats up Zacha” runs for 1 minute and 40 seconds, Fickman says that the scene didn’t end up making sense, Jack and the kids escape the diner and run into a fight.
- “Tina Meets Siphon” runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, Fickman explains the scene ruined the pacing, Siphon meets up with Tina in the parking lot.
- “Sarah Foils Security Fence” runs for 1 minute and 41 seconds, Fickman says this was one of the last scenes cut, Sarah opens up the last barrier between the group and Witch Mountain.
- “Alex Foils Guard” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds, Fickman says this scene was a bad tonal shift, Alex woos the guard using a southern accent.
- “Extended Goodbye Scene” runs for 5 minutes and 31 seconds, Fickman points out pacing as the problem, a longer version of the goodbye between Alex, Jack and the kids.
- “Original Tag” runs for 5 minutes and 47 seconds, Fickman says this scene could have been an alternate ending, another version of the ending of the panel, but with more nods to the government.

Bonus trailers for:

- “DisneyFile Digital Copy: Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go” runs for 1 minute and 4 seconds. This is basically an ad/instructional video for digital copy.
- “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Diamond Edition” runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds.
- “The Princess and the Frog” runs for 1 minute and 16 seconds.
- “Hannah Montana: The Movie” runs for 1 minute 45 seconds.
- “Disney Blu-Ray” spot runs for 58 seconds.
- “Disney Movie Rewards” spot runs for 20 seconds.
- “Ponyo” runs for 1 minute and 32 seconds.
- “Earth” runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds.
- “UP” runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.
- “Santa Buddies” runs for 51 seconds.
- “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds.
- “Disney Parks” spot runs for 32 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

The deleted scenes, bloopers and the “DisneyFile Digital Copy: Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go” spot items are the exact same as on the previous disc.

“Dylan and Cole Sprouse: Blu-Ray is Suite!” runs for 5 minutes and 57 seconds and is more of an promo spot ad for Blu-ray rather than any real sort of featurette.

Bonus trailers for:

- “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on Blu-ray runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds.
- “The Princess and the Frog” runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds.
- “Hannah Montana: The Movie” runs for 1 minute 39 seconds.
- “Disney Blu-ray” spot runs for 1 minute and 11 seconds.
- “Disney Movie Rewards” spot runs for 18 seconds.
- “Disney XD” spot runs for 30 seconds.
- “Ponyo” runs for 1 minute and 32 seconds.
- “Earth” runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds.
- “UP” runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.
- “Santa Buddies” runs for 51 seconds.
- “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds.
- “Disney Parks” spot runs for 32 seconds.

DISC THREE:

This disc is simply a digital copy of the film.

Packaging

Packaged in a 3-disc Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: D Overall: B-

 


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