Between escaping, returning, and racing, Judge Kent Dixon really can't figure out which Witch is which.
Sara: My brother and I, we're not from your planet. Jack: Well, you don't look like aliens. Sara: What's an alien look like? Jack: You know what aliens look like! They're like little green people with antennas, and 'Take me to your leader, Earthlings!'
Another entry in Hollywood's apparent quest to remake nearly every movie before 2000, Race to Witch Mountain is not so much a remake as a contemporary approach to familiar material.
Facts of the Case
Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson, The Game Plan) leads a relatively mundane life, at least until he picks up Dr. Alexa Friedman (Carla Guigino, Watchmen) and drops her off at a UFO convention. The next day while driving through the desert, two children, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig, The Seeker: Dark is Rising), suddenly appear in the back of his cab. With his life now tied to the children, protecting them from mysterious pursuers, Jack Bruno is in for the adventure of a lifetime that will literally be out of this world (sorry!).
The '70s were a prolific time for Walt Disney films, particularly the live-action variety. In all, the company produced 29 live action features between 1970 and 1979, including Herbie Rides Again, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Freaky Friday, and the Witch Mountain films. Race to Witch Mountain is neither a reboot of the '70s franchise, nor a direct remake of the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, but more of a new take on a familiar world.
Based on the 1968 novel by Alexander key, Race abandons the majority of the previous films' plots and even character names, in favor of a new approach to the source material. While the story still involves two mysterious children from another world, the new film hypes the sci-fi connection right from the film's opening credit sequence, leaving none of that story element to be revealed later. That immediate reveal removes some of the mystery and wonder that came later in the first film, but also freed the filmmakers to dive right into the other-worldly exposition, action and special effects.
As odd as the pairing may seem at first, Dwayne Johnson and Carla Guigino make a pretty decent romantic and comedic team and fortunately, there is just enough time for the chemistry to build in the film's final act that you may actually see the possibility of a franchise here. The cast also includes impressive names like Ciarán Hinds (Rome), Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) and Cheech Marin (Up In Smoke), none of whom are wasted in the film and in fact, they may be responsible for elevating the film above the B-movie level. Actors Iake Eissinman and Kim Richards, who played the children Tony and Tia in Escape to Witch Mountain, appear in Race as a sheriff and waitress respectively, who help Seth and Sara escape their pursuers. Although the roles are short, they are surprisingly well developed, giving the Witch alumni a suitable turn in the new film.
Watching Escape to Witch Mountain again in preparation for this review, it's easy to see how significantly movie going audiences have changed in the past 34 years. From the start of the film, Race has promise and hits the ground running with a high-energy soundtrack and the Walt Disney castle morphing into the shadow outline of a mountain. The score continues through the opening credit sequence and you're left with a feeling that this just might be a really special movie that will still mean something to you in 30-some-odd years like Escape to Witch Mountain has managed.
Sadly, it doesn't take too long before you begin to realize that, aside from some great performances by a few select cast members who make the most of what they're given to work with, Race to Witch Mountain turns out to be little more than a paper tiger. There's also very little tension in the film as the children's powers can handle any threat, and aside from some stereotypically inept government agents and mob thugs, there's no real sense of danger or tension. Where Escape to Witch Mountain spent more time on character development and plot, Race to Witch Mountain seems to spend more time and budget on impressing the audience with action and effects; that said, there is some nice eye candy here to be sure.
Much of the film takes place at night, dusk and inside dark locations, so while the visual presentation is impressive at times, demonstrating noticeable definition and clarity, much of the HD experience is lost in the shadows. If you're considering the film for purchase, you'll likely find the standard DVD release will do just fine, but consider giving it a rental first. The audio presentation varies between dialog-centric scenes and intense action, with very little middle ground, so while the presentation makes impressive use of all channels, you'll likely find yourself adjusting the volume more than a few times.
Disney's three-disc release of Race includes that ridiculous extra feature known as the digital copy. I understand that by offering legit digital copies of films, studios hope to limit piracy and control the quality of their product as it hits the streets, but consumers should really be given the option of paying for the digital copy option or not. This release also includes a fairly sizeable offering of more than 23 minutes of deleted scenes that include some interesting content, but ultimately aren't missed from the film at all. "Which Mountain?" is the only extra feature of any real value, presented in HD and exclusive to Blu-ray. Hosted by the director, this featurette identifies the nods and easter eggs hidden throughout the film that pay homage to the original Witch films. In most cases, you'd have to be a creepy uber-fan to get most of these references and nods, but they're interesting to hear about. A short blooper reel of decidedly unfunny moments rounds out the supplements. Disney has also included a standard DVD version of the film with this release, as weird a choice as the inclusion of the digital copy in my opinion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My main gripe about the film lies with the central villain, an extraterrestrial bounty hunter known only as Siphon, who is bred to kill and will stop at nothing to stop the children at any cost. The design meetings for this character must have either been rushed or a complete afterthought, otherwise who in their right mind would have thought that a cross between Predator and Robocop was an original concept?
Despite reservations about the film's plot and character development, I wouldn't be against seeing this film develop into a two or three-film franchise. With an international gross of more than $100.2 million, perhaps a sequel isn't out of the question.
Race to Witch Mountain may be a cookie-cutter film in some respects,
but it's still a relatively fun outing that's suitable for family viewing.
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