Blu-ray Review: Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

Now Available to Own

Apple iTunes

Photo Slideshow

Check Out the Original Titles

Bookmark this on Delicious
submit to reddit
Print Page


MovieBlips: vote it up!

Before the film's version of the literal race to Witch Mountain began, I was fully engaged in the movie... for twenty minutes that is which can attributed to the charm of Dwayne Johnson. Formerly known as "The Rock," Johnson has proven that he has the ability to keep you watching as the only single entertaining aspect of the butchered Get Shorty sequel Be Cool and in some of his scene-stealing moments opposite Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell in Get Smart.

Additionally to his credit, he finally scored a hit with kids and parents alike in the familiarly plotted yet admirably refreshing Disney film The Game Plan which nicely switched up the tradition of the dividing line of gender in bonding rituals with the cute premise of a football player who discovers he has a young daughter.

And normally, signing on for another film with his Game Plan director Andy Fickman would've been a smart move since clearly the two work well together. Sure enough this is proven right from the start as we encounter Johnson's Jack Bruno-- a down-on-his-luck Las Vegas cab driver-- in Witch Mountain's terrific opening sequence which finds him shutttling science fiction/fantasy fans dressed as Storm Troopers and UFO believers to "a nut job convention." Yet unfortunately after endearing him to audiences, Fickman and the post-production crew bury Johnson in CGI sensory overload.

Essentially the movie is so busy racing to distract with effects that it doesn't bother investing a whole lot of time ensuring we're engaged in the race that soon follows when two adorably blonde teenage siblings (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) mysteriously appear in the backseat of Bruno's taxi.

After a series of out of this world events and escaping government agents who want to drag the teens in as living X-Files when it becomes apparent that they're not of this planet, Bruno protects the kids in his quest to deliver them safely to Witch Mountain.

Those familiar with the original Disney '70s classics will recall that-- despite growing in popularity as years have gone by--the first Mountain tales weren't overly compelling either but the major plus they offered viewers that this one doesn't was an emphasis on story over what largely feels like a film that was purely designed as a theme park ride substitute.

Furthermore it risks headaches with an overly chaotic score that sounds as though it would've worked best as a standalone composition for Disney Hall since when placed together with the action, it provides an intense enough distraction that I was reminded of that great, illogical line from Amadeus wherein Mozart's sheet music was criticized for having "too many notes." Simply put, the music is way too insistent and moreover sounds like an audio impression of an essay punctuated solely with exclamation points that exhaust us before we've even reached the halfway mark of the movie.

Yet despite the fact that Fickman's work will definitely appeal to fans of the originals for at least one viewing to spot all of the in-jokes, references, and cameos from original stars Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, this update makes you realize that Race was not just part of the title but the tone for the piece.

Par for Disney, the Blu-ray does boast a crystal clear presentation of the movie and you won't find any complaints about the soundtrack or audio other than perhaps wanting to turn the volume lower. However, one surprise that was perhaps more magnified by the presentation on Blu-ray was in the production's over-usage of blue-screen technology.

To explain-- typically green screens have been the color of choice to use for any instances when computers or other footage will be inserted into the background and this is a practice which has actually been used to extremes in work like The Spirit(for the negative) and Sin City (for the positive). However, Fickman's decision to opt for the blue screen is curious since at times this color within the technology can create a visual blue halo effect onscreen, especially in the flesh tones and other outlines.

And when it came to Mountain, that's exactly what happened. For, without even realizing that he'd employed this technology, I began making notes while I screened the disc that referenced having trouble making out some of the darkly lit sequences. Likewise, I first wrote a full sentence complaint with a question mark regarding the blue halo effect and then began to make check marks every time this same hue showed up again wondering if it perhaps was a specific style choice or instead simply the result of the blue screen.

However, it began to appear more prominently as the group races towards the final act but again I kept thinking it could've been employed precisely to add a retro throwback feel that fit in with other devices used from the original movies including the famous replica of the Winnebago. Yet, eventually in one of the bonus features, the abundance of blue-screens was revealed and this visual decision wasn't included anywhere in the director's behind-the-scenes featurette wherein he took great pains to point out every single in-joke and intentional reference of the era.

Thus, Witch Mountain has sadly become the first Disney Blu-ray that hasn't managed to ace its visual presentation due to some clarity concerns which again ironically I would not have noticed quite so strongly in the fewer pixel DVD format... and it seems as though it was a problem that may have been in the theatrical print and apparent from the start.

Yet for those who did enjoy the film much more than I did, you'll be thrilled to learn that it's been released as one of the studio's ever-popular Combo Packs that contain not just the Blu-ray but an original DVD of the film (which indeed did hide the blue hue a bit more) as well as a digital DisneyFile copy for fans to download onto their Mac or PC formatted portable devices.*

Moreover, while Fickman's heart was undeniably in the right place and as a fellow Disney lover, I applaud all of the little touches like casting the actress who portrayed Natty Gann as reporter Natalie Gann etc., overall it's the audio and visual equivalent of a computer that ultimately crashes when the user tries to open every single program in an effort to keep us from getting bored for even one second.

And although with this much chaos, you may not be able to nod off due to the noise but inevitably your brain just shuts off quickly into the movie in a way that it doesn't in superior fare from the exact same studio. Nonetheless, I have to hand it to Dwayne Johnson since for at least a little bit, I was thoroughly enjoying the Vegas cab ride, until that silly race began.

* Note: And in further exciting news, the Combo Packs have become so beloved due to the budget pricing of receiving a movie in 3 formats (which would normally run a buyer more than $70) not to mention the ability to play your favorite film no matter where you are that the studio announced this week that the limited-edition sets will continue to be offered well into 2010.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.