Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson steers Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain our way as an adolescent escapist adventure stripped down from its outdated and more grounded quasi-inspiration, 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain. It is Jerry Bruckheimer for kids; illogical in every sense and carried by a brooding overly charismatic star with car chases designed to put an insurance agent into cardiac arrest. Today’s youth should feel insulted but are more apt to be thoroughly entertained by Johnson’s charm and flashy visual effects.
What better way to grab a kid’s attention than kick-start with a crashing spaceship and massive government hunt for its bipedal alien passengers (Alexander Ludwig and AnnaSophia Robb) making a beeline to Las Vegas. The set-up is strong, until the aliens reveal themselves as predictably emotionless pale blond teenage kids delivering dialogue with blinders to a broader vocabulary. Hardly a stretch for Robb who has proven her acting chops before in Bridge to Terabithia, but certainly a momentum killer after the satisfactory opening.
Aside from locating a MacGuffin, the kids are merely tools to agitate and reform Jack Bruno (Johnson), a shady cab driver who by happenstance finds the kids hiding out in his back seat after proclaiming earlier the same day that aliens do not exist in front of a Vegas UFO convention. “The Rock” elicits some laughs as he negatively reacts to the nonsensical words coming from his passengers, then flips his name like a flapjack to become a “softie” when he learns the truth and flashes smiles at outcast astrophysicist Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino). Johnson doesn’t do anything wrong with the role per se, but its lack of depth gives him little to work with other than footnote reactions to what transpires around him.
It is always sweet to see a man with biceps bigger than most mens’ chest turn sentimental, but not so much a man dressed in a rubber suit as an alien bounty hunter in pursuit of the kids that makes Power Ranger enemies look like ILM creations. “The Rock” needs someone to duke it out with other than FBI guys in black outfits because as Bruckheimer films have taught producers: the more bang you insert, the more buck you get in return. While there is plenty of “bang” strewn throughout Race to Witch Mountain, its inspiration tells a more intelligent, if visually outdated tale.
Disney offers up Race to Witch Mountain on Blu-ray in 2.4:1 1080p video via an AVC-encoded transfer whose quality eclipses that of the film but cannot be counted as one of the studio’s best. There are bright colors and sharp visuals at times, but much of the film taking place in Bruno’s cab appears muted or deliberately toned down. Some of the busier sequences suffer from brief minute stints of edge enhancement and black crush, descriptors not often used when referencing a Disney Blu-ray release.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track compliments the film’s chase structure perfectly. Effects noise including explosions, crashes and otherworldly sounds are deep and expansive across all channels. Dialogue steers mostly clear of not drowning out during the action. If anything the audio mix is a tad on the overdone side which incidentally compliments the film’s goal perfectly.
D-BOX Motion Code
By declaring Race to Witch Mountain is Bruckheimer for kids you should correctly assume there are some great D-BOX moments in this film. The first sequence comes as Bruno meets his passengers’ law enforcement pursuers for the first time on the open desert road. Ebbs and flows of cars revving coupled with metal crashing together are always a fun combination, capped with a violent collision that brings the chase to an end with an accompanying jolt from D-BOX.
Bruno and the kids’ first encounter with the bounty hunter also deliver some solid D-BOX movements once an underground cavern begins to implode. There is far more vibration here than the car chase, a nice change of pace for varied interactive sensations. The scene does not make total sense but there is no mistaking D-BOX’s presence in increasing the immersion of running for your life.
Aerial pursuit of Bruno’s cab and the inevitable appearance of an airborne flying saucer offer more freeing moments from subtle back and forth swaying of the chair. There is also hand-to-hand combat and more vehicle collisions mixed in to break the calm and supplement the Bruckheimer-esque action.
Director Andy Fickman put more effort into inserting nods to the original Witch Mountain films than Disney into offering a robust Blu-ray Disc release. There are no commentary tracks, documentaries or fun games for the film’s audience, kids! Just over 35 minutes of material are included, a third of which exclusive to Blu-ray and another third excessively talky introductions to deleted scenes.
Deleted Scenes (23:21) – Optional director introductions take up roughly half of these scenes and are better left out. Equally distracting is the 480i resolution which is a far cry from the finished film in high definition. To give you an idea of how unnecessary these scenes and extensions are, I had forgotten them by the time the “play all” function wrapped up.
Bloopers (3:37) – A typical kid-friendly blooper reel with lots of spontaneous laughing in the middle of scenes.
Backstage Disney (8:20, HD) – Owners of the DVD version miss out on this, easily the best supplement on the disc. Director Andy Fickman points out references to the original movies Escape to and Return From Witch Mountain as well as Disney and UFO watchers communities.
Race to Witch Mountain is a mindless film of marginal quality given an equally marginal Blu-ray Disc treatment. With two discs dedicated to a digital copy and DVD version and the feature disc including a quarter of typical bonus features offered for a new release Disney film, there isn’t much value in this deceptively slim package. Ironically there isn’t much to get excited about in the film, either.
– Dan Bradley