Race to Witch Mountain (Blu-ray) (2008)

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Released 24-Aug-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family Main Menu Audio & Animation-Animated control panel, plus music and audio effects.
Deleted Scenes-(23:17) Nine sequences, 480i and 4x3, 1.78:1 and 2.35 :1.
Outtakes-(3:37) 480i, 2.35 :1 and 4x3 transfer.
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 98:17
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Andy Fickman
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Dwayne Johnson
Annasophia Robb
Alexander Ludwig
Carla Gugino
CiarŠn Hinds
Tom Everett Scott
Chris Marquette
Billy Brown
Case 6 Clip and Ring
RPI $39.95 Music Trevor Rabin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (1920Kb/s)
English for the Hearing Impaired Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
French DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (1920Kb/s)
Spanish DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (1920Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Icelandic
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Crash landing of spacecraft

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††††Dwayne Johnson has certainly come a long way†since his wrestling days. As The Rock his mighty frame burst through the screen in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. Last year he was comically impressive as Agent 23 in Get Smart. He†has†recently†emerged as Disney's good guy leading man, a place in popular cinema that once was held by the likes of Fred MacMurray and Dean Jones. In the past twelve months we have seen the canny actor host the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, pop up in guest spots on Hannah Montana and make a box office killing with The Game Plan. Now firmly established as a favourite of the pre-teens, Johnson has starred in this Disney reworking of the 1968 novel by†Alexander Key.

††† Back in 1975 Disney made their first feature based on Key's novel. This was Escape to Witch Mountain, with the adult stars Eddie Albert, Ray Milland and Donald Pleasence. Following this success 1978 gave us Return from Witch Mountain, this time featuring Bette Davis and Christopher Lee. Thirty years later our newest Witch Mountain star is re-united with his The Game Plan director, Andy Fickman. Aimed at†a pre-teen audience, there really is little here to delight them, and even less to keep any accompanying adult entertained.

††† Dwayne Johnson†plays Las Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno, whose main aim in life is to avoid†returning to†jail while past associates from "the mob" forcefully urge him to continue to drive their getaway cars. Jack's yellow cab has seen better days, and his motel accommodation is decidedly grotty. He cruises the dazzling Vegas streets, picking up a mixed bag of passengers, including two Star Wars†geeks attending an interplanetary convention, and† discredited astrophysicist Dr Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who is speaking at the same convention. Jack also has two teenage passengers who mysteriously "appear" on his back seat. It is no spoiler to say from the outset that these two are alien siblings, whose spacecraft has crash landed in the desert. In the 1975 original the identities of these two young "persons" was gradually revealed, giving an air of mystery to the entire film. Here we know from the start what they are, and the film loses something because of that. These two blonde youngsters, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) hire Jack to drive them to an old shack out in the desert. In no time Jack is following the poker faced teens into the shack, through a refrigerator, and†into a strange underground cavern - looking very much like a cheesy set from Lost in Space. We soon discover that Sara and Seth have to get back to their spaceship, held at a government secret facility at Witch Mountain, and retrieve a device that their planet needs to survive. Jack is enlisted to help them, but there is opposition† from† US officialdom, lead by Department of Defense head Ciaran Hinds, whose instructions are to capture the duo for surgical "examination". There is also an interstellar assassin, Siphon†(Tom Woodruff),†out to obtain the device for evil forces, and in so doing destroy Sara and Seth. Jack enlists the assistance of†the beautiful†Dr Alex Friedman and the race is on.

††† Needless to say, the film is aimed at eight to twelve year-olds, and I guess that age group will be diverted enough by the endless chases. The screenplay, the work of Matt Lopez (Bedtime Stories)†and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard),†is basically a series of †fever pitched pursuits across the desert, along highways, through casinos, along train tracks, over a bridge, through a tunnel - if it's there then they race through, under or over it. Sad to say that all this frantic "action" does not really add up to much. And that's a pity, because the ingredients are sound. There is the basis of the old movies, and a director who has professed regard for this material. Dwayne Johnson has undoubted charisma and charm, Carla Gugino (Night at the Museum)†is an intelligent and talented actress and AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia)†is a young actress of proven ability. Miss Robb receives no assistance from the passive Master Ludwig (The Seeker : The Dark is Rising) or the script, which has her annoyingly addressing†our hero as "Jack Bruno" every time she speaks to him. Fickman's film is fundamentally an unsatisfying collection of chases. Maybe if there was some heart at the centre, to replace the mystery of the original, the new movie would work. However, no screen time is given to building any relationships between any of the characters - they're all too busy running. In the farewell scene at the end there are tears in Robb's eyes. Why? There certainly has been no bond established between these young aliens and their human friends. The youngster audience will probably be happy enough with what's on offer, but they deserve better.

††† Performances are fine with Johnson a majestically attractive and personable monolith. It is only when called upon to look skyward in awestruck wonder that the actor looks terribly ill at ease. His witnessing of the final take-off seems interminable. I guess ten seconds of an eye popping Dwayne Johnson†are cheaper than another ten seconds of CGI. Miss Gugino, sharply photographed and beautiful, despite the awful wig, is good company and makes the best of all that she has to do, while Robb and Ludwig remain pokerfaced throughout - until the tears. The villains are all totally one dimensional, and it is sad to see Tom Everett Scott (The Love Letter) with next to nothing to do. Peppered throughout are some interesting little cameo appearances, most notably from the two child stars of the 1976 film. (The short extra on the disc, Which Mountain?, neatly points out the relevance of these appearances.) Generally the whole film looks and sounds fine. Overseas reviews have commented on the murkiness of the darker scenes, but there was no evidence of this on my disc. The Las Vegas lights are†dazzling, and desert and urban locations are all vividly detailed. Some of the special effects do look a little cheesy, particularly the train sequence, but no doubt the target audience will find nothing to complain about.

††† The second disc†contained in the case holds the 576i standard version of the film, clocking in at 94:21. The quality is fine, but the loss in visual quality certainly makes for a lesser viewing experience. There is is a trailer for Space Buddies presented in a 4x3 transfer, plus the Blu-ray extras excluding Which Mountain?

††† Race to Witch Mountain is pretty dumbed-down family entertainment, but will, I guess, satisfy the target audience. Dwayne Johnson consolidates his status as†the jolly tanned Disney giant, his name appearing on promotional material not only above the title, but even above Walt Disney Pictures Presents!†Next January we will see him star as The Tooth Fairy. True.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††††Thankfully we have here, on both discs, fine transfers of the complete widescreen image. The†DVD 576i transfer is a very good transfer, with no major flaws. My review will concentrate, however on the Blu-ray version.

††† The 1080p transfer, at 24/fps†with AVC MPEG-4 encoding, presents the film at the†ratio of approximately 2.40:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 2.35:1.
††††The image is crisp and clear, as we should expect from a Disney release of a new film. The image is constantly, crystal clear and smooth.
††††
††† The colour palette is wide,†with Las Vegas and the desert looking quite wonderful and skin tones generally very good. Daylight scenes do come off best, but the Vegas nightlife†remains dazzling.
††† Shadow detail is fine - despite what you may have read in US reviews -†and there is no low level noise.
††† I was not aware of any edge enhancement or print flaws, with a total absence of artefacts.

††††The Blu-ray†disc contain subtitles in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish,†Finnish and Icelandic.
††† The standard DVD disc contains subtitles in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Ukranian, Slovak, Russian, Ukranian, Latvian, Estonian and Hebrew.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† The feature has four audio streams :†† English in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† English Audio Descriptive for the Vision Impaired in Dolby Digital 2.0
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† French in DTS-HD Master Audio†5.1
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Spanish in DTS-HD Master†Audio†5.1

††† From the opening seconds the soundtrack is totally impressive, with all channels in obvious†use, contributing ambience,†sound effects and music. In the opening news montage the surrounds are used continually, from subdued radio commentary and electronic beeps, to the roar of the alien spacecraft. When Jack Bruno's sleep†is disturbed by†his motel neighbours we hear their voices distinctly from the rear channels, and it is these small points which all add up to a totally satisfying audio experience.
††† This is a solidly detailed soundtrack, with everything crystal clear, from whispered dialogue, to helicopter audio pans, car chases, gun shots, spaceship interiors, and explosions. There was no instance of any intelligibility problem with the dialogue, and sync was perfect.
††† There is quite extensive movement across the fronts, and the surrounds are frequently quite dynamic - right from the opening spaceship shots as the craft zooms from the rears into the fronts.
††††
††††The LFE channel adds strong dramatic punch to the action sequences, and is also utilised extensively in the sometimes quite exciting orchestrations. Listen to the ominous orchestral bass rumblings as the crash site is explored (8:30). The original score is the work of Trevor Rabin (American Outlaws), and it is attractively varied and interesting receiving excellent performance and reproduction.

††† Both the Blu-ray and the standard DVD contain†an English audio track for the†vision impaired.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

†††††† The extras are unfortunately a trifle light on content and substance, with the absence of a commentary track most surprising.
††††

Main Menu

††† The main menu opens with live action of the four principals. Alexander Ludwig activates the gizmo, the film's object of interest, and
an animated control panel opens with music from the film. Any selection is accompanied by an appropriate "beep"†sound effect.

††† The options presented are : Play†
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Bonus Features :
See details below†
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Scene Selection: Selecting this†gives a pop-up strip of twelve thumbnails.
Bonus Features

Deleted Scenes (23:17)
On offer are nine deleted scenes, none a† loss to the film, each with an introduction by the director.The introductions are 1.78:1, and the scenes themselves are 2.35:1. All are presented in a 4x3 transfer with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Bloopers (3:37)
Again presented in a 4x3 transfer at the ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. A very dull little collection of outtakes.



Featurette

Backstage Disney : Which Mountain? (8:20)
Exclusive to the Blu-ray version of the film, in 1080p,†this is the most interesting bonus feature. The director, Andy Fickman, affectionately discusses all the references within his movie to the first two Witch Mountain titles, as well as other references, such as the nod to The Journey of Natty Gann with Meredith Salenger, the star of that movie,playing a TV reporter named "Natalie Gann". An interesting and absorbing few minutes - mainly because it shows the man's heart. A pity that the same can't be said for his movie. The clips from the film are same quality as feature itself, but the interview footage of the director is not as sharp.

Disc 2

The second disc†contained in the case holds the 576i standard DVD version of the film, clocking in at 94:21. The quality is fine, but the loss in visual quality certainly makes for a lesser viewing experience. There is is a trailer for Space Buddies presented in a 4x3 transfer, plus the Blu-ray extras excluding Which Mountain?

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† The Region 1 Blu-ray release is a three disc set, the third disc being a digital copy. There are also some additional audio streams, including Mandarin, Portuguese and Thai, as well as a dozen or so short promotional trailers for other Disney product.

Summary

††† This is quite passable Disney fare, but there is an uneasy feeling that its young audience is being short changed. Story and characters are dumbed down, and there is a total absence of heart. Lots of action -sadly that purely means†people moving fast by some means or other - and some interesting† desert and Las Vegas locations. Dwayne Johnson once again is a likeable hero, though there is little evidence that the man can act. The Blu-ray transfer is most pleasing, as is the standard version on the second disc. The soundtrack is even better. Extras are very light on.

††††

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, September 11, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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