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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Escape to Witch Mountain / Return from Witch Mountain...



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#1 of 14 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 05 2003 - 09:32 AM



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Escape to Witch Mountain



Studio:Disney
Year:1975
Film Length:97 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16X9 encoded 1.78:1
Audio:5.1 DD English
Extras:Feature Commentary, Featurettes, Cartoon “Pluto’s Dream House”
Release Date:Sept. 2, 2003

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Return From Witch Mountain



Studio:Disney
Year:1978
Film Length:94 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16X9 encoded 1.78:1
Audio:5.1 DD English
Extras:Feature Commentary, Featurettes, Cartoon “The Eyes Have It”
Release Date:Sept. 2, 2003



For simplicity, please allow me to refer to “Escape to Witch Mountain” as “Escape” and “Return from Witch Mountain” as “Return”.


Story...


Escape...

It’s a cheesy movie from the 1970’s. But it also has a certain charm and provides for a fascinating adventure for young children and passable-enjoyable entertainment for adults. Most Gen X-ers like myself remember this film from our own childhoods and so we have a certain affection for it despite its dated style appearance and predictable dialogue/plot development. I was able to enjoy watching it again even though it’s a bit sad to see a childhood fondness “exposed” through adult eyes.

Don’t want to ruin what small element of surprise may be in store for those of you who haven’t seen it, but it may be inevitable so beware...

We meet Tony and Tia in their new surroundings as they arrive at a home for orphans. This brother and sister duo distinguish themselves quickly among their peers with a few demonstrations of some sixth-sense powers that give them the ability to communicate via telepathy, move object with their minds, and talk to animals. As fate would have it, their powers are soon discovered by a very two-dimensional character who longs to exploit the youngsters to accomplish his own dastardly designs. Courting Tony and Tia with an entrée of childhood-delight (didn’t you always want your *own* private soda-fountain replete with 32 flavors in *your* bedroom?), the youngsters are initially enamored but quickly see the seduction for what it is and attempt to flee from the clutches of the evil bad man (two-dimensional characters are so easy to judge). The chase ensues, and will our virtue-inspired protagonists champion against the forces of avarice and corruption? And will the shadowed mystery of their origin ever become known as Tia’s memory slowly divulges riddled images of their past...at just the right moments like veritable bread-crumbs leading onward towards truth?

Yes, such drama and suspense await the viewer daring enough to take the risk and watch... Escape to Witch Mountain.

Hey, you let your kids watch Barney, don’t make fun of me!

Return...

Lacking the element of charm and fantasy that made the first film endurable by those over age twelve, Return, is one of those movies that I wish I could trade back for the 94 minutes of my life it sucked away. At the very least, my partner now has yet one more “remember when you made me watch such and such because you ‘heard’ it was good?” movie to hang over me. Oh well. Perhaps Witch Mountain fans need to own both for completionist purposes or those of you who grew up fondly remembering this film from your childhood days may want to own it to recapture your faded youth. Everyone else...you’ve been warned!

Bette Davis appears on the screen with teeth yellower than coffee-flavored taffy and lipstick redder than the lid to a koolaid can. She adds an element of curiosity (not to be confused with good acting) to the movie that was perhaps the one thin thread I managed to cling to as I struggled to persevere...neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor terrible movie making can stop the DaViD review! Ok I’ll shut up and give you the plot summary: Tony and Tia return to earthling civilization for a week’s vacation that is oh-so-coyly revealed in the clever plot-exposition of the opening dialogue. Things go awry much to our surprise, and Tony gets kidnapped by...if I can remember...a two dimensional/evil bad-guy character who (struggling to recollect) desires to exploit the youth’s powers to accomplish his own dastardly designs. Sounds familiar? But don’t be lulled into complacency just yet! This time there’s a heart-breaking twist: Tony is enslaved by the evil-bad-man’s hypnotic-control device and must do what he commands! Things get even more dicey when Tia teams up with the 1970’s version of the Goonies gang to try to rescue Tony, and rest of civilization, from the clutches of the evil Doctor (Dr. Evil?). Gratuitously wielding magic powers at every turn, “Return” bedazzles us with special effects beyond compare and coupled with the riveting and timeless score of disco-dragnet-drama, we’re catapulted into a virtual world of adventure and Silence-of-the-Lambs suspense. But don’t worry...I won’t tell you how it ends. Posted Image



Picture...


Time to say something nice. Both Escape and Return are delivered to us on 5” discs with stunning picture quality. Both transfers are THX approved and look about as good as is probably possible within the confines of a 720 x 480 MPEG-based format. Film restoration seems to be superb: film-grain is abundant at times which is both faithful to the source elements and a testament that these transfers have not been over-filtered once in the hands of the mastering engineers. Details are rendered about as cleanly and clearly as they can be given the way they appear in the source film. Sharpness is crisp without any visible artifacting from EE (no halos or ringing around hard-line transitions). Colors seem very faithful to the source print and are quite beautiful. The scene in the toy-room in Escape is a good example...when you see the marionette puppets in one close-up scene just look at all the various tones of reds. The subtle shades of different hues really give this image a “film like” look. At times it's almost 3-dimensional depending on your viewing distance and resolving capability of your display.

Overall both transfers are near-reference given the intended look of the source material. Flesh tones may be a tad redder than usual, but I have no way to judge their accuracy without being privy to the film print. The primary difference between Escape and Return is that Return appears to be brighter and a bit “punchier” in color overall. At least that was my impression after having viewed both films with a day to rest (recover) in between. Posted Image

No digital artifacts from compression or DNR that my eyes can detect. Oh...did I mention that I screened a few select scenes on my buddy’s projector the night we watched Hello Dolly? Though I watched both films in their entireity on my 16x9 direct-view, they produced the same smooth-film-like quality and richness in color/clarity on the big-screen as I’m seeing at home. They pass the 100" test with flying colors. Posted Image

Those of you who haven’t purchased these discs but have been on the fence debating it, consider the excellent video quality at least one thing in their favor.

Picture Rating:

I’m not going to subtract any points for film-related grain. These transfers are remarkably faithful to the film-prints they are intended to replicate and so I’m giving them full marks because that’s what a DVD is supposed to do. Therefore, I’m giving Disney all the kudos they deserve for having accomplished the goal (so don’t take the high score to necessarily mean they look like the 5th-Element-Diva-Scene).

Picture: 5 / 5
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Sound...


Sound is not fatiguing or irritatingly bright, but it’s nothing to write home about either. Dialogue is clear and sound is reasonably rounded-out but deep bottom-end. Both films sound as though they were originally recorded in mono and “processed” for 5.1 on this DVD...though the processing does not result in any degradation...it just sounds as though your listening to a mostly mono recording with the 5.1 icon lit-up on your receiver. To be fair, some of the music seems to make reasonable use of the front soundstage and there may be some minor surround activity but I have to be honest—it didn’t cross my mind while watching the film. However, I didn’t watch these movie with my ears pressed to the surround speaker to explicitly determine surround-activity either so if any of you who’ve listened to the DVD have more to say feel free to share (after all, the DVDs are already in the hands of many on the HTF forum I’m sure).

I know it’s inconsistent to rate video based on faithfulness to the source and then grade the audio by a different set of rules…but hear me out. The video on this disc really made me go “WOW”. The audio doesn’t. I think that’s what’s behind my objectively lower score for the audio department…it just doesn’t make you go “hmmmm”, though it does seem to do justice to the audio recording of the film given it probably didn’t sound any better/worse in the theater. Basically, I’m just not overwhelmed with the general sound of the audio track…faithful or not…

So now that you know how self-contradictory I can be given the span of just a few paragraphs:

Sound: 3.5/ 5
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Extras...


In my humble opinion, the coolest extra features on these discs are the cartoons. When you hit “play movie” you’re first presented with a menu letting you know that unless you hit the “skip” button on your remote you’re about to be rewarded with cartoon prelude to the feature film in classic-theater style.

I love this. I hope you do too.

The Disney dudes have enjoyed themselves and picked cartoon shorts that are thematically connected with the particular feature film with which they are paired. “Pluto’s Dream House” on Escape is storied (is that a verb?) around Micky finding a genie-in-a-lamp who grants wishes and can make things move using his magical powers. See the connection? Posted Image The “The Eyes Have it” Donald Duck/Pluto short on Return deals with the subject of hypnosis. Both cartoons appear to be from prints that have signs of wear but hey…these are classic Disney cartoons and they’ve been around for a while. Colors are bold and audio is clear and there is no sign of dot-crawl or other “video” anomaly excepting some apparent compression artifacting if you have a large screen. I’m pointing out the lack of dot-crawl because two other similarly featured cartoon shorts appearing on two other recent titles (Love Bug and Dumpling Gang) show copious amounts of dot-crawl indicating that they were sourced from composite video masters. Oh for the day that the studios learn there are comb-filters free from such issues when using composite sources for their DVD production!

Back on track...

Commentary is on both discs is interesting but don’t expect Lord-of-the-Rings level insights and inspiration. Both discs also have a nice spread of extras like making-of shorts and retrospective video montages and more. I didn't watch the extras all the way through (sorry folks...more DVDs to review!) but I did take some sneak-peaks and the interviews and extras seem well delivered and engaging. Considering the stellar video which is completely free from MEPG artifacting, I was amazed they managed to fit everything onto a single disc. You’ve got that “Vault” menu thing to wait through however to reach the destination extras so feel free to go to the restroom while the DVD goes through its motions after clicking “The Vault” icon.

I didn’t find any easter-eggs but I’ll bet there are some. If you find any report back to us here!



Wrap-Up...


If you like the movies and are waiting to buy them based on reports of transfer quality and SE content…have no fear. Disney has delivered. It would be a better world for us film-collectors if every title, classic or camp or somewhere in between, got the DVD treatment we see here.

If you’ve never seen these films but want something for the kids to watch to give that Bug’s Life DVD a break, Escape is sure to please the young and provide entertainment for the old; I feel comfortable recommending it given the declarations of its dated and predictable character. On a slightly more cautionary note, young children will certainly enjoy Return as well, but adult viewers who do not already regard the film with some affection will become well acquainted with its flaws during the 94 minutes of their life they choose to wager...

Film-Fans...

Enjoy!




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#2 of 14 OFFLINE   Adam_S

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Posted September 05 2003 - 09:58 AM

sigh, more films I want but can't afford! It makes me sad--too many DVDs, we need to petition the studios to release less product. Anychance of an Apple Dumpling Gang review?
 

#3 of 14 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 05 2003 - 10:01 AM

Apple Dumpling Gang coming up as soon as I have a chance to type it... Posted Image
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#4 of 14 OFFLINE   Robert Ringwald

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Posted September 05 2003 - 10:15 AM

Supposedly the trailers are hidden on these. anyone find them yet?

#5 of 14 OFFLINE   streeter

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Posted September 05 2003 - 10:47 AM

Can't wait to buy these - and the Absent-Minded Professor and Apple Dumpling Gang. They came out Tuesday but none of the stores in my area had them yet.
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#6 of 14 OFFLINE   DeeAnn

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Posted September 05 2003 - 11:17 AM

Haven't looked for easter eggs yet on "Escape" (won't be watching it until sometime over the weekend) but popped it in really quick and checked out the poster and merchandising gallery and realized I kind of miss the book and record set I had as a kid.

#7 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 06 2003 - 03:10 AM

There's another forum thread discussing these titles and "Apple Dumpling Gang" that should be able to tide you over until David gets his official review up. It's located here

I would not hesitate to purchase these titles or Apple Dumpling Gang, which may be the best transfer of a pretty good bunch, IMHO.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#8 of 14 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted September 06 2003 - 05:42 AM

I picked up "Escape", "Return" and "Apple" on the release day...

They all hold a special spot in my heart. "Escape" is one of my earliest live-action theatrical recollections. Prior to that, the trips to the movies were to see Disney animation, primarily.

Now, all I've got to do is find the time to watch them!

Thanks for the review, David.

-Scott

#9 of 14 OFFLINE   James_Garner

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Posted September 06 2003 - 07:39 AM

I have a question. What Clips from disney movies/tv shows/attractions are shown In the "1978 disney Studio Album" on "Return from Witch Mountain"? Thanks

#10 of 14 OFFLINE   soop.spoon

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Posted September 07 2003 - 12:01 PM

I haven't seen a single review of the widescreen black & white version of The Absent Minded Professor yet.

Anyone have it?

#11 of 14 OFFLINE   Eric Emma

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Posted September 07 2003 - 12:09 PM

I've seen Escape to Witch Mountain except it the TV Movie remake that I saw on Disney channel.

#12 of 14 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 07 2003 - 03:29 PM

Jack,

they didn't send me a screener for it which is weird bcs they send me a screener for practically everything else. Has it been delayed? Does anyone have the new B&W OAR WS professor DVD?

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#13 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 08 2003 - 12:54 AM

The Absent Minded Professor is bare-bones in terms of extras, but what I have seen of the Black and White anamorphic widescreen transfer is outstanding. I have so far only watched the first half-hour, but unless something goes terribly wrong with the rest of the film, if you like the movie, you should not hesitate to buy the disc.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#14 of 14 OFFLINE   Robert Ringwald

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Posted September 14 2003 - 09:16 AM

The trailer for Return is on the doorknob in the VAULT. Go to the part that has the scrapbook (that menu screen) and hit 6 on your remote. It will play the trailer.

Still don't know if Escape has a trailer hidden.