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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Race to Witch Mountain

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted July 21 2009 - 10:05 AM

Race to Witch Mountain (Blu-ray)

Directed by Andy Fickman

Studio: Disney
Year: 2009
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1  1080p    AVC codec
Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Region: A
MSRP: $ 44.99

Release Date: August 4, 2009
Review Date: July 21, 2009
The Film
A sci-fi action-adventure film for 21st century families, Race to Witch Mountain brings together modern special effects with a fondly remembered Disney tale from the mid-1970s that crosses The Day the Earth Stood Still with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Less kinder and gentler than Spielberg’s epic tale, however, Race to Witch Mountain once again paints the government as short-sighted militarists who want to shoot first and ask questions later all the while keeping the world in the dark about their amazing finds. It may be science fiction, but it somehow has the ring of truth in its view of the political machine at work.
Two alien teenagers (AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig) have been sent to Earth by their parents from a civilization light years away that is vacillating between attacking our planet or merely using regenerative elements they can find here to bring their own dying planet back to life. After crash landing near Las Vegas, the ship is seized by a U.S. government agency headed by the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Burke (Ciaran Hinds), but the alien kids manage to escape into the cab of ex-con Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) who gets drawn into their attempts to find and retake their craft so they can return home. Making their mission even more difficult is that the trio must not only fight off an ever-increasing U.S. task force set out to find them but an alien terminator sent from the kids’ home planet to kill them so they can’t bring anything back and the invasion of Earth can proceed as planned.
Having worked with Dwayne Johnson in the more formulaic The Game Plan, director Andy Fickman stages this film with a good mix of chases, thrills, derring-do, and humor. Most of the droll sarcasm placed into the mouth of their star by writers Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback works to lighten the mood of an otherwise sullen piece though a few of the quips fall with a thud. There are “gotch-ya” moments that work delightfully well, and the entire film certainly never lessens its pace as the group, eventually joined by astrophysicist Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), jump from one perilous moment to the next without missing a beat. Fans of the original Escape to Witch Mountain will certainly recognize elements from that story and film that have been reconceived and recycled into this adaptation, but the wonderful special effects and today’s more razor-edged cutting give this film a greater impact than the original.
Dwayne Johnson continues on his quest to become an action star for all ages, and his feisty, formidable cabbie marks another high point in his film career. Both AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig retain enough stiff formality about them to suggest alien teens without giving up audience empathy. It’s to the writers’ credit that Carla Gugino’s beautiful scientist isn’t automatically assigned as a love interest for the film’s star. They work as a team well without any forced additional emotional baggage added to the mix. Ciaran Hinds only gets one note to his puffed-up politician, but his dogged determination to capture his prey keeps the film’s action gears operating on all cylinders. Tom Everett Scott and “Cheech” Marin don’t get to make much impression in their smaller roles (Marin’s garage mechanic is more of a cameo), but Garry Marshall has some funny lines as a celebrated extraterrestrial author who aids our heroes in their hour of greatest need.
Video Quality
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though color once or twice seems to be somewhat drained from the image, most of the transfer features spectacular color and wonderfully accurate flesh tones. Though blacks are usually deep and impressive, a very few views of the nighttime sky show a more dark navy rather than inky black. Detail is excellent throughout with a sequence where an alien device creates a type of instant planetarium around the stars making for a stunning three-dimensional image. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Audio Quality
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix might miss being reference quality by the tiniest of margins, but overall, it’s a beautifully designed, wide-ranging sound experience that uses front-to-back pans excellently and filters the Trevor Rabin score through the entire soundfield. The LFE channel also has plenty of moments where it gets to work adding a wonderful deep bass presence to the audio field.
Special Features
There are eight deleted/extended scenes (including an extended coda which plays over the closing credits and should have been retained in its entirety)which can be viewed individually or in one 23 ¼-minute grouping. Each contains an introduction by director Andy Fickman who explains why the scenes were dropped or trimmed. It’s presented in 480i.
There is a 3 ½-minute blooper reel, fairly typical for this kind of thing and not containing much of interest. It’s also in 480i.
“Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go” explains the concept of “digital copy” for those who are unfamiliar with a trend which has been added to Disney Blu-rays for quite a few months now.
“Backstage Disney: Which Mountain?” is a 1080p tribute to the original Witch Mountain film with director Andy Fickman explaining all of the references to the original movie which have been hidden within Race to Witch Mountain. It runs for 8 ¼ minutes.
There are 1080p trailers for such upcoming film and video releases as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Princess and the Frog, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Hannah Montana: The Movie, Up, Santa Buddies, and Earth, among others.
Disc two in the set is a DVD copy of the film.
Disc three in the set is the DisneyFile digital copy of the movie with an enclosed card containing the activation code and instructions for installation on PC and Mac devices.
In Conclusion
3.5/5 (not an average)
Race to Witch Mountain is a bracing action-adventure romp which the entire family can actually enjoy. The special effects and lively pace will keep the younger viewers entranced while older viewers can ruminate on some of the darker aspects of the story. The Blu-ray package may not have thrilling extras, but the superb picture and sound quality make it a pleasurable viewing experience which (given the high retail cost) suggests a potential rental for the family.
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

Edited by MattH. - 7/21/2009 at 10:23 pm GMT
Edited by MattH. - 7/22/2009 at 08:53 pm GMT

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Southpaw


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Posted July 21 2009 - 10:10 AM

 Looks good. My 9 year old is looking forward to it. It would be a buy for us but the high price tag has me resisting. Might just do a rental for now and buy when on sale...

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted July 22 2009 - 08:27 AM

FYI I just got confirmation that the MSRP is wrong.  Should be $44.99

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted July 22 2009 - 08:52 AM

Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich 

FYI I just got confirmation that the MSRP is wrong.  Should be $44.99
Thanks, Adam. I'll make the change.

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