One of the true tests of greatness for a movie mainly geared for a younger audience (as I'm sure I've said before) is its ability to be enjoyed by more than just said audience, for it to find a wider appeal in the marketplace. Make a kids movie that parents clearly will not enjoy and you'll find that parents opt to not buy tickets. Make a kids movie which appeals to parents as well and you stand a much better shot at garnering big numbers from the box office. Of course, the parents might find themselves duped, what appears to have some appeal for them initially may prove to be a disappointment. Case in point, the newly released to Blu-ray Race to Witch Mountain.
The film, directed by Andy Fickman (The Game Plan), is based on the 1968 novel Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key. In 1975 Disney already turned the novel into a film and even made a sequel, Return From Witch Mountain, in 1978, but clearly someone thought it was worth another look today. And that is the appeal for parents of the kids/tweens hat this film is geared towards – nostalgia. Parents can instantly be hooked into going to see this remake/reimagining out of fond feelings for the original film from their own childhood 30-plus years ago. Nostalgia is a powerful tool and can make people do things that they will regret, things like watching Race to Witch Mountain.
The film, which follows the adventures of an ex-con cabbie in Las Vegas, Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson, FKA The Rock) and two alien kids, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) will most assuredly delight older children and tweens. It will not, however, win over any adults.
The basic plot – which is full of holes large enough to drive Jack Bruno's cab through – involves Sara and Seth crash landing on Earth so that they can pick up information which will save their planet as well as ours. They randomly happen upon Jack Bruno's cab and Jack, being the nice, reformed ex-con that he is, opts to drive the kids to the middle of nowhere with government agents chasing them and destroying their cab. A quick pitstop in Vegas allows them to meet up with a discredited Astrophysicist, Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), and along their way they also run into Cheech Marin and Garry Marshall (not as themselves, but only the adults in the audience will be able to make heads or tails of their appearances anyway).
As for bad guys, the film seems to find itself divided – there's the evil genetically altered alien assassin, Siphon, and the nefarious government agents led by a man named Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds) and who are determined to do anything in their power to plug their ears, shut their eyes, and generally ignore that which is taking place around them. One can understand such single-minded focus from an alien assassin created specifically to carry out its task of murdering two kids, but think, even in light of all the various scandals our government undergoes on a regular basis, one expects from these men in black.
It is a high-tech, effects laden, thinly plotted film. It will, undoubtedly, provide hours of rewatchable enjoyment for a less demanding, younger (though not terribly young what with all the violence and explosions), crowd but will do nothing to enthrall adults. Another large reason for this is that adults may find it embarrassing that AnnaSophia Robb can act circles around Dwayne Johnson. The former professional wrestler appears wooden an unbelievable every time he utters any line of dialogue and even often when he's keeping his mouth closed.
Perhaps what adults will most appreciate in this release is the excellent quality of the sound in this transfer. The picture quality however is less good. While bright scenes have excellent clarity and depth, dark ones – and much of the movie is dark – can be hard to decipher. It becomes terribly difficult to tell what is a person, what is a shadow, what is a structure, and what is a genetically altered alien assassin (who, conveniently, wears all black). Additionally, many of the explosions appear clearly computer generated. The 5.1 channel DTS-HD soundtrack features good use of the surrounds to give that all-encompassing danger feel and great bass to add punch to the aforementioned clearly computer generated explosions.
The extras included in the Blu-ray three pack (Blu-ray, DVD copy, and digital copy) are a mixed bag. Theirs is the usual set of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel, but unfortunately a portion of the already abbreviated blooper reel is from part of a scene that didn't make the movie (it does appear in the deleted scenes however). There is also a featurette in which Fickman shows all the little homages to earlier Disney films that were included in this one. He even goes so far as to start that reveal by expressing his eternal and undying love for the first two Witch Mountain movies, a sentiment which only rings somewhat false after he gets the name of the sequel incorrect (and he should complain to whomever put up the opening title clip of the sequel on screen instantly after he misstates it because they didn't do him any favors).
Race to Witch Mountain will, undoubtedly, amuse and enthrall the audience it is geared towards, but does nothing at all to expand its audience. I can't tell you whether it's okay for you to show this to your kids without your seeing it either with them or alone first (it's rated PG), but I can say that you won't enjoy your time with it.