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Epic Movie (Re)Watch #135 - Race to Witch Mountain
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: Yes.
Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: No.
1) This film, in a lot of ways, is a quintessential movie for me. I’ve discussed in the past (specifically on my Back to the Future post and Chicago post) how March 2009 was a very definitive time for me. Well this movie falls into that category. I was in Arizona with my parents and brother visiting my aunt, uncle, and grandma and the adults (save for grandma) went to see something like The Reader or some other adult movie. So my grandmother took my brother and I to see Race to Witch Mountain on opening day at like the Alamo theater or something like that. I have very clear/vivid memories about seeing this with them and the movie holds a special place in my heart because of that (even if it isn’t necessarily the BEST film ever made).
2) From the opening credits there is no question as to what is going on in this movie: it’s aliens. The opening features bits about space travel and Roswell and UFOs, etc. There is no doubt that this film is about aliens.
3) Ciaran Hinds in the film just gives off an aura of threat and villainy from his very first appearance. I love it!
You get a nice understanding of him as the film goes along. A part of Henry Burke (Hinds’ character) is his desire to protect his planet, but its more he’s greedy. He wants a win, he wants credit for a win, and he’s not willing to let any little thing like common sense or decency jeopardize that. A nice villain for the film.
4) As soon as we meet Dwayne (must not say “The Rock”) Johnson’s Jack Bruno we are given a lot of his character.
We see him look longingly at this nice red car, establishing a goal he is trying to accomplish. We see his impatience and distaste for the storm troopers in his backseat, giving off his rough and jaded character. But we also see his chemistry with Carla Gugino’s Alex which shows a kindness to him that he likes to hide as well as a bit of fun. And when we see him in his motel home at night, we understand that Jack is someone largely dissatisfied with where he is at the moment. Johnson and the writing are able to portray these things clearly and set up Jack’s journey through the rest of the film.
5) Meredith Salenger plays a reported named Natalie Gann in this movie. She also played the titular character in Disney’s The Journey of Natty Gann back in 1985.
I remember years ago watching a bonus feature on the blu-ray where the director said he really liked The Journey of Natty Gann as a kid and wanted this little wink at the film both for himself and other Disney geeks who may get it.
6) This line was very memorable for me as a 13 year old kid.
Mr. Wolf’s Goon: “You got a death wish?”
Jack: “I drive a cab in Vegas.”
7) AnnaSophia Robb as Sarah and Alexander Ludwig as Seth.
In contrast with the original theatrical Witch Mountain films, there is no attempt to establish these two characters as normal human children. We still end up relating to them on an emotional level, but from their syntax and lack of familiarity with certain Earth ways you can very easily tell that they’re aliens. The pair of young actors play the siblings well. Like the stars of the original film - Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards - they are able to portray a true relationship through small moments of trust and understanding. They’re really siblings. They care for each other, they have each other’s backs, and that chemistry is packed down. They’re also able to give each character their own personality, with Sarah being the optimistic understanding one and Seth as the more aggressive stubborn of the two. They do a good job in the movie and play well with Johnson’s Jack, making for an interesting character dynamic to support the film.
8) Man, they really just wanted you to hate Burke didn’t they?
Burke [about Seth & Sarah]: “And no matter what they appear to look like, gentlemen, these are not children.”
Except they are, dude. They really are. How about you go club a baby seal too since apparently if it’s not a HUMAN child it’s not a child at all.
9) I always found the intro of Seth’s powers to be a powerful and memorable moment.
10) I always found the design on the Siphon alien very sleek and cool. It is reminiscent of Predator a little to me.
11) My biggest issue with the film that - while it is only 98 minutes - it’s a little muddled and messy. The dual antagonists of the Siphon and Burke both lead for some interesting scenes, but as a whole create pacing issues and never truly mesh together as cohesively as maybe I’d like them too. An example of this is after Jack and the kids escape the Siphon the first time it chases down their cab, but they seem to escape its grasp, only for it to come after them again almost randomly in the same scene. That cab chase definitely has some nice moments and tension to it, but as a whole is a bit messy.
12) I really like some of Jack’s lines in this film.
Jack [after the kids try to tell him they’re aliens]: “You can’t just drop the, ‘We’re aliens!’ bomb on someone like that!”
13) Hey, Cheech Marin is in this movie!
14) At one point in the film, the trio has to visit Stony Creek for a while. Stony Creek was the town just outside of Witch Mountain on Tia’s map in the original film. So it is only fitting that the stars of the original Escape to Witch Mountain make cameos during this scene. Kim Richards - who played Tia in the original - plays a waitress also named Tia in this movie. While Ike Eisenmann - who played Tia’s brother, Tony - plays Sheriff Anthony (which Tony is short for).
And - in reference to their heroic characters - both parts played by Richards and Eisenmann work to help the protagonists of this film escape from Burke in some pretty helpful ways.
15) I love the fact that Sarah stops the car for her new dog, Junkyard!
I really like dogs.
16) Alex’s conflict is spelled out very clearly when we meet her at the convention: she’s not taken seriously. She does a lot of work towards researching the legitimate possibility of life outside of earth and no one treats it as legitimate. But she is positive and optimistic and Carla Gugino plays the part very well (although I’ve yet to see a Carla Gugino performance I dislike).
Sara [about her planet]: “Millennia of neglect have made the atmosphere unlivable.”
18) WHO THE HELL IS THIS WHITLEY GUY THAT ALEX SAYS, “Not now!” TOO AT THE UFO CONFERENCE!!!! IT HAS BUGGED ME FOR YEARS!!!
(Does a quick google.)
Okay, so Whitely Strieber is an American author best known for his horror novels and and for Communion, a non-fiction account of his alleged experiences with non-human entities. Apparently his wife is somewhere in the film too.
19) Hey, it’s Garry Marshall!
Garry Marshall appears in a small yet memorable supporting role, giving the protagonists the information about Witch Mountain. Which, interestingly enough, has been changed from a community of alien refugees to a secret government base. Huh.
20) If you look very closely during the UFO conference scenes, you can see a cosplayer dressed like Tron.
21) In a nice wink to the original film, in the final act the heroes ditch the cab for a winnebago (which is the vehicle used to reach Witch Mountain in the 1975 film).
22) There is a nice character moment between Alex and Jack in the car where they both relate to their pasts and their dreams. It is small but appreciated, as it gives the characters just that extra layer they need.
23) So to sneak into the mountain after Sarah and Seth are kidnapped, Jack and Alex climb down this pipe which ends up being a furnace that nearly burns them alive. Except…it serves no practical purpose whatsoever. Like why does their furnace need to be so ridiculously elaborate and also have an entrance to the outside?
24) Also at one point in the film Jack and Alex dress in hazmat suits to free the kids, and I can’t help but wonder…why would they have a hazmat suit in Jack’s (aka: The Rock’s) size when there’s no one working there that big?
25) I live for jokes like this.
Seth [after Jack asks if they can fly a spaceship]: “How do you think we got here?”
Jack: “Well you crashed. Remember?”
26) The first time I saw the climactic battle between Jack and the Siphon on the flying saucer, when the Siphon’s mask came off and they were waiting to reveal its face to us, for some reason I thought that the Siphon would look like Dwayne Johnson.
Now that I’m older I realize this would’ve been a horrible choice as it doesn’t play into Jack’s struggles or the themes of the film AT ALL but I figured these are aliens that look human so why not have the Siphon look like Jack? In hindsight, I’m glad they went with this instead:
27) The goodbye the kids have with Jack is actually really heartfelt and feels more earned than you might initially think. They formed a real trust with this guy, he risked his life countless times to make sure they made it through alright. I really appreciate that.
As I said at the start, Race to Witch Mountain has a lot of personal significance for me. It’s hard for me to be objective about the film. I see what’s wrong with it, but I really enjoy it. It strikes a chord with me and therefore I’m going to recommend it to you. Even though it’s not necessarily as up to snuff as the more recent live action efforts from Disney, it is still a very entertaining (and not too long) film with some nice humor and good acting. I don’t think it’s a waste of your time, I think it’s quite enjoyable. But again, I can’t be objective really. Just know I recommend it nonetheless.