Race to Witch Mountain
Race to Witch Mountain is a 2009 American science fiction adventure thriller film directed by Andy Fickman and stars Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Ciarán Hinds and Carla Gugino. The film is a live-action remake of the 1975 Disney live-action film, Escape to Witch Mountain, which is based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Alexander Key. It was Disney's third film adaptation of the novel; the second was Escape to Witch Mountain (1995). Filming began in Los Angeles in March 2008. It was released on March 13, 2009.
|Race to Witch Mountain|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Andy Fickman|
|Produced by||Andrew Gunn|
|Story by||Matt Lopez|
|Based on||Escape to Witch Mountain|
by Alexander Key
|Music by||Trevor Rabin|
|Edited by||David Rennie|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios|
|Box office||$106.4 million|
It is Johnson's second collaboration with Fickman, following The Game Plan, which was also a live-action movie released by Disney.
An alien spacecraft crashes near Searchlight, Nevada, 45 miles outside of Las Vegas. Project Moon Dust, a secret Defense Department unit led by Henry Burke, arrive at the scene of the crash in black helicopters. Men in Black seize the spaceship and search for its passengers with the intention of harnessing their DNA and powers.
Back in Vegas, Jack Bruno, a former mob get-away driver, drives a cab to avoid returning to jail. One of his passengers is Dr. Alex Friedman, a failed astrophysicist who has come to Las Vegas to speak at a UFO convention at the Planet Hollywood hotel.
After fending off two thugs who seek his services for a mob boss named Andrew Wolfe, Bruno finds two teenagers, Sara and Seth, in his cab. They offer $15,000 to drive them to an unknown destination. Burke's men track down the teenagers (who turn out to be the spaceship's passengers) through various discoveries such as stolen clothes, a car being burglarized, a bus leading to Las Vegas, and an ATM being deprived of all of its contents, which eventually pinpoints their location in Bruno's taxi. They engage Bruno in a high speed chase. Mistaking the government agents for more mob thugs, he tries to evade them with his driving skills. Seth's ability to vary his molecular density, as well as Sara's telepathy and telekinesis, helps the group to escape.
When they arrive at an abandoned house, Bruno follows them out of concern and curiosity. The teenagers retrieve the device they were looking for within a hidden underground laboratory, but the three are attacked by a "Syphon", a powerful armored alien assassin. The Syphon pursues the group until its spaceship crashes into a train and the creature is wounded. After Seth and Sara prove their otherworldly biology to Bruno, the three settle at a diner to calm their nerves, only to escape Burke's agents again.
Bruno brings Seth and Sara to Dr. Friedman at the UFO convention. Despite initially dismissing Bruno's story as bluff, she believes him after Seth and Sara show off their powers and narrate their current situation: they are aliens from a dying planet located 3,000 light years from Earth, and are able to travel by using wormholes on their spaceships. Its government intends to invade Earth, despite the majority of their race being fully opposed to the plan, so that their kind may survive. Seth and Sara's parents are scientists who sought a way to save their planet without invasion, but were arrested before completing their experiment. The teenagers came to retrieve the successful results, but the alien government (who still have their sights on invading Earth rather than trying to save their home planet) sent the assassin to stop them. To save both worlds, they must retrieve their spaceship and return home with the results in order to prevent the invasion from happening.
Friedman then realizes that the teenagers are what she has been searching for and joins the group. They meet fellow UFOlogist and conspiracy theorist Dr. Donald Harlan, who tells them that the spaceship was taken to the secret California government base named Witch Mountain. Harlan and his men distract the soldiers with Bruno's taxi while the others escape to Witch Mountain in Harlan's RV. The group arrives at the base, but are captured by Burke. He orders that the teenagers be prepared for vivisection, but frees the adults as no one will believe them.
The Syphon attacks Witch Mountain and engages the soldiers, allowing Bruno and Friedman to infiltrate the base and free Seth and Sara. They launch the ship, escape through the mountain's tunnels, and finally kill the assassin, who has stowed away on the spaceship. The teenagers give Bruno and Friedman a tracking device that will allow the aliens to always find them. They tearfully wish them farewell, but not before Sara gives her telepathic powers to Bruno.
Some weeks later, Bruno and Friedman become successful authors of a book named Race to Witch Mountain: A True Story. They promote their book and knowledge on the UFO convention circuit, explaining that the publicity protects them from government reprisal. As they leave the convention, the alien device activates, implying that the alien teenagers may be returning to Earth.
- Dwayne Johnson as Jack Bruno, who is a Las Vegas cab driver, a former convict. The director wrote in a cab driver as a main character because there was a unique relationship between the driver and his passengers. Fickman explained, "When Dwayne's driving and two aliens appear in his cab, he's stuck with them, there is an implied contract that I will get you to your destination, because that's what he does." This is Johnson's second Disney film, the first one being the 2007 family comedy film The Game Plan, also directed by Andy Fickman.
- AnnaSophia Robb as Sara, sister of Seth, a girl with telekinetic and telepathic powers. Fickman chose Robb based on her performance as Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia. She is kind to Bruno and is the more compassionate of the two siblings. The only time she does not refer to Jack by his full name (Jack Bruno) is when she says goodbye to him, when she refers to him only as "Jack".
- Alexander Ludwig as Seth, brother of Sara, a boy with the power to control his molecular density – “phasing” to become very dense,giving him some degree of invulnerability, or become insubstantial and pass through solid objects. He is very cold to Bruno at first, not trusting him very much, but apologizes in the end saying that if it were not for him they would have not finished their mission. Both siblings talk using overly formal, emotionless voices, and are always addressing Bruno by both his first and last name in all situations.
- Carla Gugino as Dr. Alex Friedman, a discredited astrophysicist. Fired from her university, she is relegated to giving a lecture at a UFO conference about hard science. She becomes Jack's love interest. Fickman cast Gugino in the role as he was a fan of the short-lived television series Threshold, in which the actress starred.
- Ciarán Hinds as Henry Burke, leader of Project Moon Dust. Sarcastic and unscrupulous, he has no regard for morality, as demonstrated after Seth and Sara are imprisoned in Witch Mountain when he orders them to be experimented on so he can harness their powers, regardless of the possibility that they could die. As long as he gets results, whether they live or die does not matter to him. Hinds described his character as a man in black, explaining, "I'm the head of the operation who's contacted directly by a man you never see...[It] is about protecting the country. He's responsible for it, and he'll do whatever needs to be done. That's how he sees it."
- Tom Woodruff Jr. as the Siphon, a well-trained alien assassin.
- Garry Marshall as Dr. Donald Harlan, a friend of Alex's and author of UFO-related books, who thinks he can "tell when people are lying to me". He is seen tricking Burke into going after him by trading cars with Jack.
- Cheech Marin as Eddie Cortez, the auto mechanic who gets frustrated when people come to his shop in the middle of the night, when it is closed.
- Chris Marquette as Pope, one of Burke's henchmen.
- Eva Huang as Shira the UFO Huntress
- Billy Brown as Mr. Carson
- William J. Birnes, the host of UFO Hunters, in a cameo.
- Whitley Strieber, author of Communion, in a cameo.
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who portrayed Tia and Tony in the original Witch Mountain films of the 1970s, made cameo appearances in Race to Witch Mountain. Richards appears as a roadhouse waitress (named "Tina," a minor change from the character [Tia] she played in the 1975 and 1978 films) and Eisenmann appears as Sheriff Anthony (a reference to his character [Tony] from the previous films). Meredith Salenger, the star of Disney's 1985 adventure The Journey of Natty Gann has a cameo as a TV reporter named "Natalie Gann."
In July 2007, Walt Disney Pictures hired Andy Fickman to direct Witch Mountain, a "modern re-imagining" of Escape to Witch Mountain, using a script by Matt Lopez. The following August, Dwayne Johnson (most notably famous for portraying The Rock in the WWE) was cast into a lead role, with filming scheduled to begin in March 2008. Fickman did not describe the film as a remake, defining his production as "a new chapter within the world of Witch Mountain". The director also described the book, in which the films are based as "a very cool dark thriller" and anticipated drawing elements from it that did not exist in the 1975 film. By March 2008, filmmakers were using a new script written by Mark Bomback. The film was re-titled Race to Witch Mountain, and it began filming in Los Angeles in the same month.
The convention center in Pomona, California was converted into the film's UFO Expo 9, and the interior of Witch Mountain was designed using photographs from a tour of NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Complex. A cabin for the story was also built in Agua Dulce, California. The director sought assistance from UFO experts, the military, and CIA advisers to shape the elements of the film. He also introduced a new element in the remake, an extraterrestrial creature called Siphon. The creature was conceived by the design team who created the looks for Alien and Predator in the film Alien vs. Predator.
The Offspring song "Stuff is Messed Up" and Future World Music song "Heart Of Fury" were used in promos for the movie. The score to Race to Witch Mountain was composed by Trevor Rabin, who recorded his score with a 78-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony and a 24-person choir at the Sony Scoring Stage. Two of the songs in the film were written and performed by country and western band Brokedown Cadillac, which appears briefly in an opening scene.
Race to Witch Mountain was released on DVD and Blu-ray August 4, 2009 in three different sets; first, a single disc containing a wide-screen version of the film with no bonus features; second, a Deluxe-Edition that contains deleted scenes as well as other bonus features and a Digital Copy; third, a Blu-ray release with the same extras as the Deluxe Edition, along with a DVD copy of the film and a Digital Copy in the Blu-ray format.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 42% rating based on 153 reviews, and an average rating of 5.12/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Despite the best efforts of a talented cast, Race to Witch Mountain is a tepid reboot that lacks the magic of the original." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 52 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed to average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Despite the mixed outcome, the film turned out to be a box office hit. It became the first Disney film in 2009 to open at #1, grossing $24.4 million. The film would go on to gross over $67 million at the North American domestic box office, and over $39 million internationally, for a total of $106 million.
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