I’ve always liked Dwayne “Don’t Call Me The Rock” Johnson. His movies aren’t always great but he has a lot of charisma, seems like a nice guy, and is trying a few different acting avenues to make a career, rather than just becoming an action hero. After seeing him at Comic Con, pimping Race to Witch Mountain, I like him even more. He was genuinely funny at the large fan panel and while he sounded at times like he was reading from talking points when answering some questions, there was no denying that he knows how to work a room.
The panel included a trailer-like selection of clips that emphasized the action over everything else. In fact, before seeing this, I thought it was going to be more of a comedy/fantasy in the vein of the original movies. Forget that. Car chases, fights, and teens in peril are the order of the day if the trailer is a good representation of the finished film. The action in the trailer was reemphasized during the panel by both Johnson and director Andy Fickman who used the phrase “kick-ass” to describe the movie about 15 times each. Co-star Carla Gugino (yes, she’s still super hot) never said “kick-ass” but it was obvious the marching orders were to emphasize the action.
The other obvious marching orders were to heap praise on the original films (Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain) and to say that everyone loves the originals. Andy loves them, Dwayne loves them, Carla loves them, Dawyne’s kids love them, AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig, who are playing the alien teens, love them. Everyone loves them and this is sure as hell not a remake. No, no, hell no. It simply uses the “Witch Mountain mythology” (there was one?) for a new story. It does seem to follow the basic plot of two alien teens being protected from bad guys who want to exploit their powers. Johnson as a Las Vegas cab driver and Gugino as a disgraced astro-physicist are the protectors and Cirian Hines is the bad guy. Whatever….sounds great.
Just prior to the end of the panel, I ducked out in order to find the room where I’d take part in an interview with Johnson, Gugino and Fickman. Of course that meant I missed the Tron 2 footage Disney snuck in at the end of the Witch Mountain panel. It was all for naught since my interviewees were about 45 minutes late anyway. I’ve transcribed some of the highlights from the interview below; hopefully it will make up for not seeing evil Jeff Bridges. I know Josh Tyler will never forgive me.
Q: Why do this movie?
Andy Fickman: We love this original movie, love the world and are longtime fans of it and the opportunity came to not do a remake of it, not do a sequel, but to play with the worlds of modern day conspiracies, UFOology, an action-adventure movie, all based on the Witch Mountain mythology and to work with such great actors, couldn’t even blink fast enough to say yes.
Carla Gugino: I also loved the movies as a kid…and then when I got this script I just thought it was really good and I was a fan of Andy’s. I fell in love with the character and all the elements and it’s really great when something isn’t a lot of work to make it happen.
Dwayne Johnson: They offered me so much money (laughs). Loved the script and was a big fan of the original. My little girl, who's six, loves the original so it was a very easy decision to make. I love Andy and I didn't want to pass it up. Carla came on board, we had a great actress on board with a company that I think embodies a lot of wonderful elements, especially with a movie like this where you can combine and infuse great action with great adventure, great family values, great humor, contemporary action, contemporary humor and with a touch of fantasy too.
Q: Carla, can you describe your character.
CG: I play an astro-physicist named Dr. Alex Friedman and she’s been discredited from several universities because she has decided that there is enough hard data to prove that there probably is alien life. So she’s relegated to lecturing at the UFO Con in Las Vegas and all they want to talk about is crop circles and kooky theories and she’s pretty much having one of the worst days of her life when Dwayne’s character Jack, the cabdriver who drove her from the airport walks in and says “hey, these two kids are aliens.” Then it’s the most exciting thing, the thing she’s been waiting for her entire life and then is swept away and to help on the journey to save the world…or two in this case.
Q: How are you going to make Race to Witch Mountain better than original films?
AF: It wasn’t ever a question of being better than it because we wanted the first one, Escape to Witch Mountain to feel like that was its own story, its own movie, it had its own sequel two years later. This was about taking those elements, where, do aliens crash on our planet, yes; do they go into a race of a lifetime, yes, but you add characters like Carla and Dwayne and you have our creature from another planet, Syphon, which was just really, really awesome and scary. So from start to finish it was different. At the same time, if you were a fan of the original and you look up and see Kim Richards and Ike Eisenman or you’re wonderin’, “I wonder if they get a Winnebago in that movie” and the next thing you know you see a Winnebago, it should put a smile on your face and just give you a nice connection. We have layered this movie with so many clues along the way of just our love for the original movie that it should be a fun experience for everybody.
Q: Dwayne, are you just a regular guy in the film or do you suddenly become a great action hero?
DJ: No, he doesn't suddenly become a great action hero. I think he's struggled. He's struggled to stay on the right path for a long time, frankly not very happy with his life. A lot of great movies, it's always about the collisions of worlds that happen, whether it's great comedies or action comedies, whatever it is. In this it's a phenomenal collision that takes place between this guy who's your everyday guy and he gets involved with these two teenagers who have these supernatural powers. I think throughout the course of the story, he learns to trust them and wants to help them. And what I really enjoyed about it, even though he struggles to stay on the path and has done a lot of things he shouldn’t have done, got into trouble a lot, ultimately he has one great opportunity to do something great. He has a chance to save the world and he accepts it and embraces it and doesn’t know if he is going to succeed or not but he embraces it and moves forward with it.
AF: We also were very specific about setting this movie in Vegas and I spent a lot of time in like taxicab confessions in Vegas. And as I spent a week there just researching with these cab drivers, there was something fascinating to me and something very human about the fact that there is a unique relationship. That became a fascinating jumping off point as a filmmaker, who gets in your cab? And the stories they tell about people that got in their cab, you’d think aliens landed every day. 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.
Q: Dwayne, how were the young actors to work with?
DJ: They were really great to work with. I always find that making movies is a lot of fun but it's a lot of hard work too. Acting is difficult to do on many levels and you're so impressed when you can find teenagers like that who have a tremendous amount of capacity to do what they're doing and to be that involved and be that present in the characters. Then to see the same vision as Andy and the rest of us and to see that wide scope, for them to have that vision and then for them to still embrace being teenagers and having fun which, I thought was great. I give a lot of credit to their families. They are really, really talented kids. They are really passionate about this movie and the originals.
Q: Dwayne, do you believe in aliens?
DJ: Well, how come you can't ask me that with a straight face? (laughs) Of course I do, yeah. I think it'd be extremely arrogant to think that we're the only ones. I firmly do and I'm always fascinated and intrigued. Spending three four months with Andy as all of us did in preproduction and his love and his passion, he had all these videos and books. He just literally took us on this course. It was amazing. To Andy: You should teach a course by the way.
Q: Andy, while you were shooting this did you try to invent a way to get Dwayne shirtless?
AF: Interestingly enough, you don’t actually ever have to invent a way to get Dwayne shirtless. Everytime you call him down to the set and in comes Dwayne and I’m like “I’m pretty sure you’re wearing a shirt” and he’s like “really, it doesn’t SAY I’m wearing a shirt in the script.” I’m like “the general assumption is that you’re always wearing shirt.” The bigger issue is could I keep him pantless and the answer is always yes.