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Buena Vista Home Video presents
Return From Witch Mountain: SE (1978)

"It's Tony's sister. She did it. She's as weird as he is."
- Letha (Bette Davis)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: November 25, 2003

Stars: Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Jack Soo, Anthony James
Director: John Hough

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:33m:42s
Release Date: September 02, 2003
UPC: 786936192483
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B CB+B A-

DVD Review

Everyone needs a vacation. Even if you live in a cool alien colony like Witch Mountain, it's nice to hop in the family spaceship now and then and float back to Earth for a visit. Such is the lame premise Disney's so-called Imagineers devised for Return from Witch Mountain, the unimaginative but mildly entertaining sequel to the studio's 1975 hit, Escape to Witch Mountain. Three years have passed since the last earthly adventure of Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards), yet the siblings have been so busy helping their Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle) establish a new paranormal community on Witch Mountain, they've never had a chance to experience big city life. So one smoggy day, their benevolent uncle drops the pair on the Rose Bowl's 50-yard-line for a whirlwind week of concerts and museum hopping in L.A.

Of course, why a responsible senior citizen would allow a couple of preteens to roam about the City of Angels unchaperoned—especially when they're both proven trouble magnets—remains a matter for child welfare authorities to investigate. Maybe safety's a dead issue up on Witch Mountain, but the kids aren't gone 10 minutes in the urban jungle before their taxi runs out of gas, leaving them stranded. While the driver is off filling his gas can, Tony sees flashes of a man falling from a rooftop, and rushes to the rescue. Now, apparently nobody ever told Tony or Tia to be wary of strangers, because after Tony calls upon his supernatural abilities to engineer the man's soft landing, he pauses to chat with the guy's grateful aunt and her distinguished male companion. They thank Tony by plunging a needle in his back, rendering him unconscious. So much for being a good samaritan.

Poor Tony. He's now at the mercy of the diabolical Letha (Bette Davis) and her partner in crime, Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee), who's developed a nifty hypnosis gadget that puts Tony—and all of his valuable mental gifts—under their control. The bankrupt Letha shanghais Tony's powers to steal millions in gold bouillon from a local museum, while power-hungry Victor hatches more grandiose plans and winds up pushing Los Angeles to the brink of a thermonuclear disaster to achieve his dastardly goal. Meanwhile, Tia befriends a gaggle of street urchins (who dub themselves the Earthquake Gang) and enlists their help in finding the missing Tony. She even spends a few nights alone in an abandoned building deep in the L.A. ghetto. Some vacation!

Return from Witch Mountain features a few bright moments, including an exciting car chase, but generally resembles most misguided sequels with its cut-rate budget and weak, over-the-top story. The novelty of the original has worn thin, and the advancing age of Richards and Eisenmann wipes out the cuteness factor that lent the first film so much charm. Also gone is the absorbing mystery of the kids' heritage, leaving only a series of chases and stunts to entertain the audience. Even those get dull after a while and wind up making this Witch Mountain seem far longer than it's 93-minute running time.

Still, it's always fun to watch Bette Davis (she'd even make a grocery list sound interesting), and though she's little more than a caricature of herself here, she provides occasional glimpses of her old fiery personality. Seeing her spit out lines with her trademark cadences, breathy pauses and clipped diction while flashing and popping those well-documented eyes is practically the film's singular joy—one that sadly will evade younger viewers. Lee compliments Davis well with his reserved, sophisticated portrayal, nicely underplaying the demented genius.

Richards, on the other hand, resembles a rank amateur and often provokes titters with her pitifully inept line readings. (Even my kids remarked on her embarrassing performance.) It's no wonder she made only a handful of subsequent appearances before fading gracefully into retirement. Eisenmann fares a bit better, but since the plot requires him to spend most of the film in a catatonic state, it's difficult to evaluate his work. He plays a good zombie, though.

If Return from Witch Mountain were made today, Disney would undoubtedly relegate it to straight-to-video status, due to its thin story and questionable appeal. Although director John Hough tries to inject this follow-up with the same energy and freshness that distinguished the original, too many elements conspire against him. Fans of the series will certainly welcome this DVD release, but the rest of us should try and escape this Witch Mountain sequel.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.75:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Disney scores with another solid, sharp anamorphic transfer. The source material exhibits only occasional specks and grit, and colors remain true and vivid throughout. Tia's bright orange outfit (soooo '70s) possesses intense vibrancy, while Davis' ruby red lipstick fairly gleams. Fleshtones are a little rosy and shadow detail could be a tad crisper, but edge enhancement seems totally absent. Faint grain lends the image a film-like feel, which makes for a smooth, pleasant viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track doesn't offer a lot in the way of ambient effects, but the sound is clear and dialogue is easily comprehendible. Any age-related defects have been erased and levels remain stable over the course of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Lion King: SE, Disney's Haunted Mansion, Stitch! The Movie, Sleeping Beauty: SE
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actors Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, and director John Hough
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:17s

Extra Extras:
  1. The Eyes Have It (1955) cartoon
  2. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Although Return from Witch Mountain doesn't warrant the same special edition treatment Disney lavished on its predecessor, fans will certainly appreciate the disc's healthy plate of extras. To evoke a theatrical feel, the 1955 cartoon The Eyes Have It precedes the main feature and cleverly taps into Witch Mountain's themes. The amusing animated short stars Donald Duck as a scientific hobbyist who cracks open his E.Z. Hypnotism set to test his powers of mesmerism on the unsuspecting Pluto. The bewildered dog is forced to act like a chicken, mouse and turtle, among other things, before the wayward experiment ends. (The cartoon can be easily skipped via remote, if desired.)

The scene specific audio commentary with Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann and director John Hough (whose comments were recorded separately and edited in) is entertaining, but not enlightening. The two actors enjoy a relaxed and convivial rapport as they recall the thrill of working with Bette Davis, various stunts, and their dated hairstyles and costumes. Both admit they possess far more vivid memories of the first Witch Mountain movie, although they profess great affection for the sequel, too. Hough addresses more technical issues, explaining the construction of various effects, the difficulties of shooting in downtown L.A., and the early use of the steady-cam. He reverently remembers both Davis and Lee and their punctuality and professionalism, and discusses how he always photographed Davis straight-on to maximize the power of her eyes.

Venturing into The Vault yields additional featurettes and supplements, of which the all-new, 23-minute documentary Making the "Return" Trip is the most noteworthy. The film features interviews with cast and technical team members, all of whom offer perspective on the production and its lasting impact. Richards talks about how Hough was (and still is) a father figure and that, before filming began, she "wasn't aware that Bette Davis was...Wow!" Eisenmann remembers with fondness how the screen diva was put on a pedestal and utterly pampered, while three members of the Earthquake Gang recall with relish their off-screen mischief. A few special effects secrets are also revealed in this slick and breezy documentary.

If you ever wondered what happened to the kids in the Earthquake Gang, the 8-minute featurette The Gang's Back in Town answers many questions by reuniting Brad Savage, Erik Yothers and Christian Juttner. The three former child actors good-naturedly reminisce about their favorite scenes, the atmosphere of normality on the set, running around the Disney back lot, and buying Bubble-Yum in the studio commissary. Brad and Erik even rib Christian about his crush on Kim Richards. Disney Kids With Powers is nothing more than a fun music video (or thinly veiled commercial—take your pick) featuring snippets from some of the studio's supernatural hits, including Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Honey, I Blew Up the Baby. Cute, but easily skipped.

Selecting Lost Treasures reveals Christopher Lee: The Lost Interview, an 11-minute conversation between the actor and a Mexican TV journalist conducted completely in Spanish. (English subtitles pop up automatically.) The rather dry interview (taped at the time of the film's release) touches upon Witch Mountain, but Lee also discusses the art of acting, his diverse roles, and working with Bette Davis in a relaxed, disarming manner. He even sings a few bars from a Verdi opera.

Disney Studio Album 1978 is a three-minute compilation piece designed to give audiences of the day a preview of the company's upcoming projects in film, TV and animation. For today's viewers, it's merely a nostalgic look back at such fare as The Cat from Outer Space, The Black Hole and the Mickey Turns 50 celebration at Disney theme parks.

The Galleries are divided into three sections and contain a hefty amount of material. Production Stills offers 67 color and black-and-white shots, combining candids, scene stills and publicity portraits, while Advertising features a collection of posters, lobby cards, and even the paperback novelization cover. Of special interest, the Biographies area features in-depth profiles and essential filmographies of the principal actors and director.

An Easter egg containing the film's original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Like most sequels, Return from Witch Mountain pales when compared to its predecessor, but still offers wholesome, high-spirited family entertainment. Disney honors the film's fan base by serving up a first-rate transfer and comprehensive set of extras. Witch Mountain devotees and diehard Bette Davis fans will certainly want to snatch up this disc; others, however, should stick with the original.

 


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