Race to Witch Mountain Set Visit: Part I

By ON

It was just about a year ago, in July of 2007, when I sat in Andy Fickman’s office at Disney Studios; he was wrapping up the editing on The Game Plan. That’s when I noticed a loose script for a movie called, Race to Witch Mountain. There was also a DVD of the 1975 flick, Escape to Witch Mountain.

I kind of put two and two together, and asked Andy what that was all about. He quietly said that was going to be his next film to direct, but he couldn’t talk about it because he just signed the deal the night before. However, he did talk about wanting to be a part of this film and the original film is one of his favorites.

His version, though, is going to blow that one away, and if Andy’s energy and enthusiasm indicates anything, we can only expect nothing but craziness. Skip ahead to April of this year; ComingSoon.net was on the set in Pamona, California. The cast and crew was all ready to go on what is set to be one giant of a flick.

Race to Witch Mountain follows two kids, AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig in their adventure to save the world and their planet – with the help of their handy cab driver, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whom they pick up in Las Vegas.

The Pamona Convention Center was transformed into the UFO Space Expo 9. In the scene, Dwayne is in search of the kids, who have escaped his sight and wondered through the convention floor. Tons of extras dressed as aliens lined the floor, along with expo attendees – some possibly so weird, they may have brought their own costumes to the set.

Andy and producer Andrew Gunn were extremely excited to have us on set, ComingSoon.net being one of the first media outlets to be allowed to see any filming. They introduced us to their visual masterpiece that was Expo 9.

Being that Andy is such a big fan of the franchise, he was very keen on keeping some things the same. “There are tons of tie-ins to the original film, some of which just makes us smile,” he said joking with Gunn. “I can’t wait for the DVD to tell people about this. No one’s going to be able to get this when they see the movie, but boy are they going to enjoy the hell out of that DVD!”

But he wanted to point out the very different tone of this flick. “We are a darker movie; Disney has given us the chance to make this kind of movie – it really shouldn’t have the Disney name on it. They’ve been really supportive with everything. I looked at what they did in ’75 and loved it and respected it, and here we wanted to make it more intense. Oren Aviv and the guys kept saying, ‘how far can you take it’ and make it darker.”

What also sets Race to Witch Mountain apart from a lot of the other films out there is how the story will be told. Andrew Gunn was quick to say it’s not going to be like the TV show, “Roswell.” “We’re going to tell this story from a different point of view; the tone completely shifted from a Disney comedy to a “Die Hard” or a “Bourne” version of the movie.”

As for the cast, Dwayne and Andy are reuniting for “Witch Mountain.” “I had such a good time working with Rock; he’s truly one of the great guys. He and his fans have been wanting him to do that action movie – even before ‘Game Plan’ came out. He’s so good at comedy, and he said he didn’t want to do another action movie until he found a movie that gave him a little bit of everything. And as we started developing this material, it’s The Rock kicking ass. And all of a sudden, The Rock is back in action movies.”

The rest of the cast includes Carla Gugino, Garry Marshall (who has his own book), Ciaran Hinds (as the bad guy), Cheech Marin, and Chris Marquette. Sci-fi guy Whitley Strieber has a small cameo and has his own ‘booth’ at the convention. Also, host of “UFO Hunters,” Bill Burns, makes his presence felt as what else, a UFO expert.

The convention looked amazing; booths you would see at a real sci-fi convention: stages, contests, “Star Wars” Stormtroopers, Mars exhibits (one like ‘an Easter Island meets Ganja look,’ as Andy described), and a UFO karaoke machine with real songs. “Our production department took it very seriously with all the source material we had. We have a couple hundred extras, and they really fill the room. It’s partly our imagination and real things.”

The other set pieces – a huge upgrade with technology. “The original movie, you’ll remember there was a hill and a tree, and they hid the UFO behind the tree.” Andy added, “Here, our Witch Mountain is like Area 51. We got to have an entire day tour of NORAD. They let us take a ton of pictures, and we did a design with that. When you see the interior of our Witch Mountain, you’ll notice we’re trying to keep it extremely real. Once you start seeing the footage, you’ll realize it’s much more of a kick-ass ride they’re used to – like the 1970′s action movies, just people kicking the crap out of each other.”

You could tell Andy was having fun on this shoot – a man dressed in a green reptile outfit giving him hugs and kisses is just the beginning. Andy was carrying a mini dominatrix whip with him and lightly hitting the Assistant Director and his other crew members with it. Yeah, this is one outrageous director.

As for Dwayne Johnson, we had a chance to chat with him about working with Andy again on this flick. “It was great; I had a great time with Andy. He understands my comedic sensibilities, but he knew I wanted this to be badass, and a movie audience wouldn’t expect it. It really pushes the boundaries. I really wanted the action to hold up.”

And it definitely was the action that got him excited about the script. “You remember the original?” he asked. “The action is amped up, plus for me coming back to the action genre – I would only do it if it was intense. The action is really driven and kicks. Plus it’s funny, too. The story is thrown right at you. These two kids hop in my cab, and they just happen to be from another planet – and the fate of their planet is in their hands.”

It’s the looks of the aliens and creatures that really impressed Rock. “The Siphon is one of the greatest monsters in the movie. Through a series of events, he realizes it’s all true, and it’s just a coincidence I am chosen to help them.”

One thing that’s new for Dwayne is the car chase scene. “A lot of what I’ve done is hand-to-hand combat. For me, this was awesome to do the driving. We were in the go-mobile, and the cameras are never cutting away. The big kid in me, we’re having these incredible car chases going 60 miles an hour; we got airborne a couple times, too. I got out of the car and was like, ‘that was f**king awesome!’ I’m doing all my own stunts. I’m happy to be back with that. Everyone wants to push the envelope, they know what it is to hand out an old fashioned ass kicking – and that’s where that ’70s style comes into play.”

The kids in the film, Alexander and AnnaSophia, have most of their scenes with Dwayne’s character. He says he’s been very impressed with how they work. “Yeah, they’re great. They always have a fresh perspective, and especially in this movie; you’re always on the road. First three minutes, boom, you’re in the race, we’re on the run.”

With sequels all the rage now in Hollywood, it was only fitting that we ask Rock if he’d want to come back and do a second movie. “Sure, I’d love that; but it really depends on how well it does. I’d love that,” he said.

What made being on the set even more fun – I got to be in one of the scenes. And, if you look closely when you see Race to Witch Mountain, you’ll catch The Rock pushing me out of the way as he’s looking for the kids. I even got a free t-shirt out of it, which made the day all the more better.

You can check out more from the set later on this summer. Race to Witch Mountain is scheduled to hit theaters March 13, 2009.

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