National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes 03.22.2009

BY Steven D. Greydanus

March 22-28, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/13/09 at 1:16 PM


Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)- Pick

Return From Witch Mountain (1978)- Pick

Twilight (2008)- Pass

This week, timed to benefit from the new big-screen spin-off are new special-edition DVDs of the original two Witch Mountain films.

One of the most popular Disney films of its era, Escape to Witch Mountain only loosely follows Alexander Key’s comparatively dark original tale about a pair of troubled orphans escaping a juvenile hall orphanage and a sinister pursuer with the help of a heroic Catholic priest.

In the film version, Tony and Tia are model citizens, the orphanage is a kindly place, and even the villains woo the siblings with palatial luxuries stuffed with playthings.

Regrettably, Father O’Day, the novel’s savvy, stand-up priest, has been replaced by crusty widower Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert). The film also omits a kind but sickly nun who gives the children an important clue regarding their origins.

The mysterious villains are apparently interested in the paranormal (an astrologer and a psychic briefly appear, but are mocked as useless), and consider the kids “psychic,” though the climax confirms that their powers are really sci-fi, not pseudo-spiritual. No great shakes, but it’s pleasant entertainment.

Return From Witch Mountain offers the continuing adventures of Tony and Tia, who emerge from their mountain hideaway for a weeklong L.A. vacation only to become entangled in the machinations of a sinister scientist and his hangers-on.

Better structured and faster-moving than its predecessor, the sequel is also sillier, with a plot involving mind control and a squeaky-clean street “gang” of nerdy kids who’d look better in Mouseketeer ears than painted denim jackets. And, unfortunately, Tony spends almost the whole film separated from Tia in a trance-like state, so the siblings’ relationship is lost.

On the up side, Christopher Lee and Bette Davis are more engaging as a pair of bickering villains than the original villains, and their characters and goals are better defined.

Also new on DVD, Twilight, the big-screen version of the first of Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular gothic teen romances of vampire love, has been embraced by some Catholics as a “pro-chastity” romance.

Edward’s abstinence from human blood and resistance of his desire for Bella’s neck — as well as their abstinence from literal premarital sex — are cited as examples of “purity.”

Yet the story is really a celebration of disordered desire: Vampire bloodlust is inherently destructive and one-sided, in contrast to male-female desire, which reflects innate complementarity and reciprocity. “Exactly my brand of heroin” is how Edward describes Bella.

Edward’s appeal is unwholesome: He’s the “bad boy” who can be saved if the “good girl” loves him enough. Why do mothers want their daughters absorbing this stuff?

CONTENT ADVISORY: Escape to Witch Mountain: Mild menace to children; brief references to divination and psychic phenomena. Return From Witch Mountain: Mild menace to children. Both fine for all but the youngest family members. Twilight: Some intense stylized violence, including a couple of vampire bites; a scene of bedroom sensuality; a few sexual references; minor profanity. Not recommended.