May 12, 2008
Take a long look at that screenshot I happened across. It's somehow blurry and clear at the same time, and the detail is so rich as to be an academic study for art students. The same can be said about Speed Racer, the long overdue adaptation of the popular anime-inspired cartoon, and the newest visionary film by the Wachowski Brothers, the enigmatic filmmaking duo that gave us the Matrix trilogy. Bringing your favorite characters to life are Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), John Goodman (Evan Almighty), Christina Ricci (Penelope), Susan Sarandon (Enchanted), and Roger Allam (V for Vendetta, also written by the Wachowskis). Don't get caught up in the story, as it's somewhat unnecessary and far less important than the real heart of this movie: the spectacular races. I think I read that no actual cars were used in the filming of the races, which is not surprising in this age of green screen/CGI effects, but still mind-boggling when you consider the incredible energy pumping through these scenes. It's everything George Lucas failed to do with the pod races in The Phantom Menace, and it's evidence that the Wachowskis are, again, way ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative special effects.
Though it's tempting to only focus on the adrenaline-filled racing sequences, Speed Racer offers some additional eye candy in the use of frame wiping and, in almost every scene, enough colors to spend a lifetime naming (I wouldn't be surprised to learn if some assistant director was tasked with making sure 30 different colors are visible in each frame). There are some decent moments of physical comedy as well, and at least one line from John Goodman that had me laughing out loud. It would be easy to come down hard on Speed Racer for its misguided and distracting attempt at wrapping a touching family drama into an indictment of corporate greed, but those moments didn't annoy me so much as they bored me. This race would have been a lot more fun without these pit stops, but when the pedals were on the floor it was a pretty wild ride.
(Because I love passionate reviews, I have to direct you to Evan Derrick's at MovieZeal, even though I don't fully share his enthusiasm for this particular film. Get ready to ride...)