May 12, 2008

300 Words About: Speed Racer

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...)


  1. All these Speedy reviews are making me sad......

    I hope I see it soon.

  2. Aggghhh...I posted a comment and it got swallowed up by The Internets.

    Mainly I wanted to say I like your Lucas comparison. Speed achieved his dream of creating a CGI world, but had a much better movie to go around it.

  3. You'll get what you expect, Nick. Buckle up.

    The Internets are having a bad Monday, Craig. I neglected to feed them yesterday.

    Yeah, I never thought I'd say that there was a better effects team than ILM in town, but the Wachowskis have again showed their ability to simply create new realities. Pretty incredible.

  4. its so depressing to see speed racer crash and burn like that..i really expected it to kick iron man off the charts..check out this crazy stand up comedy clip i found about crappy cars..wonder if speed would look just as hot riding one of these..funniest thing ive seen in months

  5. Thanks for the visit, Natasha, and the funny vid.

    SR didn't deserve its poor box office numbers, but it was a tough sell up against Iron Man again. Maybe they should have limited it to IMAX or something to drive up demand. I don't know, I'm not an analyst. The critics didn't really help, either...

  6. Thanks for the mention, Daniel. I was looking over my review and bemoaning the amount of actual critical analysis that I did, but it seems to have struck some kind of chord with some people, so I'm going with it. :)

    You are right on the podracer comparison - that was (apart from the battle with Darth Maul at the end) the best part of that film, but SR put it to shame. Granted, it also has a couple of years in tech on it, and in tech years a couple is a lifetime.

    As to why the film is failing, I think there are a few reasons. 1) It's coming off the heels of Iron Man doing $100 mil. With that kind of take and word of mouth, it was easy to get lost in it's shadow. 2) The marketing didn't work. I've talked to a bunch of people who thought, just going by the trailers, that it looked like crap, enough people to make me think that the marketing mis-fired, big time. 3) However, that might be due to the fact that this is the kind of film that is so out there it is impossible to market. Marketing is based on the past - past trends, past genres, past box office numbers - and this film is unequivocally NEW. The Princess Bride was a colossal flop with audiences because they had no clue how to market it, but it has become a veritable classic since then. I'm hoping that SR will find that kind of life on DVD, and in 10 years people will still be watching it. Well, I know I will.

  7. Had you tried more critical analysis, Evan, it may have taken away from your enthusiasm!

    Good point about the marketing. I don't think anybody really knew who this was for - kids, teens, adults, car racing fans, gamers, young girls (Hirsch), etc. It could have worked for any of those groups, but how could you choose just one to focus on?

    It will be interesting to see what audience it finds on Blu-Ray DVD over the next few years, especially as Hirsch continues to rise as a star.

  8. The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer... the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard

  9. Hehe, great description, Patrick. You've made me now wonder - what if Speed Racer had been in 3-D? Seizure time...


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