Monday, 17 November 2008

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is an odd one this year. Its a film that simply put people off in advertising. To be honest, is it wasn't for the Wachowski's directing and writing it, I wouldn't have bothered either. But its such a unique film, like Ang Lee's Hulk, Robert Altman's Popeye or Walter Hill's Streets Of Fire.

The latter, like Speed Racer, was produced by Joel Silver, who also produced Hudson Hawk and The Hudsucker Proxy, other very odd films hated by many and loved by a select minority. Silver usually makes blockbusters like 48 Hours, Predator, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. And then he goes a bit mad for some tastes. And in odd times, his mad turns helps create the Matrix trilogy and V For Vendetta, odd popular films for the masses.

But that is a divergence. Speed Racer is such a fun film for those who get on its wavelength, and such a disaster for those who don't. It does have video game look at times but that's CGI. It's really a live action movie that sticks to the car-crazy focus of a child who loves toy cars, silly ninja's, monkey's. It's a film for your inner eight-year old visually. The cars do things you wanted to see at that age, made by proper directors who remember such things, who can think of what a child would think a future-world should be like, what it would be like to play with those things on a sugar-bender. (the film shows this literally also) The film is terrific at knowing those small bits of fantasy that's plying inside the heads of certain characters (Speed, as a child, imagines driving in a race, done in the style a child would draw, which is a visual stunner, his little brother always imagining himself an his pet monkey in epic crude anime fights, which we see). If you don't get the joy of that type of fantasy, the film is not for you. The film has cars spinning, flipping over other cars, making insane skids, blowing up, making long jumps, cars going on gravity-defying loops, climbs and descents.

Its not flawless. There are some moments where the film gets a little too literal in dialogue and voice-over (its meant for kids so sometimes things are spelled out a little too much at times). Half an hour in, while setting up the villain, the film does sag a little. Its only for a few minutes, things that could have been pruned but you do feel it. But some of the editing is tremendous. The brilliant first twenty minutes jumps back and forth through two races, between Speed racing and his brother Rex racing, gives small flashbacks within these races that gives all the backstory needed, with clear emotion, framing, pacing while still having a tremendous dramatic punch that is unique to proper cinema craftsmen. All the races work beautifully, especially the brilliant Road Warrior-influenced middle race, which is all about going fast against people who are brutally vicious thugs, which includes flipping a car and punching the driver of the other car as you flip over him. The final race does have a little bit too much exposition but manages truly insane shots, such as a long 90 degree dip of road, with a crashing car falling towards Speed as he navigates it, and adrenaline rushing moments as cars skidding on the edges over many long drops.

The best visual element DVD is that the colours are brighter and clearer in the chases (film goes so fast you have to be paying attention to what's going on but is more focused with brighter colours) and all the shots of images flowing in and out of one another make definite visual sense. It is a film that was best seen for certain moments on the big screen but it does translate better to television than films such as The Incredible Hulk, which looks cheap and unforced in comparison. (This comparison also rang true in the cinema).

To end, this one still is my favourite by far or the summer movies, followed by the eccentric Hellboy 2. Others, such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight (which I'm warming to, despite its flaws) work well but don't go to that extra bit of madness that for me great cinema thrives upon.

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