Speed Racer (2008)

Genre(s): Action / Family / Sports
Warner Brothers || PG - 135 minutes - $28.98 || September 16, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-09-22


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: The Wachowski Bros.
Writer(s): The Wachowski Bros. (written by)
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Richard Roundtree


Theatrical Release Date: May 9, 2008


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Spritle in the Big Leagues
  • Speed Racer Supercharged!
  • Digital Copy


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Much has been made out of the box office bust that is Warner Brothers’ $120 million Wachowski Bros. directed spectacle based on the cult 1980s cartoon. Speed Racer was indeed a failure for probably a variety of reasons, least of which is an adaptation that, quite frankly, not many people really care about; this is not Transformers here... Racer pulled in an astounding $89 million worldwide. Ouch.

However, despite my reservations when this first came to theaters (I assume I had the thinking of most people who also decided to skip it), I was quite surprised on the overall experience now that it has come on DVD. Sure, it is very long for a family film coming in at 135-minutes and true, the first half, at least for me, was downright dull and ridiculous -- I know people love chimps on film, but I’ve never understood the hilarity -- but the second half more than makes up for the numerous flaws.

Speed Racer stars Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) as, well, Speed Racer. The Racer Family is comprised of Pops (Goodman), Mom (Sarandon), Spritle (Litt), monkey Chim Chim and Speed’s role model, Rex Racer (Porter; TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) who was killed during a dangerous race. Speed grew up idolizing Rex and took up the family profession – racing high speed cars, and in their case, the Mach 5.

After an impressive race, Speed gets an invitation to join Royalton Industries, a conglomerate that mass produces cars, drivers and winners. Speed considers joining but finds the whole company to go against what he and his family believes in. Of course, CEO Arnold Royalton (played by the underrated Roger Allam) won’t take no for an answer and does what he can to take down the Racer family.

There’s actually more to the story as we get to see, spliced in with Speed’s (IIRC) first race, his childhood and the relationship between he and Rex; working with the authorities to take down Royalton including the help of the mysterious Racer X (Fox; TV’s “Lost”); and his bond with childhood best friend and current flame, Trixie (Ricci; Black Snake Moan).

Speed Racer is certainly not some fantastic summer action flick. In fact, the first 30-minutes or so are downright dreadful at times. But as the story continued to develop and twists unravel (albeit obvious), I found myself engaged with the racing aspects and the characters, even though they’re 2-dimensional. When it comes to films that are 99.9% CGI, Speed Racer is the best I’ve seen, and yes that does include the Star Wars prequels...

The Wachowski... whatevers, directed the film with what I can only assume is the same visual flair as the cartoon series. Colors are vibrant to say the least and there’s so much color eye candy to capture the attention of anyone with ADD. I didn’t so much mind their choice of style or use of CGI, but the use of screen wipes (transition from one scene to the next) got a little too cute for its own good one too many times.

The cast is pretty much standard and unmemorable. I like Emile Hirsch, he is a talented actor and seems to fit the part just right (I can’t think of any other young actor who could’ve done any better), but at the same time it’s not a star-turning performance either. Then you have Christina Ricci who is delicious as Trixie and, given the PG rating, was as good as she could get for the eye candy for the older (i.e. 14+) audience.

Speed Racer is a good movie, nothing more. The cast isn’t anything special and while The Wachowski’s give a visual style that looks amazing on screen, the story’s first half does falter some, taking the film down a grade. Given the 2+ hour running time, I’m not sure how often I’ll watch this again.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

I realize the film did poorly and all, but I’m almost certain Warner has more than what was supplied here. I can’t think that an on-set camera wasn’t present while they were filming or other cameras to document how the visual effects were done...

Spritle in the Big Leagues (14:33) – In what I can consider the disc’s only behind-the-scenes featurette, this one has the actor who plays Speed’s young bro taking the camera on a tour of the set and to the various departments.

Speed Racer: Supercharged! (15:41) – One of the most boring featurettes I’ve seen in a while takes us through each car and racetracks and gives bits of trivia about them.

There is also a digital copy available for download.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

Warner Brothers presents Speed Racer in its 2.35 OAR. As I stated in my review, the visuals even on SD DVD, looks absolutely incredible. Colors are vibrant and everything looks absolutely crisp, clean and clear.

Unfortunately the audio isn’t nearly as impressive. A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is provided and although the dialogue sounds good coming through the center channel, I simply wasn’t wowed by all sound effects used, especially during the racing scenes. It didn’t quite have the boom one would expect from a movie like this.



.::OVERALL::.

Speed Racer isn’t going to blow your mind like The Matrix or, for some, like V for Vendetta did, but for at least the final half, it was a great film with suspense and style. Some might be turned off by the non-stop use of neon colors (reminiscent of Batman & Robin), but I think it worked here. While I never really watched the animated series it’s based upon, it would seem the Wachowski Bros. did their best translating it to the big screen.