5.14.2008

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Last night I went to see Speed Racer and live tweeted the entire film.  If you missed it, here are my thoughts about the movie in a much less digestible, non-bite-sized form.

July 4, 2007 I found myself sitting in a crowded theater eagerly awaiting the event of the summer.  As the lights went low, a spacescape came into focus on the screen and the voice of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullin) boomed, causing goosebumps to form and my eyes to well up.  I later told my brother that it felt like what I imagined hearing one's dead father speak from beyond the grave would be like.  Suddenly, I felt like a wide-eyed 8 year old again and it all came flooding back to me in a rush that was almost too much to take.  It was the effects of nostalgia, bought and paid for by Paramount Pictures, but effective nostalgia nonetheless.
Speed Racer
Fast forward almost a year and I find myself sitting in another theater, this time, practically alone.  The lights dim, the feature begins and that same feeling of being 8 years old again creeps up on me.  The movie this time around was Speed Racer and for all intents and purposes I fully  expected this to be a terrible romp of delciously bad camp.  The type of film that you watch for the ironic novelty of making fun of it.  What some might call 'awesomely bad'.  But here I sat, being transported away, feeling like a kid again and lapping up every second of it.

The funny thing is that when the credits rolled on Transformers, I actually left the theater loathing the movie.  Despite the wonder of seeing Optimus and the Autobots brought to life on the big screen, my high expectations, the hype, and the Michael Bay-isms all got in the way.  It wasn't until later that evening or possibly the next day that I was able to coalesce my thoughts and regard the film favorably.

With Speed Racer on the other hand, after reading some horrible reviews, I went into the theater knowing full well that the movie was probably going to be bad and that maybe I could enjoy it on the same mindless level that I enjoy the Fast & Furious films.  I had no expectations, and actually with so much trash talk about how bad it was I only wanted to see it more.  I've always mostly been one who, when faced with hype, goes in the exact opposite direction of public opinion.  Much to my delight and very similar to how I fell in love with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I [heart] Speed Racer.
Original Speed Racer
In the interest of full-disclosure, I have to admit that until last weekend I had never even seen an episode of the original Speed Racer TV show.  I was familiar with the franchise, it's a pop culture icon, but it was simply before my time.  In which case, I had no nostalgic expectations for what this film should or should not be.  To those that keep the original Speed Racer series near and dear to their hearts, I cannot offer any insight or advice.  I have no idea how you will receive this film.
Original Speed Racer
However, that was one of the things that struck me so hard about Speed Racer on the big screen.  Here is a world inhabited by characters that I have no familiarity with, and yet by the end of the first of the four major races in the movie, I was feeling the same wonder and awe I felt at my first Transformers screening.  I was feeling nostalgic for something to which I had never been previously attached.  That is an amazing feat.

The first thing that hit me about this film was that it is not as dumb as I originally expected.  This can be attributed partly to the writing of the Wachowskis but mostly to the editing of Roger Barton and Zach Staenberg.  From the get go, the very first race of the film is actually two races being run simultaneously on the same track at different times with Speed's childhood flashbacks sprinkled throughout.  It sounds ridiculous and confusing, but the transitions are seamless and the scene really works.

I have read reviews that panned Speed Racer for its incoherent storyline and others that have panned it for its lack of story.  I found it t
o be a happy medium.  There was enough story to keep me from calling it vapid, but not so much that it got in the way of the basic draw of the film: the races.

Visually this movie is completely over the top.  The Wachowskis set out to make a live-action animé and that's probably the best way to describe it.  Of course, everyone is willing to admit that the races are breath-taking, but it's not just the races.  The whole movie is a barrage of color, depth and embellishment.  In its initial impression, it reminded me of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The scenes between the races are just as eye-popping, and neat touches like 'speed lines', the hallmark of animé, and a free virtual camera make for some very interesting imagery.  
Racer X
I could go on and on about how Speed Racer walks a fine line between cool and campy, stupid and smart, lumbering and spry or how Spritle and Chim Chim are not nearly as annoying as expected, but instead I put together this little checklist as a way to tell if Speed Racer is for you.
  • Do you have any attachment to the original Speed Racer? ___ 
  • Do you like crazy Japanese things or animé or crazy Japanese animé? ___
  • Have you ever been able to enjoy the mindless indulgence of a Fatboy Slim song, or any other Big Beat techno song from the late 90's? ___
  • Have you ever enjoyed an episode of Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward? ___
  • Have you ever played with Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars? ___
  • Have you ever played the video game F-Zero? ___
  • Did you enjoy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Shark Boy and Lava Girl or any of the Spy Kids movies (not that I did, but if you like those, you'll love Speed Racer)? ___
  • Do you love the international pop superstar Rain? ___
  • Can you stomach love this remix? ___ :
If you answered yes to any but the first question, you might enjoy it.

3 comments:

Hammer said...

from the video, it looks like the race sequences are part 'pod race' from Episode I, part 'Wipeout XL', and part 'Burnout'.

I guess I'll probably wait until it comes out on DVD and rent it. Speed Racer was always really campy kid-oriented anime and I never really got into it (there's no big giant robots or demon tentacle porn).

Anonymous said...

haven't seen it, but thought this was an interesting read: http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/my_year_of_flops_case_file_111

Ahren said...

That's a pretty negative review from a seriously petty and out of touch reviewer (never seen Star Wars until '98?!?!?). It sounds like he's got a vendetta against the Wachowski brothers (no pun intended) for not consulting him before making The Matrix Reloaded.