Go Speed Racer Go!

May 11, 2008 at 9:00 am | Posted in movies | 2 Comments

Trixie: Was that a ninja?
Pops Racer: More like a “non”-ja.

Speed Racer
AMC Loews Stony Brook – May 9, 2008

After viewing the seizure-inducing trailer, I expected a full-on visual assault (you know, in the good way) from the CGI-rrific remake of the classic 1967 cartoon series, Speed Racer.

There were some prior warnings from a couple of sources not to go see this movie. In fact, Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 35%, which all in all is not great (Never had the habit of listening to other reviews before, and this was no exception). Normally, I choose to attend the traditional Friday movie night with Turtle and friends when there is something worth seeing in the theaters. And boy, did it deliver!

In the spirit of appreciation and support for computer animated efforts, I saw no reason why this movie has received such a lukewarm welcome. Mostly because I was under the impression that somewhere along the past decade or so, there had been a “power flip” if you will – an uprising of comic book artistry that now bordered on mainstream. And I, for one, am all for it. Though I may sigh at some attempts to capitalize on a once great character (HULK, for example, puzzles me why more than one needed to be made. Not everything is a series, Hollywood! You hear me out there?) the infusion of geekdom in the entertainment arts is one that I fully embrace (i.e. The Big Bang Theory).

Known best for the Matrix trilogy, The Wachowski Brothers took on the adaptation of Speed Racer as both writers and directors. To fully understand my reaction, the slow decline of the Matrix series is paramount to my ability to shy from then embrace the Wachowski style. The first installment of the Matrix was a brilliant, ground-breaking film and is counted among my must haves on DVD. The sequel, though equally stunning graphically, began the slow decent into obscurity. Finally, the culmination of the Matrix saga was one I will never forget. Mainly because I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to see this film in the IMAX theatre in NYC. Having aggressively dark metallic objects visually thrust at me on 100 square feet marked my memory in such a way that while exiting the theater I vowed never to see that movie again.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Neo.

Truly a harsh reaction, but one that framed my cognitive reference for their work. When the Wachowskis moved on to Speed Racer, light-hearted but heavily themed comic rendering known for its bright primary colors and fast-paced action, I deduced that it may be worth the onslaught of delicious eye candy. Plus, sitting towards the front didn’t help matters any, but that’s another story…

With contributions on visual effects from Industrial Light and Magic (George Lucas’ company), the bulk of the movie was stunning and stimulating. Honestly if I have one criticism, the editing techniques used were at times redundant. The constant use of the camera pan and swipe and cross-swipe effect of characters was a tad over done and was overlayed on top of already fast-moving car chases and action sequences. Maybe “dialing it down” is not part of the Wachowski vocabulary, but it did not aid in feelings of dizzy excitement. It was more akin to that of a rollercoaster ride gone awry. We have to look somewhere, guys…

A teenage boy who aspires to be the world’s best race-car champion with the help of his friends, family and his father’s high-tech racecar, the Mach 5. A basic plot with an ensemble cast to support the objective of the main character – textbook 101. As far as the truancy of the film story to the original content of the show, I can only say with certainty that it wrapped up neatly enough for me. Having never seen a full episode of the original show (barring the opening credits), I have gathered from my research for this review that some liberties were taken. Following on the heels of the remake of Willy Wonka, the story was merely adjusted to fit the confines of the time allotted. Still, 2 hours and 9 minutes was more than enough time to flesh out the characters and allow for long and thrilling races.

The Speed Racer cartoon series has been a well known anime since the Vietnam War era. According to one user of IMDB, “Speed Racer is by far the best combination of the varied qualities of Japanese anime – goofy humor, nerve-packed action, and superior character interplay. Many fans’ introduction to anime was in viewing of this show in 1970s syndication. The original version, titled Mach Go! Go! Go!, reflects the greater violence of Japanese anime. Though the violence was toned down for the US broadcast of the show, it still was at times unnerving. Peter Fernandez and Trans-Lux were given the task of “Anglicanizing” Mach Go! Go! Go! and succeeded perhaps beyond their own expectations; the show remains fresh and engaging even with the passage of time.” The show lasted only a single season, but Speed Racer quickly become known as one of the iconic, beloved role models of animation.

Casting plays a large role in the translation of animated character to the big screen. Overall, the ensemble worked beautifully together and matched quite nicely to the original characters. In order of appearance above: John Goodman (Pops Racer), Susan Sarandon (Mom Racer), Christina Ricci (Trixie), Emile Hirsh (Speed), Kick Gurry (a slightly older and Australian version of Sparky), Chim Chim the monkey and Paulie Litt (Spritle).

There is a very cute moment where Chim Chim and Spitle are wearing the same PJ’s but in reverse. Here’s a section for another excellent review from RoboJapan: Costume designer Kym Barrett had Spritle and Chim-Chim in mind when she approached Los Angeles-based designer Paul Frank, whose monkey face graphic graces the wildly popular line of apparel and accessories for children and adults. Frank invited Barrett to visit his company’s warehouse, where she found the famous monkey-faced pajamas and thought they’d be perfect for Spritle. Barrett recalls, “As Paul and I talked, we thought, ‘Why not give Chim-Chim the same pajamas but in reverse?’ So Paul agreed to design a graphic of a boy’s face for us, from which we created Chim-Chim’s pajamas. Everyone got a kick out of them.”

Not pictured above is the equally important Racer X, played by Matthew Fox of LOST fame. Speaking of LOST, the score for Speed Racer was done by Michael Giacchino. He has composed music for some great projects (Alias, the Incredibles, Cloverfield… wait, Cloverfield had a score?) Anyway, one of my favorite parts of movie watching is waiting to see the soundtrack credits. Truthfully, I never would have guessed this was the work of the LOST composer, but not because it isn’t equally as brilliant. The fun renditions/references of familiar tunes (though names escaped me at the time) aided the story and brightened the scenes every time I noticed it, which was often. I may consider purchasing the score even.

In summation, this movie accomplishes its main goal to the fullest extent. With all the great CGI technology available, the mental equation from 1970’s cartoon to a fully-realized live action flick successfully adds up (with flying colors). Go, Speed Racer, Go!

RATING: ****/5
Recommendation: Probably won’t own it, but I’ll definitely see it again. It’ll be great on an HDTV. But see it now, if you have a chance.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Cool Ill def go see it!

  2. Re: truancy – “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

    I thought the first part of the movie was a brilliant failure. Ambitious but ultimately not meeting it’s mark. But After the first race it began to shine a bit. And I admit I actually teared up at the end.


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