Considered a loser before it even had a chance to race to the box-office finish line, Speed Racer was cited as one of the big bombs of 2008. Audiences were confused by the colorful and kinetic trailer, befuddled by what they were seeing which, sadly, translated to very low ticket sales. Considering the big price-tag on this movie, Warner Bros was disappointed when the movie barely racked in roughly $50 million domestically. But now, a chance for another lap as Warner Home Entertainment brings Speed Racer to the small screen and, frankly, this is one hell of a fun movie. While not perfect, it does have a couple flaws, it’s a fun and exhilarating movie that had me on the edge of my seat. Well, let’s get the synopsis out of the way and onto the good stuff, shall we?
Start your engines and fasten your seatbelts for the high-octane adventure Speed Racer, combining heartfelt family humor and groundbreaking visual effects. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is a natural behind the wheel of his thunderous Mach 5. With support from Pops and Mom Racer (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon), girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), Speed takes on fierce competitors to save his family’s business and protect the sport he loves. When Speed steps onto the track, it’s not just a race. It’s an adrenaline-fueled, high-speed charge to the finish. Go, Speed Racer, go!!
I have to admit, I was absolutely stunned by this movie. I can’t remember another movie where I was absolutely glued to the screen as I was. Sure, the story was there and it served its purpose, but, wow, the visuals are just staggering. Seriously! Every scene, no matter how quiet, just popped, and those racing sequences? Good lord – just astonishing. I really think the Wachowskis were onto something here, and, man, they used special effects in ways I could truly never imagine. This movie is an absolute feast for the eyes, no question about it. It’s brilliant to use CGI to create a sense of unrealism (or even surrealism) as opposed to realism. Brilliant move! The Wachowski’s made the right move with that, and Speed Racer flourishes because of it.
I initially had no interest in watching this movie when it was announced to be in production and, again, the trailers didn’t sway me all that much, either. I was curious, I was admit, as I’m sure everyone was when the trailers hit, but they didn’t drive me enough to want to seek it out. So, opting to wait for DVD, I have to admit, I sort-of wish I caught it on the big screen, as I could only imagine they type of movie-going experience this was, especially on the IMAX screen. While the movie was a bit long and could have used some creative trimming, I was just engulfed in this movie from start to finish. Even the quieter scenes popped off the screen with a great intensity. The Wachowski’s did a seriously amazing job on designing this movie.
And why? Well, nearly everything here seems to unique, so interesting. Whether it’s the design of a television or a simply car, everything looks just stunning. And yes, the CGI is apparent, and it’s quite obvious that, for nearly every scene save for a handful, the characters are just standing in front of a green screen, but that doesn’t matter. This movie uses the green screen effect to a completely different level here, and what we get is something wholly unique that really gives the script a much-needed boost. I imagine that if this movie was filmed in the traditional sense, it would’ve been incredibly boring, but here, the visual just pack the punch needed to boost the script. Everything, and I mean everything, really pops.
What it boils down to, Speed Racer delivers. The writing, cinematography, acting, editing, and directing are all in sync. Everything seems perfectly balanced and complimentary of each other. Like I said earlier, the writing is pretty standard but, well, it works. The visuals just add onto the story to make it seem like more than what it is and that, in effect, really helps it soar. Does that even make sense? Yes, there are a couple gags here and there that don’t exactly work, namely the antics of Speed’s kid brother Spritle and pet ape Chim-Chim, especially during one particular scene where Speed and Trixie finally get to share a passionate kiss, but that’s probably the biggest gripe people will have of the movie. I will admit, there are a couple scenes where I got a chuckle out of what the kid brother was doing (particularly around the 52 minute mark).
Still, the story is simple and the characters are pure to who they are. The Wachowski’s knew every character at their core and that makes it all the more easier to just get sucked in by the movie. Even during the big finale race, I was literally on the edge of my seat and completely enthralled by the movie. And, did I mention how utterly amazing these races are? They will have you gripping the arm of your chair, I guarantee you. Some sequences are utterly mind-blowing. Don’t go in expecting any type of realism, but expect to be completely blown away by the visuals here. Because, well, at times, it gets incredibly trippy and just flat-out crazy.
Now, I can see why this movie flopped at the box-office. While it’s an absolutely fun movie, it is a bit bloated during the middle and could use to lose a good twenty minutes or so. Still, while I noticed the pace slow down a bit, I was still enthralled from start to finish. As for being a family movie, I think this is a movie a child could really enjoy. The child may not be able to sit down for the entire duration of the 135 minute movie movie, but, still, the races and eye-popping visuals should be enough to grab anyone’s attention. To me, Speed Racer seems like a kiddie movie made for an adult audience, and it totally exceeds on that level, but it’s also a movie that the entire family can enjoy, no question.
Speed Racer is just pure fun, from start to finish. The finished product is absolutely staggering to watch, especially the races. There’s four big races in the movie and each one is as unique as the last. It never feels repetitive and you never know what you’re going to get. Despite feeling a bit bloated, Speed Racer still comes Highly Recommended. I found that this movie got a lot of unnecessary bad-mouthing and hate and it definitely doesn’t deserve it. To all of those who badmouthed it without seeing it, sit down and watch Speed Racer. I guarantee you’ll be surprised. It’s one of those movies that can be viewed for the sheer and absolute enjoyment of it. I know this review may be a bit jumbled, but I think my mind is still a little bit fried from watching this flick. Just be ready to have your mind utterly blown away by what you see.
The extra features for this disc are very underwhelming, but, given the poor box-office reception of the movie, that’s not really a surprise. I can only imagine that, if it was a huge hit, we would be seeing a truly amazing home video release for Speed Racer.
The audio and video transfers for this release is a bit of a mixed bag. The audio is absolutely amazing. It surrounds you and just doesn’t let you go. The races sound spectacular and, thankfully, every bit of dialogue can be heard, even during the race sequences. The audio transfer manages to find a perfect balance between the incredibly noisy races and some of the more quieter scenes. Not once did I have to strain myself to hear any dialogue. A great, possibly flawless, audio mix. Now, the video, however, isn’t th at strong. I noticed a handful of compression problems, but nothing too major. Given the abundance of visual information coming at you, they’re easy to miss and, likely, the majority of viewers won’t even notice. Still, a good transfer but it could’ve been a couple shades better.
The extras are very disappointing. All we get are a couple of short featurettes, totally maybe 27 minutes of extra material. One is a set tour and the other is a look at the various cars from the movie. Nothing really engaging and nothing really interesting. Again, if this movie was a monster hit, I bet we would’ve seen so me really interesting footage about how this film came together. But what we get here? Not worth writing home about. There’s also a code to download a digital copy of the film, but, be warned, there’s a surchase for it.
Overall, Speed Racer is a great movie, just pure fun from start to finish. It never takes itself seriously for one second and takes you on one blast of a ride. Personally, I would label this movie as Highly Recommended, but you may want to rent this movie beforehand before purchasing it. Personally, I would risk the blind buy. The DVD itself may not be worth it, but the film totally is. It’s just a great movie that I believe will definitely find its audience over time, especially if people give this movie that chance it deserves. Speed Racer will suck you into it’s fantastic world and will not let you go until the very end. I promise you have never seen a movie like this before.
Speed Racer is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.