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John Drew

Speed Racer (2008)

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The film is too long, and could have been a half-hour shorter. And there was too much of Spritle and the monkey. But I liked the sense of wonder I found in this film, and that the film showed the importance of a loving family. I'd give it a 9/10.

Yes! I lean toward your rating as well, although maybe more of an 8. Perhaps a little higher than Denny's 3 out of 4, but that rating is fair. The movie's too dang long, but it made a big impression on me.

If I had to put together a top 10 list for the year right now, this film would be near the top. But that's neither here nor there.

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback on the headline. I do supply headlines for my reviews, and they're usually retained. Sometimes the editors make a change, as they have here. My original headline -- lacking in originality, but a better fit for my reaction to this energetic, often spectacular film -- was "Go, Speed Racer, Go!"

Too obvious, I suppose.

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Christina Ricci? With the Wachowskis? Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down.

I think Ricci, and Sarandon for the matter, were hired for their anime-like eyes. :)

Link to video unvailing of the Mach 5, in Potsdam, Germany, plus interviews with some of the cast. Check out the jet black hair on most of the principles.

Filming began yesterday.

Could anyone else hear Tim Robbins gagging in the background while Susan Sarandon pretended to be excited about this project?

Speaking of Tim Robbins, did Emile Hirsch remind anyone else of a young Tim Robbins?

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Cinexcellence wrote:

: I think Ricci, and Sarandon for the matter, were hired for their anime-like eyes. :)

Oh, good theory!

: Speaking of Tim Robbins, did Emile Hirsch remind anyone else of a young Tim Robbins?

I haven't seen the film yet, but that photo of Hirsch with the helmet on always makes me think of Jack Black.

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I haven't seen the film yet, but that photo of Hirsch with the helmet on always makes me think of Jack Black.

Ha! Watching Into the Wild, I was constantly distracted by Hirsch, because he looks to me like a digital meld of Leo DiCaprio and Jack Black.

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I liked Hirsch far more in Into The Wild than in Speed Racer. I think the reason is that in ITW he is supposed to play a depressed person which he does well. In SR he is supposed to play a passionate person - which he doesn't play well. I agree that in both he is a troubled person and that is what makes it work in both. I think he comes off more like Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line than Tim Robbins. But I wouldn't argue the point.

Denny

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Fun stuff. There's about a dozen words and images I could have done without -- especially if this was being billed as a family film -- and I thought the ninja scene was just a LITTLE too reminiscent of the Wachowskis' previous films (you know, the ones with the martial arts and the CGI, what were they called again...?), but this was a solid effort all around, I thought. I don't know if it would be truthful to say that this is my favorite of the month's Big Movies, but let's just say that Iron Man felt like a pilot for a series that hasn't happened yet, Prince Caspian felt like yet another Middle-Earth knock-off (albeit a reasonably entertaining one), and Crystal Skull was disappointing on multiple levels -- whereas I come to Speed Racer knowing absolutely nothing about the existing franchise, and finding that I really like the uniqueness of its presentation. It's funny, but in most films, the visual effects try to look "real", and you spend half your time sitting there and thinking about how FAKE the effects look, whereas here, the movie wears its artificiality on its sleeve so proudly that I was able to enjoy the "cool" factor during the various crashes and "stunts" etc., even though I knew that they were utterly BEYOND non-realistic. Bottom line: It's a shame this movie is going to do only about as much business as Harold & Kumar 2.

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What Peter said.

I saw the film yesterday and really enjoyed it. I think it got off to a bit of a slow start -- all that layering of narratives and flashbacks and whatnot became a bit tedious, even though an interesting way to fill in all of the backstory -- and there were a few moments that did seem out of place in a "family" film, but overall, I thought it was great.

As a longtime anime fan, it was great to see a film that truly managed to become a "live action anime". Again, the Wachowskis flirted with this on the Matrix films, and Japanese films such as Cutie Honey and Casshern have appropriated the style and filmic language of anime, not to mention the same kind of layered narratives, but I don't think it's been done nearly as well as Speed Racer. It's certainly a divisive thing -- I think a quick perusal of RottenTomatoes will reveal that -- but I have to say, I totally respect that the Wachowskis stuck to their aesthetic guns the way that they did.

There's a sense of hyperreality to the film -- of going so far over the top that the "over the top-ness" becomes substantial. The Wachowskis played with this a bit in the Matrix films, but really ramped it up for Speed Racer. And while the visuals did take a little getting used to -- those early action scenes are still a bit of a blur in my memory -- I quickly became used to them, and I found the latter scenes surprisingly coherent, not to mention thrilling.

But at the same time, the film is much more the dazzling, seemingly incoherent visuals. The film's more dramatic, family-oriented moments -- moments that were oriented around the Racer family and their trials and exploits -- are surprisingly touching. Yes, they're as over-the-top as the visuals, but they achieve the same kind of "hyperreality" as the film's action sequences. Maybe it's the fact that I'm a new father myself, but I actually found myself getting a little choked up during Speed and Pops' talk in the film's final act, and the scenes of the family working together have their own particular charm.

And while I'm normally not a fan of little kid shenanigans, some of the funniest moments of the film belong to Spritle and Chim-Chim. I loved their little kung-fu duel in the living room, and some of their other reactions and pratfalls were quite funny -- once you just surrender yourself to the film's parallel universe.

So all in all, a really fun and enjoyable film that I can't wait to watch with Simon when he gets a little older. :)

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opus wrote:

: But at the same time, the film is much more the dazzling, seemingly incoherent visuals. The film's more dramatic, family-oriented moments -- moments that were oriented around the Racer family and their trials and exploits -- are surprisingly touching. Yes, they're as over-the-top as the visuals, but they achieve the same kind of "hyperreality" as the film's action sequences. Maybe it's the fact that I'm a new father myself, but I actually found myself getting a little choked up during Speed and Pops' talk in the film's final act, and the scenes of the family working together have their own particular charm.

What opus said. I can't believe I neglected to make this point in my previous post.

: And while I'm normally not a fan of little kid shenanigans, some of the funniest moments of the film belong to Spritle and Chim-Chim. I loved their little kung-fu duel in the living room, and some of their other reactions and pratfalls were quite funny -- once you just surrender yourself to the film's parallel universe.

Yeah, I didn't mind the "kid" aspects of this film so much -- and I thought they really paid off once Speed finds himself in pretty much the same position that Rex was in, and his kid brother in the same position that he was in. There's some nice paralleling there.

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I think Khoi Vinh's analysis of the film is one of my favorite defenses of the film, as well as one of the more unique. He approaches the film from a graphic designer's perspective, and posits that graphically-driven nature of the film might be partially responsible for the film's underwhelming box office performance.

Don

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My review, FWIW.

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My comments were primarily directed at the second and third Matrix films. The first one, I think, struck a very good balance between the visual effects and the storyline, themes, and character development.

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I finally caught this, and I really enjoyed it! I think the Wachowski's really commited themselves to staying true to the original series, and were successful for the most part. I agree that the film could have, and probably should have been shorter by half an hour, there are several scenes (especially with Royalton) where the exposition just seems to go on way too long. This is definitely one that I will be wanting on DVD so that I can do some frame-by-frame studying.

I think that although this movie has pretty much tanked at the box office, it could be a movie that over time garners a much more fervent audience once it's out on DVD. Who knows, a successful DVD run could actually open up the possibility for future films. The first Austin Powers film did not fare very well in theatres, but it's success in the home market was responsible for two highly successful sequels.

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Baal_T'shuvah wrote:

: The first Austin Powers film did not fare very well in theatres, but it's success in the home market was responsible for two highly successful sequels.

Indeed, I believe the second Austin Powers may be the only sequel that outgrossed its predecessor's entire theatrical run in its first weekend alone. (First Austin Powers: $53.9 million total. Second Austin Powers: $54.9 million in its first weekend, on its way to a $206 million total. And just for what it's worth, third Austin Powers: $73.1 million in its first weekend, on its way to a $213.3 milion total.) (The only other possible example that occurs to me is the Terminator franchise, but the first film grossed $38.4 million in its entire theatrical run, while the second grossed $31.8 million in its first weekend -- which was very impressive for 1991, but not enough to outgross the first movie on its own.)

That said, Speed Racer was a highly intensive visual experience, and I think it may suffer on the lower-quality DVD or Blu-Ray formats. Heck, I felt just a tad guilty because I saw the film in a regular theatre, rather than IMAX. On the other hand, perhaps some audience members would PREFER a less-intense experience.

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Interesting analysis of Speed Racer discussing the movie's 2 dimensionality and comparing it with Sympathy for the Devil (1968)

http://notebook.theauteurs.com/?p=178

What is the political purpose of Speed Racer

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I think Khoi Vinh's analysis of the film is one of my favorite defenses of the film, as well as one of the more unique. He approaches the film from a graphic designer's perspective, and posits that graphically-driven nature of the film might be partially responsible for the film's underwhelming box office performance.

Thanks for the link, a wonderful analysis.

For designers, it

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Speed Racer Head Scratcher

Who would make a final color-corrected master of their movie so that 70% of the theatrical audience wouldn't be able to see the colors properly? Apparently, the Wachowski Brothers.

It turns out that Speed Racer was mastered using colors that look great on digital projectors and monitors but can't be fully reproduced on film. Once the master was complete, the people making the film prints were more or less told "Do the best you can." The decision left even the post-production pros puzzled -- on a film that depended so much on its look, why use colors that couldn't be delivered to the majority of theatergoers who would see the movie on celluloid? . . .

David S. Cohen, Thompson on Hollywood, July 6

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Somebody at the Academy must hate the Wachowskis. Speed Racer did NOT make the 15-movie shortlist of films that are eligible for the Oscar for Visual Effects. If memory serves, neither of the Matrix sequels made the shortlist for 2003, either.

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Wow... that's actually pretty disappointing. In their own way, the effects of Speed Racer were quite revolutionary, as Khoi Vinh has discussed already. I'm surprised Speed Racer didn't make it but Quantum of Solace did.

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So all in all, a really fun and enjoyable film that I can't wait to watch with Simon when he gets a little older. :)

Yes, this would be fun to watch with more open imaginations around. Speed Racer was never "flat" to me as a kid, due I guess to the flexibility of childhood perception, so I can't really imagine how much I would have been blown away by this way back when.

For designers, it

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This is precisely why I didn't like the movie, as it is essentially an extremely well crafted photoshop. Its reduction to juxtaposed and intercut shapes is where it departs from cinema, I just can't get behind this kind of digital artifice for some reason. It can be beautiful in anime contexts, but there is something menacing about this convergence between photoshop chic and live-action that makes me respond so negatively to this film.

I guess I just don't quite get this criticism. If you set out to create a live action version of an anime, doesn't that necessitate adopting an aesthetic that has at least something in common with an animated context? Otherwise, how can you at all be faithful to the original? And what do you mean by "menacing"? (Honestly, not trying to be snarky.)

Maybe the snub just has to do with the generally poor critical reception of the film.

If that were the case, then I doubt that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Hancock, or Journey to the Center of the Earth would be on the list.

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I guess I just don't quite get this criticism. If you set out to create a live action version of an anime, doesn't that necessitate adopting an aesthetic that has at least something in common with an animated context? Otherwise, how can you at all be faithful to the original? And what do you mean by "menacing"?

The article you linked to praises the film for its "graphic sensibility," and that is what I am specifically reacting to. He says: "In fact, it is my belief that graphical sensibility is at odds with the mainstream of cinematic expectations." And since it is Khoi Vinh, I am assuming he is not just referring to print media, but also digital rendering and interactive media. Regardless, that statement brings to mind the old adage about adaptations of books: What makes a good book does not make a good film. We could also say of the graphic arts: What makes a good work of graphic art does not make a good film. There are different visual languages at play; there are different sets of expectations encoded in the way we negotiate each. He is simply making a category mistake in his estimation of what "graphic arts" can teach "film." One is not the other, and even the successful conflation of the two, as in the oddly beautiful Casshern, is a pyrrhic victory. You may end up with a visually stimulating product, but such a product will always be stillborn from the perspective of our ability to critically assess it as a media object. Or to shift the metaphor a bit, Speed Racer is menacing in that it is like a Frankenstein hybrid.

More to the point on Speed Racer, I think film has a different ontology than anime, and mating them is like trying to combine the DNA of two different species. From this perspective, setting out to do a live action version of anime is by definition an impossible task. Can't they just go to a Comic Con?

If that were the case, then I doubt that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Hancock, or Journey to the Center of the Earth would be on the list.

Ah, no doubt. Then it is puzzling and unfair. I may not like it, but it must have been a pain to make.

Edited by MLeary

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I missed this film in theaters, in part due to the poor overall critical and box office reception, I suppose, but also I think in part because it just slipped away from me on my 2008 viewing list. I had really been looking forward to it, too, not necessarily because I was a fan of the cartoon -- although I did see a few episodes when it was on MTV in the 90s, and my college buddy Daryl and I agreed that it was one of the few good things on MTV. :P But also, I had a coworker at the Department of Energy who liked to call me Speed Racer (because I can go fast in my wheelchair ;)).

Anyway...I FINALLY broke down and rented the darn thing from Netflix, and I watched it last night. LOVED IT!!! Definitely agree with the "hyperreality" comments further up the thread. It really was like a cartoon come to life, I thought. And now I have to ask myself....what took you so long to see this movie, Speed Racer? ;)

Edited by MrZoom

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Don't. Do that, Zoom. You're going to talk me into renting it and I'll be back here ranting, and having people make fun of me again. And we don't need that now do we.

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