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HTF DVD REVIEW: Speed Racer



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#1 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 09 2008 - 03:06 AM

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Speed Racer


Directed By: Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Roger Allam, Paulie Litt, Benno Fürmann, Rain

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 2008

Rated: PG

Film Length: 135 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: September 16, 2008


The Film

Speed Racer adapts the cult 1960s Japanese animated series that aired in the US under the same name. Emile Hirsch plays Speed, the car-racing obsessed middle child in the tight-knit Racer family which includes father Pops (Goodman), an expert mechanic, mother Mom (Sarandon), and mischievous younger brother Spritle (Litt). As a child, Speed idolized his older brother, Rex, who raced independently after a falling out with Pops until he died in a crash surrounded by suspicious circumstances. Speed has grown up to be an accomplished driver himself, which attracts the attention of corporate bigwig Royalton (Allam), who wants to bring Team Racer into his fold. When Speed ultimately rejects the offer, Royalton responds with hostility, threatening to ruin Speed's racing career and mocking his belief that the sport is anything more than a tool for corporate interests. After Speed is aggressively knocked out of his next race, Team Racer is approached by Inspector Detector (Fürmann) and his mysterious agent, Racer X (Fox), to help them in their efforts to expose corporate corruption in racing. Speed and his ever faithful gal pal Trixie (Ricci) decide to go along with the plan even though it involves entering a highly dangerous road race in which Pops has expressly forbidden him to participate.

Fans of the cartoon show will likely get a kick out of the many clever ways in which visual references to the animation have been incorporated into this live action adaptation. Fans of good design, or even good taste, however, will be horrified by the assaultive and ugly production design which looks like someone swallowed a set of Crayola fluorescent markers and then vomited them onto the screen. This kind of color design started infecting animation in the late 70s and 80s, but was not a symptom of the original Speed Racer series. Rather than designing a primary and secondary color-heavy palette that creates an appealing live action cartoon world as was done without the benefit of CGI by Richard Sylbert for Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy film, production designer Owen Patterson gives us something that is aggressively ugly and hard to look at.

Arguably, the whole film is overdesigned, seeming to stem from a philosophical view that "too much is almost enough". The car racing/"car-fu" battle scenes, which should be the meat and potatoes of the film, are strangely unaffecting. While much of the action is clearly preposterous, such scenes could still have succeeded if the filmmakers had found a way for them to achieve their own reality. Instead, they have created sequences reminiscent of watching someone else play a video game, except with more unrealistic looking camera movements. The integration of live action and CGI is so unconvincing that one is left longing for the gritty realism of Spy Kids 3D: Game Over. Editorially, the filmmakers get caught up in their own shorts, making some scenes, such as the opening sequence juxtaposing past and present, unnecessarily complicated and other scenes, such as a heartfelt reconciliation between Speed and Pops, seem to drag on forever.

The decision by the filmmakers to make the whole production hard to look at is a shame, because there was the potential for a pretty fun kids movie buried deep inside this overlong and overwrought mess. Even though the actors are frequently overwhelmed by the production design, one can appreciate that the film is well cast. There are moments of juvenile humor good for a few chuckles, but like most elements of the film, they are oversold.

The Video

The film's garish palette is rendered with painful clarity by the 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer. There were a couple of instances where compression artifacts got out of hand such as a flashback scene where a distracted young Speed crashes into some hedges and the grass and leaves get pixilated for a moment, but these were the exception rather than the rule. The lack of chroma bleed is a pretty impressive achievement for this film's intentionally heavily saturated color scheme.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 384 kbps imparts the expected amount of aural sturm und drang, particularly during the film's many racing sequences. Subtlety and refinement are rarely called for, and as a result, the relatively low bitrate does not hamper the effectiveness of the soundtrack to any significant degree. Alternate French and Spanish language dubs are also presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.

The Extras

The disc comes with a modest assortment of extras consisting of two featurettes presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio and a digital download copy of the film.

Spritle in the Big Leagues (14:33) is a comically staged on-set tour led by juvenile actor Paulie Litt accompanied by occasional "Pop-Up Video" style text factoids. Aspects of the production explored include the prop department, the chimp trainer, the Racer family home set, the racing gimbal, the Art Department/Production design, visual effects, stunt/fight training, and the costumes. There is some interesting background information and behind the scenes glimpses, but not a lot of depth.

Speed Racer: Supercharged (15:41) is a review of the cars in the film constructed as if it were a documentary on the subject filmed in the world of the movie. It should entertain the Hot Wheels set, but will hold little value for older viewers.

The Digital Download is unlocked by a code included on an insert to the disc's case, but since it was not iTunes/iPod compatible, I did not bother to download it.

When the film is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following series of PSAs and promotional spots, all presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
  • Anti Piracy PSA using scenes from Casablanca (1:00)
  • Fred Claus DVD Trailer (:32)
  • Another Cinderella Story DTV Trailer (1:48)
  • Speed Racer: The Videogame promo (1:05)
  • Beetlejuice: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD/BRD trailer (1:26)
  • Anti-Smoking PSA (:34)
Packaging

The disc comes packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with a cardboard slipcover that reproduces the exact same artwork and text as the hard case with no additional embossments or foil enhancements.

Summary

While the makers of Speed Racer may argue that modern kids are sophisticated enough to follow breakneck editing and unrealistically swooping camera motion, I would counter that making them sit through two hours and fifteen minutes of it coupled with painfully unappealing design is downright cruel. It is the visual equivalent of force feeding them a six pack of Red Bull. The film is presented on disc with very good technical video quality, marred only by a handful of instances of compression artifacts, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that gets very aggressive during the multiple racing scenes. Extras consist of two kid-oriented featurettes, one with a behind the scenes look at the film hosted by Juvenile actor Paulie Litt and the other a faux documentary with a look at the various race cars and their drivers. A digital download copy of the film on the disc is compatible only with Windows and Vista/Playsforsure compatible portable devices.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 09 2008 - 04:38 AM

Here is an illustration of my design issue. Up first, relatively appealing color palette:
Posted Image

Next, extremely unappealing color palette (good looking actors, though):

Posted Image

I guess I just have a problem with whoever decided that cartoon colors=neon colors. If this does not offend your taste, you will likely find it more watchable than me.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#3 of 29 PaulDA

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Posted September 09 2008 - 05:42 AM

I have to strongly disagree with your assessment (though I respect your right to have a different opinion than mine). I am a big fan of the original (have all five DVD sets and, as a kid, this was the only after school cartoon that was a must see--I had exactly 6 minutes to get from the bus stop to my house and not miss the opening credits and making it in the slush and snow of winter required serious effort on my part at 6-8 years old).

While I agree that the pacing of the story is uneven and it could have used some judicious editing, I was quite impressed they stayed true to so many elements of the original. The oft-criticized "boring" bits about the machinations of the racing business actually recur quite frequently in the original stories--not in the same exact form, but very much in the same spirit.

The Mach 5 looks far closer to the original than I'd dared hope and the middle race (the road race) has a number of nods to the outrageously over the top originals.

I understood from the moment I began watching it at the cinema that this would be a "love it/hate it" film with few left indifferent, so I'm not surprised at your review. If I were to have one complaint about the review itself, though, it would be your use of

someone swallowed a set of Crayola fluorescent markers and then vomited them onto the screen

This is a slight variation of what quickly became a tired analogy found in many critical appraisals (it looks like someone vomited Skittles/Kool-Aid/magic markers/etc. on the screen). Along with the visuals will give you epileptic seizures (or some variant thereof), the "vomiting" criticism is overdone.

This will be a BD purchase for me, without reservation, so my bias is clear. But, again, it is certainly not for all tastes and I understand why it fared poorly at the box office, so I would not recommend a purchase to any and all potential viewers. I would recommend a rental, though, as I believe it contains enough originality to warrant at least one viewing.
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#4 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 09 2008 - 06:15 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulDA
II understood from the moment I began watching it at the cinema that this would be a "love it/hate it" film with few left indifferent, so I'm not surprised at your review. If I were to have one complaint about the review itself, though, it would be your use of

swallowed a set of Crayola fluorescent markers and then vomited them onto the screen

This is a slight variation of what quickly became a tired analogy found in many critical appraisals (it looks like someone vomited Skittles/Kool-Aid/magic markers/etc. on the screen). Along with the visuals will give you epileptic seizures (or some variant thereof), the "vomiting" criticism is overdone.
I called it how I saw it, and to my eye, the art direction/production design is just in really, almost violently, bad taste. I was very specific about the use of "fluorescent". Posted Image If you go back and read any of my over 100 reviews for the forum, I believe you will find that this is my one and only use of the word vomit. In terms of overdone cliches, it is at least a bit fresher than the ol' love it/hate it no middle ground bit. Posted Image

I enjoyed the series when I was younger. I appreciate what they were trying to do with this film. I was even intrigued by how they interpreted some of the series elements in 3-D, but they failed to do two of the things the artists did on the animated show with a lot less money. One was to choose shapes for foreground and background elements that have strong silhouettes and read well against each other. The second was to choose appealing sets of colors. The former was a problem I had with "Transformers" and the latter was a problem I had with the Joel Schumacher "Batman" films. Graphically, the latter offends me more than the former, but this film captured the worst of both. I suspect they are inter-related since as they added more gratuitous detail to things in the backgrounds, they likely went with even more glowing colors in order to get foreground items to read against them.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#5 of 29 Jeffrey Nelson

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Posted September 09 2008 - 01:16 PM

My main beef with this film (aside from eventually ditching the Mach 5 in favor of the rotten Mach 6) is that it is edited so ridiculously fast that, in many scenes, you can't tell what the hell is going on. The way this is edited, there's no sense of gravity to the vehicles, like there was in the original cartoon; I didn't feel anything when the Mach 5 jumped over obstacles or spun around corners. The finale in particular was such a huge letdown in this respect that it ruined the film for me. And I really wanted to like it. The cast was great.

#6 of 29 Thi Them

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Posted September 09 2008 - 02:22 PM

I thought this was a masterpiece. Definitely, the best movie of the year so far for me.

It's really incredible how the Wachowski's are able to convey information with the visual language in both time and composition. From the opening 15 minutes, I think you are either pulled into the incredible filmmaking or turned off by it.

It was refreshing to see a "clean" story about someone trying to stick with his morals and values, while accomplishing his goal, and to see the strength and importance of family after years of seeing movies about dysfunctional families. The entire cast did a great job with their roles.

I really loved this movie, and it's one of the few movies I've ever seen where I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. It's a blast.

I hope this movie finds its audience on DVD and Blu-Ray.

~T

#7 of 29 oscar_merkx

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Posted September 10 2008 - 01:27 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thi Them
I thought this was a masterpiece. Definitely, the best movie of the year so far for me.

It's really incredible how the Wachowski's are able to convey information with the visual language in both time and composition. From the opening 15 minutes, I think you are either pulled into the incredible filmmaking or turned off by it.

It was refreshing to see a "clean" story about someone trying to stick with his morals and values, while accomplishing his goal, and to see the strength and importance of family after years of seeing movies about dysfunctional families. The entire cast did a great job with their roles.

I really loved this movie, and it's one of the few movies I've ever seen where I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. It's a blast.

I hope this movie finds its audience on DVD and Blu-Ray.

~T

I totally agree with you about the movie as I had no expectations whatsoever. I was hooked from the moment it started.

I happen to like the color extremes especially as I thought it is very effective.

I believe that the Blu Ray will be the standard bearer
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#8 of 29 PaulDA

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Posted September 10 2008 - 02:17 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
I called it how I saw it, and to my eye, the art direction/production design is just in really, almost violently, bad taste. I was very specific about the use of "fluorescent". Posted Image If you go back and read any of my over 100 reviews for the forum, I believe you will find that this is my one and only use of the word vomit. In terms of overdone cliches, it is at least a bit fresher than the ol' love it/hate it no middle ground bit. Posted Image

I enjoyed the series when I was younger. I appreciate what they were trying to do with this film. I was even intrigued by how they interpreted some of the series elements in 3-D, but they failed to do two of the things the artists did on the animated show with a lot less money. One was to choose shapes for foreground and background elements that have strong silhouettes and read well against each other. The second was to choose appealing sets of colors. The former was a problem I had with "Transformers" and the latter was a problem I had with the Joel Schumacher "Batman" films. Graphically, the latter offends me more than the former, but this film captured the worst of both. I suspect they are inter-related since as they added more gratuitous detail to things in the backgrounds, they likely went with even more glowing colors in order to get foreground items to read against them.

Regards,
Ah, but given the reaction to this film in just about every forum around--mainstream and less so, at least my cliche has the virtue of being apt Posted Image . (I did not mean to imply you use the word "vomit" indiscriminately in your reviews--nor that your reviews lack originality--but rather expressing my disappointment that yet another review of this particular film included another colour "vomit" comment.)

But enough about cliches. Posted Image Given that the film's visuals have provoked such strong reactions--both positive and negative--I believe it deserves a viewing. Without qualitatively comparing it to now famous and frequently performed symphonies that were initially rather disliked for their radicalism, I do think the visual style of the film breaks sufficiently new ground to merit a viewing with an eye toward stimulating further discussion of what it is attempting to accomplish visually, even if (especially if, really) critical reception is far from unanimous.
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#9 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 10 2008 - 02:37 AM

This is hardly the hallmark of a new cinema. It takes elements I have seen in Dick Tracy, The Star Wars prequels, the Spy Kids films, and Ang Lee's Hulk, and applies them with poor graphical taste.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#10 of 29 PaulDA

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Posted September 10 2008 - 04:38 AM

I guess, then, in the grand tradition of "art appreciation" (in the broadest sense), and at the risk of employing another cliche, Posted Image we'll have to "agree to disagree".
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#11 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 10 2008 - 05:53 AM

Certainly. I have no objection to anyone enjoying the film more than I did and recommending it to others. Heck, my chief criticism of it is that its displays bad aesthetic taste which is by definition a matter of ... well ... taste. I just feel that some of the film's proponents have gone overboard in declaring it as groundbreaking and game changing. I would argue that the Wachowskis have done that before with The Matrix, but not so much in this case.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#12 of 29 Lance Rumbolt

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:11 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by oscar_merkx
I totally agree with you about the movie as I had no expectations whatsoever. I was hooked from the moment it started.

I happen to like the color extremes especially as I thought it is very effective.

I believe that the Blu Ray will be the standard bearer

Oh it is absolutely a standard bearer!! just finished watching it on Blu ray. As was said earlier I had absolutely no expecatation when I came to this one I was completely pleasantly surprised by what I saw. My children loved every neon coloured minute of it. I think it's quite easy for some to get quite snotty about it but me I enjoyed it. The review I thought was a bit unfair but I do understand that this is your opinion as is mine.

#13 of 29 Lance Rumbolt

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:15 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
Certainly. I have no objection to anyone enjoying the film more than I did and recommending it to others. Heck, my chief criticism of it is that its displays bad aesthetic taste which is by definition a matter of ... well ... taste. I just feel that some of the film's proponents have gone overboard in declaring it as groundbreaking and game changing. I would argue that the Wachowskis have done that before with The Matrix, but not so much in this case.

Regards,

See now I wasn't going to respond to you directly on your review but I'm sorry you are doing exactly that you are pushing your own visual aesthetic and no ammount of covering it up by saying it's a matter of 'taste' hides it. it really feels like you are telling us we are all wrong you are absolutely right.

#14 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lance Rumbolt
The review I thought was a bit unfair but I do understand that this is your opinion as is mine.
All reviews are inherently unfair as they present only one opinion. Mine are more fair than average since they all start threads where you are free to express disagreement with me. Posted Image

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#15 of 29 Lance Rumbolt

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:17 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
All reviews are inherently unfair as they present only one opinion. Mine are more fair than average since they all start threads where you you are free to express disagreement with me. Posted Image

Regards,
Posted Image

fair enough, point absolutely taken.

#16 of 29 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:24 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lance Rumbolt
See now I wasn't going to respond to you directly on your review but I'm sorry you are doing exactly that you are pushing your own visual aesthetic and no ammount of covering it up by saying it's a matter of 'taste' hides it. it really feels like you are telling us we are all wrong you are absolutely right.
...and being completely honest about it to boot. Whose aesthetic sensibilties would you recommend I bring to my reviews? Whose do you bring to your posts? How does this make agreeing to disagree any harder? Arguably it should make it much easier.

In any case, I was not responding to anybody's opinion at all to say they were wrong when I wrote my review. I have since read some other reviews and responded to other posts in a way I hope has been both fair and illustrative of my viewpoint.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#17 of 29 oscar_merkx

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Posted September 10 2008 - 11:39 PM

here is another review

The Spin Sheet - Speed Racer & Sports Night: 10th Anniversary Edition
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#18 of 29 Lance Rumbolt

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Posted September 11 2008 - 03:54 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by oscar_merkx

Yeah i read that one, looks like this will be the kind of film that devides audiences, which is a good thing I guess.

#19 of 29 Tony J Case

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Posted September 11 2008 - 03:57 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
as groundbreaking and game changing. I would argue that the Wachowskis have done that before with The Matrix, but not so much in this case.

Groundbreaking like the Matrix was? Not even close.

However, Speed Racer joins the very short list with Popeye, The Rocketeer and The Phantom as a perfectly adapted yet completely misunderstood comic book movie. The care that the W brothers took in distilling down the original series, casting off the stuff that didnt work and keeping what did work shows in every frame. I went in dreading that Hollywood would unleash it's evil midas touch, turning everything it gets its hands on to shit - but was pleasingly suprised at how good (and respectful of the original) this thing was.

#20 of 29 Edwin-S

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Posted September 11 2008 - 06:18 AM

A movie where the actors say the words "Inspector Detector" and play it completely straight can't be all bad. I think what I found most impressive in this film is that the actors played their parts, for the most part, completely seriously. This is the type of film that just invites writers and actors to take the easy way out and play up the camp angle. They could have just done what has been done to other TV properties that have been adapted to the big screen: make the characters and the premise stupid.

Thankfully, the W Brothers avoided that in this film. They actually had respect for the original material and played it straight. It is a credit to the actors in this film that their performances come off as grounded and honest, considering the over-the-top nature of the premise.

I think it is nice change of pace to see a film that, for once, shows a family that isn't filled with dysfunctional scumbags.
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