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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Speed Racer

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#1 of 90 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted September 17 2008 - 05:28 AM

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Release Date: Available now (original release date September 16, 2008)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-Ray case with cardstock slipcover
Year: 2008
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2h15m
Video: VC-1, 1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 / Special features "may be in standard definition"
Audio: Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 (dubbed in Quebec), Spanish 5.1, Portuguese 5.1 / Special features "audio standards may vary"
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese (movie and select bonus material)
MSRP: $35.99

The Feature: 3.5/5
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsche) comes from a family that lives and breathes auto racing. His brother Rex was an up and coming competitor in the World Racing League until his tragic death in the cutthroat Casa Cristo cross-country rally. The loss of his elder sibling haunts Speed, but also compels him to excel and it doesn't take long for lucrative investors to start knocking on his door, vying for a piece of his promising future. One in particular, E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), offers him the brass ring, an offer apparently Speed can't - or shouldn't - refuse. But staying true to his family and himself, he does refuse, and Royalton intends to make him regret it. But it's more than just Speed behind the wheel of his faithful Mach 5, he's got all his family and friends with him and it's going to take a lot to break that Racer family spirit.

When the Wachowski Brothers were announced as the directors for the live action adaptation of "Speed Racer," no one doubted it would be a technical tour de force. What people didn't expect was how far they would take it beyond the rather rudimentary animated source material. While the film includes certain aspects of the popular 1960s Japanese import, it's all just a drop in the bucket compared to what the Wachowskis wound up extrapolating. Apparently taking a kaleidoscope's internal colors and movements as inspiration, the live action version of Speed Racer is bright, colorful and in constant, interweaving motion. On the whole the slick and often frenetic aesthetic seemed to alienate filmgoers; however a small contingent embraced the film, perhaps seeing within its multilayered scenes and seamless CGI environments something that reminded them of the Speed Racer of yore.

Though "style over substance" is a common - and usually valid - criticism for today's CGI-heavy films, it's hard to make that claim about "Speed Racer." Yes, there's lots of technical wizardry and the action set pieces will make your head spin, but the constant throughline is family, loyalty, bravery. These are worthwhile messages, especially in a film that is aimed at and will appeal to children. The only true misstep is wrapping the central conflict around a conspiracy to manipulate stock prices. Most adults barely understand the stock market, so why would kids even care? That aside, "Speed Racer" provides plenty of entertainment with solid family themes, though I still have to recommend it as a rental first given its polarizing effect at the box office and the "PG" rating that brings with it some language and gestures that may not fly with some parents.


Video Quality: 4.5/5
Though many have debated the beauty of "Speed Racer's" kaleidoscope of color and movement, Blu-Ray proves a worthy medium for presenting its controversial aesthetic. The film's super-saturated color palette and its black levels are deep and stable. Shadow detail and delineation take a hit in the process, but the slight black crush may have been the intent given the source material. Detail is not as consistent, however, skin texture being appropriately visible at times, but at others being quite absent with an unappealing, artificial smoothness that is usually the sign of digital noise reduction. Viewers may notice some slight edge halos as well. Overall it's an impressive transfer with a few notable issues that keep it from perfection.


Audio Quality: 4/5
Most notable in "Speed Racer's" audio presentation is the absence of a lossless or uncompressed audio option. Though the 640 kbps Dolby Digital track is appropriately dynamic and enveloping, it's hard not to wonder what we're missing after hearing the benefits of high resolution audio treatment in other films. Though the omission is somewhat understandable with mono tracks of 70-year old films (e.g. "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), it's puzzling when it comes to a modern film like "Speed Racer." As it is, the audio presentation has a balanced mix with strong and near-constant activity in the entire speaker array and consistently clear dialogue. In hindsight (hindhearing?) LFE was not as deep and robust as I was anticipating.


Special Features: 3/5

Speed Racer: Car Fu (27m38s): Visual effects documentary covers early concepts, animatics, CGI and the gimbal rig created to help the actors feel more integrated into the driving action.

Spritle In the Big Leagues (14m34s): Actor Paulie Litt (who played Spritle) goes behind the scenes of the production hitting the prop shop, the art department, visual effects department and many points in between. Though geared towards kids in its humor, Litt is entertaining and makes some good observations.

Speed Racer: Supercharged! (15m43s): A look at the different cars and drivers in the World Racing League. Again the piece is geared toward kids, but it's pretty impressive all the fictional technology and history that was created for the Speed Racer world.

"Speed Racer Crucible Challenge" DVD Game: Using the player remote's directional and enter buttons, complete four racing challenges found in the movie. I don't understand the appeal of these kinds of games - they pale in comparison to modern video games. If I find them antiquated in design, execution and gameplay experience, I can't imagine what a kid actually thinks of them.

Digital Copy: Download a copy of the movies to your computer or portable video device. Unfortunately, the feature is only compatible with Windows computers. I have a Mac so am unable to comment on the quality or the method of access.


Recap

The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Polarizing, live action adaptation of a popular 1960s anime gets a fine high definition transfer, acceptable but limited audio track options, and an average special features package.
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#2 of 90 OFFLINE   Ron-P

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Posted September 17 2008 - 06:30 AM

I give the audio a 2/5, very weak, flat and lifeless, compared to the lossless tracks. Such a shame, Warner did a fantastic job at screwing this up.
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#3 of 90 OFFLINE   carpenterfan

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Posted September 17 2008 - 07:41 AM

In my opinion and i guess i speak for everyone ( which i never ever do ) but no one should buy this disc without lossless audio and them idiots at warner will see hardly any sales on blu ray and maybe re-realease it the way it should be with loseless audio. I wonder what moron was in charge to drop the loseless audio. i am very annoyed at this.I really wanted this disc to enjoy it's full video and audio in all it's glory , but without proper HD audio it's not worth it. I guess i just don't understand what they are thinking over there. This is a HD format and should have Hd sound on every disc , except ones that really maybe wouldn't benefit from HD audio. oh well!Posted Image

#4 of 90 OFFLINE   Martin Henry

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Posted September 17 2008 - 08:51 AM

I'm glad I bought it. A soon-to-be-cult classic that borders on 'mini-masterpiece' imo. There's so much references to anime and computer games thrown in the mix, you either get it or you don't. I was iffy until I got the idea of the 'ghost car' during the first race we see, Speed flying around the same coarse his brother had. A racing game staple, I then knew what the tone was. I wanted to lick the screen, the BD is gorgeous and gets a 5 for PQ from myself.

#5 of 90 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted September 17 2008 - 10:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by carpenterfan
In my opinion and i guess i speak for everyone ( which i never ever do ) but no one should buy this disc without lossless audio and them idiots at warner will see hardly any sales on blu ray and maybe re-realease it the way it should be with loseless audio. I wonder what moron was in charge to drop the loseless audio. i am very annoyed at this.I really wanted this disc to enjoy it's full video and audio in all it's glory , but without proper HD audio it's not worth it. I guess i just don't understand what they are thinking over there. This is a HD format and should have Hd sound on every disc , except ones that really maybe wouldn't benefit from HD audio. oh well!Posted Image


I think the powers that be at Warner will simply think that no one wanted to see this movie at all. Particularly because it bombed at the boxoffice. I'm not sure that they would get that the lack of sales is related to the lack of lossless audio.

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#6 of 90 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 17 2008 - 10:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by carpenterfan
In my opinion and i guess i speak for everyone
You don't. Most people have enough sense not to use gratuitous insults when asking corporate entities to change their policies.

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#7 of 90 OFFLINE   Ron-P

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Posted September 17 2008 - 11:01 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Henry
I'm glad I bought it. A soon-to-be-cult classic that borders on 'mini-masterpiece' imo. There's so much references to anime and computer games thrown in the mix, you either get it or you don't. I was iffy until I got the idea of the 'ghost car' during the first race we see, Speed flying around the same coarse his brother had. A racing game staple, I then knew what the tone was. I wanted to lick the screen, the BD is gorgeous and gets a 5 for PQ from myself.

The movie is fantastic in that regard, quite a few throwbacks to the TV series. The storyline is decent enough as is the acting but until the Blu-ray sees a lossless audio track I'm out. As I see it, this current disc is a half-assed product and I'm not going to support that.
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#8 of 90 OFFLINE   bases1616

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Posted September 17 2008 - 01:26 PM

IGN continues to amaze me with there crappy reviews. They gave Speed Racer a 9 out 10 for audio. Those guys at IGN DVD are idiots. Don't get me wrong I love the IGN gaming side of the house, but the BD reviews over there just seem to be getting worse.

P.S. Cameron the 4/5 is too high for the audio rating. I watched this last night with my daughter on my 7.1 system with a Denon 3808. The audio was really lacking and just itching for a lossless audio track.

#9 of 90 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted September 17 2008 - 02:34 PM

All number ratings in reviews should be banned. Posted Image

#10 of 90 OFFLINE   Ron-P

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Posted September 17 2008 - 04:59 PM

We finished this up tonight and the entire family, and I, really enjoyed it. I'd love to own this but that's not going to happen until Warner fixes their mistake.
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#11 of 90 OFFLINE   emgesp

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Posted September 17 2008 - 08:14 PM

Why didn't they give this disk the full HD treatment?

Single layer and no HD audio, at a $27.99+ price tag, come on they have to be smoking something.

#12 of 90 OFFLINE   Ed Speir IV

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Posted September 18 2008 - 12:11 AM

Watched it last night and it sounded fantastic to my ears. I went in assuming that audio was going to be weak, but I was surprised at how great it was. No problems with the audio at all IMO - I agree with the 4/5 rating.

One other thing I noticed - I could follow the racing action much better on my smaller screen (67 inch Samsung DLP) than when I viewed it at the IMAX theater. I think the IMAX screen was so large that I couldn't take everything in and my brain kind of gave up. It was perfect at home, though...glad I picked it up!

#13 of 90 OFFLINE   Josh Dial

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Posted September 18 2008 - 02:35 AM

I, too, think 4/5 for an audio score is too high, especially given that a mere 1 hour of uninteresting and lazy extras garners 3/5. I know it's crass to question a reviewer in a review thread, but Cameron typically has some of the best reviews on the HTF, and this review just stood out to me as baffling.

cheers!

#14 of 90 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted September 18 2008 - 04:34 AM

As he wrote, he thought it sounded very good aside from the LFE. A couple of people upthread who heard the disc disagree, and I appreciate their comments as well.

I don't really care about the opinions of people who haven't actually listened to the track yet (which is not to say that I don't think the disc should have included a lossless track, but that's a different issue than how good the included track sounds).
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#15 of 90 OFFLINE   Ron-P

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Posted September 18 2008 - 05:30 AM

Seems Warner is continuing their lack of lossless tracks, Journey to the Center of the Earth is not getting one either...

Journey to the Center of the Earth (US - DVD R1 | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive

...yet a film, like Speed, that would greatly benefit from it.
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#16 of 90 OFFLINE   Bryan Beckman

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Posted September 18 2008 - 05:47 AM

I thought the sound for the first one-half to two-thirds of the film was pretty weak as well, particularly in the center channel. I kept fiddling with the volume and the center channel gain throughout that time, as voices were difficult to hear without turning the volume up pretty high - then I'd get my ears blown out during the racing sequences and have to turn it back down again. I was eventually able to figure out a happy medium, though.

After the Casa Cristo race, however, the audio experience improved dramatically for me, with great balance across all channels and some great bass (especially) during the Grand Prix. The thump on the end credit song was nice as well, but not as strong and deep as I would've liked.
 

#17 of 90 OFFLINE   Bryan Beckman

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Posted September 18 2008 - 06:04 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron-P
Seems Warner is continuing their lack of lossless tracks, Journey to the Center of the Earth is not getting one either...

Journey to the Center of the Earth (US - DVD R1 | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive

...yet a film, like Speed, that would greatly benefit from it.

It's the family film effect, I'm sure. "Journey..." was a money-maker for WB, so it's not like they're cheaping out on a losing prospect. I previously commented on this sad trend here after WB announced the "Kit Kittridge" Blu-ray with lossy audio.

This really doesn't bode well for future family-oriented Blu-ray releases from WB, particularly animation.
 

#18 of 90 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted September 18 2008 - 07:01 AM

Thanks everyone for the input. I sort of feel like a judge for Olympic Gymnastics. Posted Image

With the omission of a high resolution audio track we are placed in a difficult position. Do we evaluate something based on what we are given or what we were not? I could have speculated on what could have been but chose to focus on what I had. I'm not saying those who score it lower are giving it that score based on what might have been, just saying that this is a question that naturally occurs in this situation and people have strong opinions both ways.

After the differences of opinion were expressed above I did go back and listen to parts of the movie and I stand by my score, as flawed and problematic as a scoring system is and the variable rationale behind score assignment. I have read other reviews where they place the score firmly in the middle of the range (e.g. 2.5/5). In my view that score would be too low for what I heard, and to get to that number it would have to include a penalty for not being high resolution. Perhaps other reviewers feel comfortable doing that, but I do not. As Aaron mentioned, the absence of a high res. option is a separate issue.

In short, the track is good for what it is. But of course some of you may (and are welcome to) disagree.
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#19 of 90 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted September 18 2008 - 07:46 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cameron Yee
Do we evaluate something based on what we are given or what we were not? I could have speculated on what could have been but chose to focus on what I had.
You review what it is, not what you want it to be. Is this really a question?
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#20 of 90 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 18 2008 - 08:48 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Seaver
You review what it is, not what you want it to be. Is this really a question?
I take it as Cameron being gracious.

My hat's off to him. I don't think I could have managed to remain such a gentleman.

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