- May 9, 2003
DEATH RACE 2000
Studio: New World Pictures (Blu-ray release by Shout! Factory)
Length: 1 hr 18 mins
Genre: Science Fiction/Action/Comedy/Roger Corman
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 (from a 1.85:1 Interpositive)
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 25 mbps)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (@ 448 kbps)
Film Rating: R (Let’s see, Violence, Gore, Nudity, Gratuitous Violence and Gore, More Violence)
Release Date: June 12, 2010
Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove and The Real Don Steele
Screenplay by: Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith
From the story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior
Produced by: Roger Corman
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Film Rating: 2/5
When I was in my K-12 days, I remember hearing about the movie Death Race 2000. Other kids had seen the movie, and to a person, they would tell me how cool the movie was, what with all the intentional hit and run kills, the cool cars and the cool costumes. All I knew of the film was that it was about a road race where the drivers intentionally run over pedestrians. Over the years since then, I’ve heard countless jokes about the scenario, as well as about the film, but I had never seen the film until watching this Blu-ray for this review. A part of me wishes I had actually seen the movie when I was still in my K-12 days, as I think I would have appreciated it a lot more. As it is, the film is clearly of a kind with the 70’s movies churned out by Roger Corman’s production companies. It’s cheap in every conceivable area, it’s gratuitously exploitative in terms of both nudity and violence, and the whole enterprise feels like what could generously be described as truly down and dirty filmmaking. It is no surprise to me that Roger Ebert’s review back in the day awarded zero stars to the film, and castigated it for its many faults. But I will admit that there are a few moments of bizarre comedy that made some moments of the movie bearable for me. (One bit comes right out of a Road Runner cartoon, with a car driving through a blatantly false archway to fly off a cliff.)
Death Race 2000 has previously been released on DVD with various special features, most recently in 2007. The new Blu-ray appears to combine the extras from the prior releases with a new set of special features and a new high definition transfer. Fans of the movie (who are probably reeling from my prior paragraph) will no doubt enjoy the new materials, the new transfer, and the helpful compilation of extras from the earlier editions. If you’re a fan of this movie, this Blu-ray is the best possible way to see it on home video. If you’re not, the generous helping of candid interviews makes the package attractive enough for a rental. (I’ll go into the details of this below, but there are some great stories that come out in the materials here – far beyond what you would normally get from the typical EPK stuff.)
VIDEO QUALITY 3/5
Death Race 2000 is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.78:1 transfer comes from an interpositive of the best possible film print that could be found. Seen on its own, this is a decent and presentable HD image, with the colors (particularly the greens and the reds) really jumping off the screen. It’s not the most impressive HD transfer you’ll ever see, but that would be a tall order from a movie shot under such low-budget conditions. So, due to the low quality of the original source, areas of the movie still look quite grungy, and levels of detail are inconsistent at best. That said, if you compare this transfer with the included TV spots from the day, you’ll see a significant jump in picture quality. Placed next to the old spots, the new transfer almost looks like a new film. Almost. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3/5
Death Race 2000 is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, which does a basic job of bringing you the voices, music and sound effects in proper proportions throughout the movie. To restate the obvious, with a 2.0 mix, there is no surround channel or subwoofer activity here.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
The real pleasure of this Blu-Ray presentation comes with the generous helping of special features, several of which have been compiled from prior DVD releases. The new materials here are what makes this package really interesting.
Commentary with Editor Tina Hirsch and Assistant Director Lewis Teague – NEW COMMENTARY – This is a new scene-specific commentary with Hirsch and Teague watching the movie together, reacting to the various shots and talking about their experiences on the shoot. Hirsch is pretty open about the fact that she was literally using every shot that came in, since there was so little footage from which to assemble the movie.
Commentary with Roger Corman and Mary Woronov – This scene-specific commentary is a holdover from an earlier DVD release, but it’s useful to have here as a counterpoint to the new Hirsch/Teague material.
Playing the Game: Looking Back at Death Race 2000 (480p, Full Frame, 11:40) – This featurette, included from an earlier DVD release, is a very basic look back at the movie, including the usual film clips and interviews. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a typical EPK featurette, but it’s a nice introduction for the other materials to be found farther down the pile.
Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman about Death Race 2000 (480p, Full Frame, 5:53) – This interview excerpt between Maltin and Corman, carried over from another early DVD edition, is amusing in some ways that may not have been intended. When asked about this film’s impact on later movies, Corman has a great reaction to Maltin’s citation of George Miller and the Mad Max series. Corman grants “they had a little edge on us”…
Designing Dystopia (1080p, 12:21) – NEW FEATURETTE – This featurette goes into some really good detail about the production design and car design for the movie. Art Director B.B. Neal admits that they never really had a proper location scout, and that some shots of downtown Los Angeles were simply “stolen” on a weekend morning. James Powers, the designer of the specialty cars for the movie, relates a great story about Corman asking for these great cars for the movie and then offering him a budget that was simply impossible to accomplish the task. Corman’s reaction to Powers’ requested budget: “Take it or leave it.” So Powers came up with a way to get cheap car bodies and then rework the shells. Neal mentions something I noticed here and there in the movie – the decorations on the cars were pretty fragile, and you can see the “teeth” on David Carradine’s car nearly coming off in a couple of places.
Ready to Wear (1080p, 14:40) – NEW FEATURETTE – This may be the funniest, and most informative piece on the whole Blu-ray. It’s an extended interview with Costume Designer Jane Rhum, who relates some great stuff about the costumes she found or put together, and some pretty harsh stories about dealing with David Carradine. The centerpiece has to do with her attempt to create a non-leather outfit for Carradine when the script called for leather and he refused to wear it. (Her initial effort resulted in him literally ripping up the costume in front of her and then telling her what to do with herself. And that outburst resulted in him actually being fired from the movie by Corman, until he showed up at her doorstep with his dog and his guitar, and a few songs…) Rhum openly admits she had never designed costumes before this movie, calling the Corman experience a true example of “Earn While You Learn”. She also says she learned a lot about frugality on a movie set from her experiences with Corman here and on other films. One final note – the costume worn by Nero the Hero’s female navigator is an actual gown used by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. (My only qualm with the interview is that the DVD makers have chosen to include some distracting tinkly piano music, which just feels out of place in this environment…)
David on Death Race (1080p, 3:46) – NEW INTERVIEW MATERIAL – This brief interview excerpt, pulled from a June 2008 session with Carradine to promote the classic Sundown: Vampire in Retreat, gets a few tidbits from the man. He acknowledges that this was a difficult, 3 week shoot, during which it rained much of the time. He says he felt he needed to do this kind of movie to distance himself from the Kung Fu TV series, which he had just quit. He also acknowledges that the deal he made with Corman, which gave him around 10% of the movie’s profits once it broke even, wound up earning him a LOT of money over the intervening years, as the film was revived over and over again.
Start Your Engines (1080p, 11:46) – NEW FEATURETTE – Here we have a new interview with author Ib Melchior, who wrote the story “The Racer” that formed the basis for the movie. This is another really interesting interview, with Melchior discussing his background and the point of his story. Melchior had been at an auto race where one of the drivers fatally crashed, and he based his story on his reaction to the crowd’s excitement at the crash while he sat next to the widow. His point was and is that people are fascinated by and attracted to violence. He is happy today with Corman’s movie, although he admits that when he first saw the movie, his initial reaction was “What have they done to my story?!!” Melchior also says he isn’t happy with the 2008 remake, because they missed that basic point of the story. (And once again, I have to raise an issue with the background music on this interview. Do we really need to hear Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata here?)
Killer Score (1080p, 11:32) – NEW FEATURETTE – We round out the new materials with an interview with composer Paul Chihara, who discusses his work on the movie and how he tried to convince Corman he was a film music student rather than an accredited professor from the avant garde in New York. Chihara’s comments include an admission that the music in the movie was tracked in different places than he thought it was going, resulting in some interesting juxtapositions of music with picture. For example, a cue written for a love scene, wound up in a racing scene, which impressed Chihara. (And for this featurette, it becomes clear that the DVD makers are simply messing with me when it comes to the music background. I mean, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy? Really?)
Poster and Still Gallery (6:27) – This is a compilation of various promotional photos and posters for the film, in various languages. A series of them in Spanish prominently feature David Carradine and “Silvester Stallone”. Hmmmm…
Theatrical Trailer (480p, FF, 0:55) – The original theatrical trailer, cut together by Joe Dante, is included here. It portends a more serious action movie than was actually made.
Theatrical Trailer with Intro and Commentary by John Landis (480p, Full Frame, 2:55) – Culled from trailersfromhell.com this segment is a fairly thorough introduction by Landis to the trailer, and then a helpful commentary over the footage, where he reveals things like the screenwriter being in a shot, and the on-set creative differences between Paul Bartel and Roger Corman over the tone of the movie.
Radio Spots (0:28 each, 3 in total) – Three radio spots from 1975 are included here, all featuring The Real Don Steele, fresh from his on-screen part. Appropriately for Steele, the spots are all breathless and energetic, with one or two choice soundbites from the movie.
TV Spot (480p, Full Frame, 0:37) – A TV commercial for the movie from 1975 is included here for completion’s sake. It’s not the actual spot that’s of interest here, though. It’s the TERRIBLE picture quality. The color is completely washed out, the print is totally distressed and dirty, and it’s actually difficult to watch after seeing the HD transfer of the actual film. As my father would say to me, “After watching the HD picture, this is pretty grim.”
Shout! Factory Trailers– Four trailers are included here for additional and upcoming Corman DVDs, and they may have provided me with the most hysterical laughter I have experienced in a long time. So I’ll take them one at a time, and we can enjoy them together.
Deathsport (480p, Full Frame, 1:12) – This is a 1978 follow-up of sorts, featuring David Carradine in another futuristic, sci-fi action movie with lots of violence. For this movie, Carradine appears to sport long hair, a beard, and no shirt.
Up From The Depths (480p, Full Frame, 1:08) – Innocent swimmers go in the ocean for a dip, and hilarity ensues when Roger Corman makes this incredibly cheap knock-off of Jaws. The best part comes when the clips show the fake shark with the extra dorsal fins. Somewhere in the middle of this are shots of the cast looking appropriately concerned with the situation. It’s lucky I wasn’t drinking anything when the shark popped up, because I think I might have actually been provoked to do a full spit take…
Galaxy of Terror (480p, Full Frame, 1:54) – WARNING – THIS IS AN R-RATED TRAILER – Let’s see, in this movie, space travelers journey to a planet where they are menaced by vicious alien monsters, but are more horrified by the fact that they don’t have the script, director, or budget of Alien, and must instead contend with really bad low budget effects. Just to keep things interesting, some gratuitous nudity and violence is thrown in for good measure.
Forbidden World (480p, Full Frame, 2:33) – ANOTHER R-RATED TRAILER – Proving that it is indeed possible not to learn from prior mistakes, Corman produces another Alien knockoff, with similar results to Galaxy of Terror. The Wikipedia article for this movie charmingly describes it as appealing to fans of “grungy, cheap, sleazy sci-fi.” And those are its good parts. Did I mention the gratuitous nudity and violence?
There are no subtitles on the movie or any of the special features, but I can’t say that I really missed them on this occasion. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu. One annoyance I had here is that when you complete a featurette, you go all the way back out to the main menu, and have to reopen two menus at times in order to watch the next one. In other words, the pop-up menus don’t stay open, and you have to start from the beginning each time.
IN THE END...
Death Race 2000 has plenty of fans who have flocked to it over the years. I don’t count myself as one, but I can appreciate that this Blu-ray will provide fans of the movie and of Roger Corman’s work with a treat. Here you have a fine HD transfer of the best possible print, and some really interesting behind-the-scenes materials. And some of the funniest trailers I think I’ve ever seen.
July 8, 2010.