I’m a big Speed Racer fan. I watched the cartoon religiously, bought posters, made a Mach 5 pinewood derby car (see Dee Animated‘s header if you have doubts)–I love it.
So when I heard the Wachowski brothers were taking on making a live-action Speed Racer, I was both excited and nervous. I loved the original Matrix and I knew they could take good care of comic book/anime style material, but Matrix 2 & 3… let’s be honest, they weren’t all that awesome.
So the day came and I went to my local IMAX (I mean, if I found I only wanted to see it once, might as well do it right) with worried expectations. The movie seemed a bit slow for the first half and pretty exciting for the second half, but all in all, worth the time and money. I was thinking, yeah, I guess maybe I’ll give this a B.
For me, I really have to let a movie kind of wash over me, like listening to a new CD. I need to feel it out a little. I felt out this new Speed Racer, and after giving it some more thought I realized there was a lot more going on that I had let my pre-conceived judgment get in the way of.
In other words, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I did enjoy the movie.
Then Indiana Jones 4 comes out. How is this related? Well, I saw it on Thursday and family came into town over the weekend and wanted to go to a movie while in town on Saturday. (Thank Buddah Indy Jones 4 was sold out! Don’t get me wrong, but twice in the same weekend….) I suggested/convinced them to go to Speed Racer, thinking of all the movies out it was one I could do again.
The second time was definitely the charm.
Frankly, I am a little surprised it still hasn’t been recognized as the phenomenal film it is–at least by the fans–but perhaps they went in too judgmental like I did. So, I give you my review, a comparison of the old series vs. the new movie, pros and cons, music, and what to watch for if you’re seeing it for the first time or giving it a second chance (it’ll be longish, so grab yourself a snack and let’s roll):
The Original SPEED RACER:
First of all, I think we should all tip our hats to Peter Fernandez, the brains of the US side of Speed Racer. For those who knew nothing going into the movie, Speed Racer is the American version of a Japanese anime called Maha Go Go Go! Peter had previously done work on Astro Boy and signed up for the chance to work on Speed Racer. (See Planet Comic Book Radio for an interview recently done with Peter Fernandez. He talks about the show as well as the new movie)
The elements of a typical Speed Racer show include Speed doing impossible sorts of stunts with his car, all the while Spritle and Chim Chim are in the back, and usually fighting crime at the same time as winning a race. Throw in Racer X, some oddly named bad guys (Dr. Morebucks) and you’ve got it made.
How does the film compare? We saw Speed doing some impossible sorts of stunts, fighting crime, Racer X, etc. So aside from the quick dialogue traditional to an old Speed episode, I’d say the film stayed pretty true to the original anime.
Now there were some modernizing modifications, but I don’t see the big deal any Speed Racer fan would have with them. Speed Racer was made in the ’60s. Some of the ’60s stuff just isn’t going to work anymore. The new tracks I thought were an excellent touch in lending to the Speed Racer style of racing. And I think the production design is something Tatsuo Yoshida might have done himself if the manga had it been written in the present day.
Emile Hirsch plays Speed Racer, and I thought a great cast as far as looks go. One of my cons for the films is this Speed doesn’t seem to have as much depth to him as the original series’ Speed. It may have been Hirsch’s acting, but he frankly doesn’t have that many lines when I thought about it, and I think only a sequel would really make that call clear. But I thought for sitting a car that isn’t really “moving” so to speak (green screen), he did a very good job making me believe he was “driving” that car.
John Goodman plays Pops Racer, and I thought his casting was spot on. He was everything I imagined a live action Pops Racer would be, and I think he brought more depth to the Pops character. I doubt the Academy would hand out many Oscars to the Speed Racer movie, but John, you’ve got my vote for at least a nomination as best supporting actor.
Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend, also a good cast. Trixie in the original series was pretty “girl power” for the time, and Ricci took it to a modern level for Trixie. However, overall her performance was nothing revolutionary by any means. I think you could some it up with lots of alluring kind of smirks and seductive talking. Don’t get me wrong, I think she did well enough with the role, and maybe that’s just the way she was directed, but I would have liked to have seen just a little more.
Susan Sarandon plays Mom Racer. I’m not really a Sarandon fan, but I appreciated having her in this role, because I think she helped bring the Racer family together in the movie. She’s barely present in the old series (not super surprising with Japanese culture) and I liked her inclusion in the movie.
Paulie Litt plays Spritle, and they may well have named it Spritle Racer, cuz this kid stole the show. Although I never imagined Spritle as a freckled-face, practically red head, he is the quintessential younger brother. He and Chim Chim provided fantastic comic relief and probably one of my favorite scenes of the movie is when him and Chim Chim are battling in Japanese anime style. I hope to see Litt soon in the future.
The rest of the cast was well chosen too. I loved Royalton (kept thinking, is this Tim Curry’s brother?), thought the newish version of Inspector Detector was great, Sparky was also spot on, the bad guys were great, and I love all things Japanese, so Rain was a welcome guest as Taejo Togokahn.
On casting, I think it’s only fair to rate this movie A+
We have Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Lost) to thank for a spectacular score. Something I always dislike is when the composer will just completely throw away any already established themes for the movie version of the show/video game, etc. Giacchino took the themes and ran with them.
“I Am Speed” which plays right at the beginning is probably my favorite from the CD. Of course I’m thinking of all the color swirling as I’m listening to it, but from a musical standpoint, it’s telling us that we do in fact have a Speed Racer movie and it’s going to be big.
“Racing’s In Our Blood” does a great job to heighten the emotion on the great scene where Speed and his father are watching the old Grand Prix race, by taking the original theme and slowing it down and turning it into a beautiful score.
And then of course we have parts of the original theme as well as hints through out all of the rest of the soundtrack, with the remaining score always playing back to the same style. The end theme song is by Ali Dee and the Deekompressors and I tend to favor the movie version over the remix single. I like that they’re trying to incorporate multiple languages and the original theme, as though the Wachowski’s wanted to tip off their hats one more time in homage to Speed.
Original Score: A
Pop Remix Theme: B+
The editing was revolutionary, and though likely unnoticed by most, reminded me of the same visual pleasure I got from seeing 24 the first time. It’s a little more complex than it looks, and truly a subtle homage to Japanese anime. I loved the composite of one image over another, it made me believe I was watching live action manga in all its full blown glory.
The production design was reminiscent of Tim Burton (no not the creepy side, the bright color side–he’s got two sides). I didn’t mind the Mach 6 design, as Speed in the original series had a couple extra versions of the Mach 5 he’d use on occasion.
This movie is full of little Speed Racer references and other fun things to tantalize fans. We got to see the majority of the characters in their cartoon version outfits–something not often done when transferred to the big screen. Speed jumps out of his car in the end in full blown Speed Racer pose. I loved Chim Chim wearing human pajamas and Spritle wearing monkey pajamas. Peter Fernandez appears as one of the announcers. The car jack sound effect was the same as the original–basically I found the movie to be a huge homage to the original show. I can’t understand the reviews I’ve seen that say otherwise.
On first view I thought the story was a bit slow in going, but upon more thought I realized it was all just playing into the end and bringing us along to understand the journey of the Racer family. Perhaps it’s just cuz I come from a rare breed of the nuclear family, but I loved seeing a movie where the family stuck together and relied on each other–even if some members did it more distantly. The race truly did become “a work of art” as Mom told Speed, because it was the warmth and art of the people who built the car that triumphed vs. the coldness and machinery or anonymity of the corporate rival.
So Moms and Mormons, this is a movie for you.
To be completely honest, I don’t think they could have chosen any better directors than the avid fans themselves. Worry as I might about Morpheus leaping out of the sky and telling Speed he is “the one,” (LOL) they did a great job with this piece. They picked a great crew which we owe for the awesome use of colors, production design, costuming, camera angles–the list could go on forever.
They said they weren’t finished with Speed yet and have hinted at a sequel, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be there opening weekend.
IN CONCLUSION: Seeing it twice did nothing but make me want to own it on DVD now. *sigh* I hate waiting. I went and picked up the manga and video game and I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve given them ample play time.
Go see this movie! Whether by DVD, regular theater, dollar theater, Netflix–go see it!
Overall Rating: A
Buy it on DVD? Definitely.