Speed Racer

May 21, 2008

I loved it. I know that makes me one of three people in the world who did. But I think there’s an issue of expectation. The thing is, the movie told you up front, in the first 10 minute sequence, what it was about. It told you up front that it was going to be wild and wacky and in your face and unconventional, that it was going to be telling several different stories at the same time with weird cuts and stuff, and all you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

Remember “The Fifth Element?” One of my favorite films, but when it came out I talked to people who didn’t like it. It was too weird, too surreal, not grounded, something. But I tried to explain: the movie cued you that it was going to be weird and surreal — and funny. In the opening scene, when the ship lands outside the ruins, the row of camels all looks toward the noise. It’s hilarious to see a row of camels turn heads at the same time. This cued me: “Okay, this is funny, it’s okay to laugh.” This opening set piece with funky music, clipped pacing, and weird images told me that the whole film was probably going to be like that. So when we get to the sequence where Dallas starts his day, I’m ready to enjoy the ride. By the time the film gets to Ruby Rod, I’m fully versed in the film’s style: funny funny bits, great timing, pacing that works like choreography it fits together so well. I love the Ruby Rod bits. People who didn’t like the film’s style didn’t pick up the cues. That’s my theory, at least.

“The Fifth Element” trained you how to watch it by delivering these cues. “Speed Racer” did the same thing. I thought the opening was brilliant: it introduced all the characters, introduced us to the film’s style — not just the colors, but the intercutting one story with another, playing scenes in the foreground against scenes in the background. I was completely sucked in and I cried like a baby when it became clear that Speed was racing the ghost of his older brother — literally, when the two images came together. The film had some really clever moments, and some really beautiful ones as well. My only complaint is the thing went long.

The story is simple and I won’t argue otherwise, a stereotypical “stickin’ it to the man” arc. But it was adequately told. What I loved was how the film threw realism out the window. Because let’s face it, if someone had tried to do a live-action Speed Racer realistically it would have ended up looking like “The Partridge Family” meets “Cannonball Run.” And nobody wants that, trust me. So the movie did everything it could to move far away from realistic visuals. With today’s effects, this can be very far indeed.

Right up front the movie tells us, “This is a world where everything revolves around racing cars on tracks that look like those old Hot Wheels playsets.” And I’m like, cool. Alright. I dig. The colors, the pacing, the movement, the weird cuts — it’s supposed to look like that! You’re supposed to feel like you’re in a video game! What the hell did all the critics expect? “No Country for Old Men” with racecars?

Of course all this may just prove that I really am a fully indoctrinated member of the MTV generation.

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14 Responses to “Speed Racer”

  1. Janice Says:

    Cool! So hubby and first son will be all over it. I’ll send them this weekend. Second son will be highly disappointed that he’ll have to wait until it comes to DVD. He’s all about Hot Wheels Acceleracers, but unable to sit in a theater through a movie of anything more than 28.5 minutes. Even if there’s popcorn involved.

  2. Chris Says:

    Well…I dunno. Still doesn’t sound like anything I’d be interested in.

    But I could put 5th Element in again this weekend.

    Meanwhile, Indiana Jones in about three hours….

  3. BoxingKing Says:

    Wow, someone else that actually liked the movie! I liked it. It was the traditional hero saves the day movie with a quirky twist of scenery and such. Didn’t really go in expecting a heck of a lot more, so tadah! Good movie. 😀 I recommend it.

  4. Elisava Says:

    i gave up on critics along time ago. remember… annie hall beat out star wars for best picture. jackasses…

  5. Elisava Says:

    we’ve used up our babysitting karma for awhile, so i am dying for someone(s) i trust to talk about it. the beforementioned critics say it is dull. double jackasses…

  6. Elisava Says:

    crap, sleep deprivation. by “it” i meant the new indiana jones movie!

  7. carriev Says:

    Ah, then we’ll have to come over to your house and have a party, then, eh? 🙂 I’m going to try to see Indiana Jones tonight…

  8. Elisava Says:

    awesome! let me know how it is! how about the new andromeda (sp?) strain, heard anything about that?
    of corse, i am waiting with baited breath for star trek xi… zachery quinto as spock???? are you kidding me?? gasp! and i just heard that winona rider will play amanda?
    and yes, jones or no jones, we need to have a movie day over here soon.

  9. Jackie Says:

    My partner and I grew up watching speed racer. So we had to go and see it and brought my 18yo son. We loved it too. It’s not GREAT ART, but we had a blast. It was cool looking and made sense, and it was true to the TV series. And I never got to like MTV.

  10. Joe Richardson Says:

    Yup on all counts. The movie was two-plus hours in a Star Trek-colorized Hot Wheels track. And there were soooo many nods to those of us who recall the cartoon, but dared set foot in a theater even though we’re on the downslide of the demographic hill.

    It ran long, but what an eye-candy extravaganza!

    And how cool was it, John Goodman giving us the Pops Racer grunts now and then. Oy! Nostalgia heaven.

    Frankly, and it pains me to say this, I think Speed was a better paced flick than Indy IV.

    The best coaster rides let you anticipate the build up and big drop. Indy forgot about quiet time. Speed Racer had a few moments like that.

    Thought I was the only person in the universe who loved SR. Nice to find I’m not!

  11. carriev Says:

    I’m writing about Indy IV now. I thought Speed Racer was a much better movie. Indy sorely disappointed me. More in a bit.

  12. Joe Richardson Says:

    At least now we know why Connery passed on the project.

  13. John Fiala Says:

    Oh, total agreement – I tell you, in 10 years Speed Racer is going to be such the big cult film.


  14. […] Meanwhile, I’ve been laughing because I’ve seen a bunch of posts about what a great and underrated movie Speed Racer is and just want to remind everyone that I loved it and told everyone to go see it ten years ago. […]


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