The economy has gone to hell, but you can still afford to splurge on the latest in High Definition treats. The CHUD Home Entertainment Team has taken upon themselves to draft the Top 25 Blu-Rays released in Region A thus far. From the 1st of December until Christmas, we’ll count down to the greatest Blu-Ray release of all-time. Join us and marvel at the treasures of the 1080p set.
LIST POSITION: #23
TITLE: Speed Racer
Directors: The Wachowskis
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Paulie Litt, Roger Allam, RAAAAAAAIIIIIINNNN
BUY IT AT AMAZON!
WHY IT’S ON THE LIST
There are things I will never fully understand in this world. Calculus, Israel vs Palestine, black people who dye their hair blonde, most of what comes out of Eddie Vedder’s mouth. The list goes on.
Pretty high on that list is people who can watch Speed Racer, especially on Blu Ray, and not smile.
If you grew up in an environment where Saturday morning didn’t involve a hog trough of Lucky Charms and 12 hours in your PJs glued to the TV, I sorta get it. Speed Racer probably hit you like a Technicolor MAC truck to the brain, as just an unrelenting barrage of color and motion that you had to have to been born into to feel at ease. That almost makes sense. If you’ve spent the last 7 years still unable to sit comfortable for all the butthurt the Matrix sequels caused you, I sorta get that too, because despite being a kids’ film, the Wachowskis’ trademarks are all over this flick, even their occasional propensity for mellifluously unnecessary vocabulary vociferously delivered in serpentine strings of disingenuous linguistics and shit.
The rest of you? I have no idea what your excuse might be.
Yes, in one line, Speed Racer‘s still about some punk kid who drives a fast car, and helps put bad guys away with the help of his family, his girlfriend, and his pet monkey. But Speed Racer isn’t the Ninja Turtles movie, or Transformers, or G.I. Joe. This isn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Cool World. This is not a case of bringing a cartoon to life. Those other films, for all their ridiculousness, still take place in our world. Those films chain the possibilities of animation down to reality, to the limits of real world filmmaking, albeit one that gets very easily toyed around with.
In no frame of Speed Racer is the real world present. Because Speed Racer, in its filmed form, is still a cartoon.
Maybe you weren’t one of those kids who sat in bed all day watching cartoons, but the Wachowskis sure as hell were. They know how a cartoon should feel, act, look, and move. It’s an innate language that every kid or kid-at-heart knows. But manipulating the real world to do what a student at Cal Arts can make happen with a pen and paper over the course of a weekend is the more insane proposition. Scott Pilgrim vs The World plays in this same creative sandbox a bit, but where Wright and O’Malley’s story is meant to play like the live-action delusion of a 20 year old gamer manchild, Speed Racer plays like the fever dream of an 8 year old when he passes out in a candy store. It’s a full on dive into creating an aesthetic that simply does not exist anywhere but in animation. And yet, this is just the thing that the Wachowskis accomplished here. Using all the newest tricks of the trade, they have made a “real” cartoon. Which sounds simple, until you see it in motion. There is a kineticism and vibrancy on display here that is unlike any live-action film ever sent to a theater. Colors burst from the screen, environments shift and change and distort depending on context, impossible architecture, transitions and camera angles. Hyperreality drips from every pixel of every frame of this film.
And the action. Everything that is awesome and primally cool about this movie as a shot of adrenaline for your inner child is encapsulated in the solitary fact that there’s a CAR THAT THROWS BEES AT YOU. If you came up with it when you were playing with Hot Wheels as a kid, chances are, something in this movie does it. Cars flip, spawn weapons, drive upside down, move at impossible speeds. Even the fights, tinged with Wachowski trademarks and all, revert back to that little kid in us all, especially when the most inept ninjas this side of Beverly Hills spawn show up.
Now, imagine all that, shot using a prototype HD camera, in perfect resolution. For animation, a Blu Ray’s done its job when it looks like it was literally drawn right onto the screen itself. For this film, it’s zooms right past the viewer feeling like they’re looking a painting, into the viewer looking through a window. As dynamic, fast moving, and abstract as the picture often becomes, the surreality of it all is never broken up by a moment where an element looks imperfect, or at least not in keeping with the rest of the film. The transfer is the shining definition of the term crystal clear.
And yet, even with all that going on, the Wachowskis’ biggest accomplishment, the one factor one would never expect from this film, or those filmmakers even, is the beating heart that exists underneath the primal thrills. Somehow, the Wachowskis managed to weave in some truly effective character material dealing with Speed as a young man finally old enough to make his own decisions about what he wants to do with his life, and how he, his family, and the world around him reacts. Any adult guilt over enjoying a movie that looks like something you’d hang up on the fridge when your kid brings it home from school should be obliterated around the time Pops (Goodman) mentions how raising his kids was the greatest thing he’d ever done besides marrying his best friend. The film succeeds at being a family film in the strictest sense. A story about a teenager becoming a man because of both the decisions he makes, and the people who nurture him. The final moments are as much about Speed trying to regain first place as they are about his entire life’s journey leading him there.
I have such pity for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to catch this film when it was in theaters, especially when it was in IMAX, but the Blu Ray is one hell of a consolation prize. It’s as literal an interpretation of the term “eye candy” as the format could possibly muster, exuding warmth and heart in every way.
The fact that the film LITERALLY exudes hearts at a couple of points just makes it more awesome.
WHY DIDN’T IT RANK HIGHER?
The image on this disc is technically flawless, possibly the most stunning presentation of a live action film burned to a disc, with a bitrate that hovers around the 40MBps mark more than any film I’ve encountered since. So, naturally, it comes at a cost. The cost is an acceptable, but underwhelming Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, and not nearly the extensive list of features this film deserves. The Ultimate Matrix Collection and V For Vendetta got us used to the Wachowskis remaining mum on the subject of their own films, but what we do get for bonuses is just paltry: A featurette following the actor who plays Spritle around the sets is nice for kids and all, but the featurette about the cars themselves is embarassingly cheesy. The disc still makes the list, however, on the strength of the film and the transfer. It’s also one of those Blu Rays that’s perpetually on sale for $10 in most places.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT
For what it’s worth, the Car Fu featurette manages to cram a lot into the half hour it’s given. From camera trickery to digital environments, to the over 200 fake logos and companies, to track design. It’s not as in depth as we’d prefer, but there’s still a good cross section of info to be found here.
Maya Rudolph’s ugly cousin presents every Erykah Badu album cover for the last decade.
No…YOU GO BACK TO THE ISLAND!
David Lynch’s Vision World
Geof Darrow background animation, a chimp and dubbing…I love this movie.
9.7 out of 10