“You do it because you’re driven” | Speed Racer (2008)

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In May 2008 Warner Bros released the glossy and expensive action film Speed Racer into cinemas around the world. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, it was a live-action adaptation of a once-popular children’s cartoon made on a US$130 million dollar budget, blessed with wall-to-wall advertising and given a prime summer release date. It under-performed terribly, losing the studio tens of millions of dollars and failing to engage too many critics.

It’s not simply that the film wasn’t a commercial success; it seemed to be actively ignored. Here was an expensive, visual effects-driven blockbuster, written and directed by the siblings who created the phenomenally successful Matrix trilogy, featuring performances by quality actors like John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci, based on a Japanese anime with enormous cult appeal, and it was as if one could hear crickets. Movies under-perform and flop all the time, but in the case of a visually distinctive, colourful film like Speed Racer there is usually the consolation of some kind of cult status. At the time of writing the film is eight years old, and that cult following still has not developed.

It’s a sad end for a movie that took Warner Bros 16 years and five directors to bring to the screen.

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Let’s track all the way back to the beginning. In June 1966 the manga anthology Shonen Book premiered a new serial by Tatsuo Yoshida titled Mach GoGoGo. The serial, which was inspired by Viva Las Vegas and Goldfinger, followed the adventures of a race car driver named Go Mifune. As was often the case the success of the manga led to an anime adaptation, which debuted on Fuji TV in April 1967 and ran for 52 episodes. Later that year the series was dubbed into English and broadcast in the USA as Speed Racer. It was one of several anime productions that made the leap from Japan to the USA, alongside Astroboy, Gigantor and Marine Boy.

By the early 1990s Hollywood had started to find success in picking up old television properties and re-inventing them for a movie-going audience. In 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld’s adaptation of The Addams Family grossed more than US$191 million dollars worldwide, setting off a flurry of purchasing activity by the major studios. In the middle of this storm of activity, Warner Bros purchased the film rights to Speed Racer. In September 1992 they signed a deal with producer Joel Silver to produce it.

Deciding to make a Speed Racer movie was easy. Deciding precisely what kind of Speed Racer movie to make was much more difficult. The project stumbled through iteration after iteration for more than a decade, with numerous directors approaching the concept, developing it a little, and then moving on when either Warner Bros disliked what they saw or the proposed budget became too large.

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The first director hired by Joel Silver was Patrick Read Johnson, whose 1990 science fiction comedy Spaced Invaders had been a modest hit for Touchstone Pictures. While Warner Bros and Silver had expected a similarly light-hearted take on Speed Racer, Johnson instead proposed and co-wrote a screenplay that re-imagined the concept in a much darker and more futuristic vein than the original animation.

Due to the wide gulf between what Warner Bros had in mind and what Johnson was proposing to make, Johnson was let go from the project and his screenplay quietly shelved. A new script, aimed at a much more family-friendly and upbeat tone, was commissioned from up-and-coming screenwriter J.J. Abrams. In addition to writing the commercially successful films Forever Young and Regarding Henry, Abrams had established a strong reputation as a script doctor able to work closely to a studio’s requirements. At some stage in the development process Abrams’ screenplay was rewritten by the writing team of Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, then best known for their Amblin Entertainment TV series Earth 2.

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The second director signed on to helm Speed Racer was Julien Temple, best known for his 1985 film Absolute Beginners. At this stage the project was budgeted at US$30 million dollars, making Speed Racer a mid-range studio picture but by no means intended as a major summer blockbuster.

In June 1995 Johnny Depp was cast in the title role, and production was scheduled for the following October in California and Arizona. For the key supporting role of Racer X, a masked car driver who protects Speed while hiding his true identity, Temple suggested Mickey Rourke. When Warner Bros ruled that choice out singer-turned-actor Henry Rollins was considered instead. One New York Daily News article claimed that Nicolas Cage was under consideration for the part, although that was never confirmed by the director or the studio.

As the film’s start date approached, it became clear that the budget had expanded to an uncomfortable degree. What had been pitched as a mid-range US$30 million dollar production was now being costed at as much as US$75 million. Warner Bros blanched at Temple’s proposed budget and delayed production until at least US$20 million dollars could be cut. In August 1996 Johnny Depp requested a delay to spend some time away from acting. Julien Temple departed the production shortly afterwards, and without an attached director Depp formally exited the project as well.

‘I learned what everybody learns,’ Temple later said, ‘that you’re a disposable cog in a machine that’s trying ultimately to sell McDonalds tie-ins and action dolls. Eventually they wanted to replace Johnny Depp with Chris O’Donnell, so he was disposable too.’[i]

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For a brief period Gus Van Sant (To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) considered directing the film, but negotiations failed when Warner Bros refused to allow the director to write his own screenplay for the film.

In 1997 Warner Bros brought in producer Lauren Shuler-Donner to rework the project into a manageable state. ‘The problem at the time,’ said Shuler-Donner, ‘was the movie was conceived at too high a budget. There was a rivalry with a villain character, and those scenes would have cost a fortune to film.’[ii]

The studio moved on to approaching director Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker had already directed the 1995 family hit A Little Princess for Warner Bros, and it was felt that he could make the cost-effective Speed Racer that the studio has originally envisaged.

In September 2000 writer/director Hype Williams was hired to take over the film, buoyed by the success of his 1998 film Belly. Within a year he too had moved on. In October 2001 Warner Bros paid screenwriters Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring US$1.2 million dollars to develop a new take for the film, which appeared to go nowhere.

In 2004 Speed Racer underwent a fresh burst of development when actor Vince Vaughn showed interest in producing the film, as well as playing the supporting character of Racer X. ‘I’ve been a fan of the show since I was a kid,’ the actor explained, ‘and I always liked the theme of the protective older brother who can’t reveal his identity.’[iii] Despite Vaughn’s initial interest, once again the project floundered.

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Speed Racer finally made the jump from development hell into production due to the interest of the writer/director team of Andy and Lana Wachowski. They had already worked for several years with Joel Silver, first when he produced their screenplay Assassins (1995) then when he produced the Matrix trilogy and all three produced the comic book adaptation V for Vendetta.

Silver said that ‘when it all came about, I mean they knew I had the project for a while and after V – or some point after V – they called me up one day and said, “what are you doing with that Speed Racer thing?”, and I said, “well, I’m struggling”, and they said, “we have an idea” and I said “well, go for it”, so they had this notion of making what they considered live-action anime and that’s what it is – live-action anime. And they said we want to show you what we want to do and if the studio likes it, we have a way of making a movie of this, and if they don’t, then we’ll do something else.’[iv]

Producer Grant Hill said: ‘Besides being one of their favourite cartoons growing up, one of the things that interested the Wachowskis most in adapting Speed Racer was the strong family dynamic in the original series. Larry [Lana] and Andy had a strong desire to make a family film; they wanted to create a movie their nieces and nephews could see.’[v]

Visual effects supervisor John Gaeta, who had worked with the Wachowskis on The Matrix, said: ‘We wanted to start anew. We wanted to put aside the dark dystopian aesthetic in Matrix and flip the polarity by going pop art and super-optimistic. We called it “poptimistic”, and that idea became a formula for the universe.’[vi]

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‘It’s a kind of photo-anime,’ said visual effects supervisor Dan Glass when describing the film.[vii] Anime – Japanese animation – had already provided inspiration for the Wachowskis when developing The Matrix, and they returned to the art form here. Whereas the earlier project owed a heavy debt to director Mamoru Oshii and his science fiction film Ghost in the Shell, Speed Racer owed a particular debt to Hayao Miyazaki’s debut feature Castle of Cagliostro.

Not that anime was the sole influence. ‘The Elvis movie Speedway,’ said Gaeta, ‘is inching toward a pop art style that we were interested in. Tron? Sure. 2001. Akira. Any art form is derivative, reimagined by the new influences of the day: HD broadcast, animation on TV, video games, the Internet – it’s all a new swatch book.’[viii]

Lana Wachowski explained: ‘We have always thought that it’s interesting that no one has really done much with the cinematic language of editing. Editing is this very straightforward grammar; it’s like a sentence it begins with a capital letter ends with a period. Every cut is a period. And we thought, well because of computers we actually have the ability to transcend this older language and try something more postmodern the way Joyce and other postmodern writers like Rick Moody have tried to extend the grammar of literature to reflect more the way that we experience the world. We don’t experience the world in sentences and capitals and periods. We experience the world in this like rushing stream of consciousness and connections. And we thought wouldn’t it be amazing to create sequences in a film that are just rushing montages that simulate the way that we actually experience the world?’[ix]

To experiment with a new editing approach, a special effects team at BUF Comapgnie in Paris took footage from John Frankenheimer’s 1966 racing film Grand Prix and manipulated it to replace the actual photographed backgrounds with a CGI substitute. The elasticated motion generated by stretching the panned camera angle from one actor to another was referred to as the ‘nouveau pan’, and became the first of several unique techniques employed to give Speed Racer its distinctive look.

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In addition to a range of new editing concepts, the visual effects team designed methods of making live-action cinema look more like animation. Dan Glass said: ‘In the film, each layer – the foregrounds, mid-grounds and backgrounds – were created separately. The way these planes move against one another has a quality we’ve all grown up seeing in cartoons; it’s like a second language to children.’

‘We’re playing against perspective,’ he added, ‘and creating images that deliberately break the rules.’[x] One manner in which the rules were broken was in the use of focus. Typical movie shots focus on one element of interest, with the background blurry and indistinct. By combining multiple layers of imagery into a single shot, everything could be in focus. It was a style deliberately chosen for its high artificiality and its resemblance to the animated image.

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The non-realistic manner in which the action was presented was echoed in much of the production design – particularly the elaborate racing tracks that appeared throughout the film. Production designer Owen Paterson recalled: ‘The Wachowski brothers’ first directive was, “Our racetracks should be a cross between a giant ski slalom and a skateboard park.”’[xi] If anything, the tracks look like racing videogames such as Super Mario Kart or F-Zero – another clear influence on the finished film.

‘We wanted racing scenes to be quite gladiatorial,’ said John Gaeta, ‘We took our cues from the gizmo aspects of the Speed Racer series, where cars could jump and flip and drive on 90-degree surfaces. It was a more extreme version of the X Games, where contestants jump motorcycles 500-plus feet and do gymnastics before they land. We thought, “Okay, if a bike can do that, how about a car with a small jet engine?”’[xii]

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More than 100 concept cars were designed for potential use in the film. Only the Mach 5, Speed’s iconic white racer, was physically built. All other vehicles were composed entirely with computer graphics. The racing sequences were entirely digital, with complex algorhythms developed to govern car movements – which were then overridden by animators when particularly extreme stunts were needed.

Crowd scenes were deliberately shot with a comparatively small group of people in a limited palette of coloured clothing. This crowd was then duplicated many times over to simulate the repetitive look of such scenes in traditionally-animated cartoons. A similar technique was used for a night-time chase sequence involving Racer X: the background imagery was based on footage shot on a mountain road in Austria, but the same conifer tree was then duplicated hundreds of times along the side of the road to deliberately make the shots look repetitive.

Race sequences used similar techniques, with extensive CGI mapped over photographic backgrounds shot in Europe, Hawaii and North Africa. For the Casa Cristo Classic desert race, the production simply licensed footage already shot for the Roland Emmerich film 10,000 BC. ‘We had some big camera moves,’ said visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, ‘so we wound up using quite a bit of 3D. We projected our extensively painted photographic material onto geometry and generated full 3D elements with all the camera moves created in CG.’[xiii]

The Racer family home was one of the few physical sets that was built, in order to give scenes shot there a more realistic grounding. That said, digital composites were extensively used in all scenes featured Chim Chim, the family’s pet chimpanzee – to avoid ever shooting the two trained animals at the same time as their human companions.

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The Wachowskis considered several actors for the title role of Speed Racer, including Shia LaBeouf, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zac Efron. In the end they cast 21 year-old actor Emile Hirsch, who had recently starred in the acclaimed drama Into the Wild. ‘I was a really big fan of the show,’ said Hirsch. ‘Even when I was six years old, I used to watch it every morning. And when I first saw The Matrix in theatres, it was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had watching a movie with the Wachowski brothers. Those two elements were so extraordinary on their own that the idea of putting them together seemed like it would be a fantastic film.’[xiv]

Christina Ricci played Trixie, a talented helicopter pilot and Speed’s girlfriend. While the 27 year-old actress had appeared in several films adapted from comic strips and popular culture, including The Addams Family and Casper, she was not initially familiar with Speed Racer or its characters. ‘Well, I’ve been aware of Speed Racer from hipster paraphernalia,’ she admitted, ‘but I never actually saw any of the cartoons.’[xv]

Ricci was easily the most appropriate casting choice of the film. Her round, pale face and large, wide eyes gave her a close resemblance to an animated character turned into live action. Her character was well-served by the script as well, acting not only as a love interest but a pilot and back-up race car driver as well.

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Speed’s parents, named simply Mom and Pops, were played by Susan Sarandon and John Goodman. Sarandon is a five-time Academy Award nominee, winning once for her performance in Dead Man Walking (1995). Goodman remains best-known for his starring role as Dan Conner in the long-running TV comedy Roseanne, but has also featured in a host of acclaimed films including several by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

‘I’m a huge fan of The Matrix,’ said Sarandon, ‘and my youngest son, well all my kids were, but especially my youngest. I just thought they were brilliant. When they called me, after a few phone calls I said “I don’t even understand what you are talking about, but [I’ll do it].”[xvi]

Of the Wachowskis, Goodman said: ‘They were good to work with. They were very funny.’[xvii]

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The hot-heated Japanese race driver Taejo Togokan was an original creation by the Wachowskis. Despite the character being Japanese, the actor cast was Korean: popular singer and actor Rain (his real name is Jung Ji-hoon).

Rain said: ‘When I auditioned with the Wachowski brothers, I said to them, “Right now, my English might not be perfect, but if you guys wait and see, I’ll do my best on my acting. My English will improve and you’ll see me doing very well.” The Wachowski brothers didn’t cast me strategically, thinking that I’d market well. They really cast me because they believed in me and had trust in me.’[xviii]

The Wachowskis developed a positive working relationship with Rain during the Speed Racer shoot, and tailored a subsequent film – the 2009 James McTeigue film Ninja Assassin – specifically for him.

Taejo’s sister Horuko was played by Chinese actress Yu Nan. It appears to be a general trend in Hollywood to cast characters of a specific Asian nationality with Asian actors of any nationality. Here we see actors from Korea and China playing Japanese roles. Togo Igawa, on the other hand, is Japanese. He played Tetsuo Togokan, Taejo and Horuko’s father. While born in Japan he established his acting career in the United Kingdom. In 1986 he became the first Japanese member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.

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Matthew Fox played Racer X, a masked and anonymous vigilante who might be Speed’s presumed dead older brother Rex. The role had been offered to Keanu Reeves, who turned it down in favour of Scott Derrickson’s big-budget remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Fox shot his scenes in between seasons of the popular television series Lost, in which he starred as Jack Shephard.

‘It was like doing it for the first time in a lot of respects,’ he said. ‘The whole process that they’re doing is very different – the way that the images are layered in, the way things are even shot. Most of the time you’d end up doing a scene and then the actors would be removed from it so you were doing it by yourself. Just the experience of discovering what this world is that they are building and trying to find a way into that world as this masked vigilante, was really fun.’[xix]

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Speed Racer was shot entirely in a Berlin studio on a 60-day schedule. The extensive use of digital sets presented a challenge for the cast: how do you perform a scene when you can’t see where you are or what’s around you, or even to whom you are talking?

‘I liked it,’ said Ricci, ‘because it immediately created a bond amongst all the actors and a lot of our stuff, especially at the beginning of shooting was all family stuff so it was all ensemble, all of us together. Immediately, you walk into this big green room and you look at everyone else dressed in various hilarious costumes and you just say, “Yeah, okay. What are we doing today?” Then, they’re like, “it’s snowing”, “oh, Susan, did you know it’s snowing right now?” We’re laughing and kind of like it’s ridiculous but we’re committing to it. We don’t know what’s around us but we’re gonna do what they tell us to. It creates a bond that is really wonderful.’[xx]

‘I was surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,’ said Sarandon, ‘but then I started thinking that when you do a regular movie you’re pretending that things that are there, are not there. So, when you’re doing green screen it’s almost a relief because all you have to do is imagine things are there. Imagine doing a love scene with 20 people in the room and a camera… if you’re trained after so many years to pretend that’s not happening, it’s easier when you get to a green screen and you just have to imagine following a little tennis ball at the end of a stick.’[xxi]

‘What was really weird,’ said Hirsch, ‘was doing the car scenes because we did it on a hydraulic pump called a gimbal. All of my anger in the film is so authentic because they were just slamming me around in the simulator for hours. It was green and hot and there’s lights on you and you can’t move because you’re strapped in. You get literally frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apart with a bat, and auggghh.’[xxii]

‘The gimbal was really intense,’ said Matthew Fox. ‘Thank god for that gimbal. It needed to be something that was going to be creating… basically as an actor you just got in there and hung on for dear life because that’s what would happen.’[xxiii]

The film’s musical score was composed by Michael Giacchino. ‘Brad Bird is fond of saying that music is the easiest thing that can derail a film,’ said Giacchino, ‘because if it slightly goes a degree off track it will take the viewer in the wrong emotional direction. To work with people who actually care about that is a good thing. The Wachowskis completely cared about that. They were just so much fun too. We would sit there and watch the film together. We would listen back to the playbacks and the synth stuff that I was doing it. We would just have fun and laugh. It was just a really enjoyable thing.’[xxiv]

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In the lead-up to the film’s release, both Joel Silver and the Wachowskis seemed confident of Speed Racer’s success. A storyline had even been developed for a sequel, with the entire cast signed on to return as part of their original contracts. Life, however, had other ideas.

When Speed Racer opened in American cinemas on 9 May 2008, it opened third behind the Marvel Studios blockbuster Iron Man and the comedy What Happens in Vegas. Its opening weekend gross was just under US$19 million dollars. Iron Man, by contrast, had opened a week earlier to more than US$96 million. Even Disney’s Prince Caspian, which opened a week after Speed Racer, managed to gross US$55 million – and that was considered an embarrassingly poor performance.

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros president of domestic distribution, said: ‘We realized that we were in for a disappointing weekend, but we weren’t sure on what level. This is certainly not what we were anticipating. The exit polls were very strong on the movie.’[xxv]

By May 23 Paramount Pictures had released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Iron Man was still running strong, and What Happens in Vegas and Prince Caspian squeezed out what was left between them. Speed Racer was effectively left without an audience.

By the time its theatrical run had ended, Speed Racer had grossed just US$94 million dollars worldwide. With a US$130 million dollar budget, and an estimated US$80 million spent in promotion and advertising, the film would ultimately be one of the costliest box office failures that the studio had ever made.

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The film’s cast and crew did not take the rejection of their film lying down. ‘Speed Racer is just an incredible movie to me,’ said Matthew Fox, ‘and I’m so proud to have been a part of that. I just really was disappointed that more people didn’t get it. I think it, for a bunch of different reasons, was slightly ahead of its time. There’s a bunch of reasons why I think it didn’t do what everybody hoped it would do.’[xxvi]

‘People said so much shit about Speed Racer,’ said Emile Hirsch, ‘just because it didn’t make like a billion dollars. The true nerds and the true fans know how awesome that movie is.’[xxvii]

‘People didn’t get it,’ said Michael Giacchino. ‘They really didn’t get it. They thought that that was… ugh, god. Every review I read made me so angry. I was like, “You are not getting it! It is not supposed to be real! It’s not! It’s a world that they want to create and take you into. It’s just someplace else.” It was like going into an art museum. Are you going to get angry because that doesn’t look like a real person that was painted? It is not the same. It is a piece of art.’[xxviii]

 

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Speed Racer’s failure at the box office was clearly down to two key reasons. The first was the competition. The summer of 2008 was a highly competitive season for Hollywood, and in the face of numerous superhero films, animated extravaganzas and high-profile sequels, Speed Racer was simply squeezed out of the marketplace.

The second reason was that audiences received a glimpse of the film via its theatrical trailers, television advertisements and press coverage, and did not like what they saw. It is a depressing reason for a film to fail, but it is also the most obvious and common one. Speed Racer is, for all intents and purposes, a beautifully constructed adaptation of a TV cartoon that nobody particularly wanted to see adapted. Its unique ‘poptimistic’ look, while cleverly developed and beautifully realised, makes it a particularly difficult sell once lined up against Batman, Indiana Jones and Tony Stark.

There’s a very strong argument to be made that Speed Racer is, when all is said and done, the most expensive experimental arthouse film ever produced.

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One of the first things to be noticed in a big-budget studio film is its visual effects. Over the past 25 years Hollywood has been engaged in a sort of visual effects arms race, with successive productions seeking to impress audiences with photorealistic computer-generated settings and characters. If a film can break new ground and showcase the likes of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings or the realistic apes of Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, audiences and critics alike will praise its merits and financially reward its efforts. A film like James Cameron’s Avatar, for example, might be dragged down by weak performances and a highly derivative storyline, yet through its impressive use of stereoscopic 3D and computer-generated protagonists still generated a larger box office gross than any other film in history.

Herein lies Speed Racer’s problem. It doesn’t simply fail to create realistic visual imagery. It positively revels in its own artificiality. There isn’t a shot in the entire production that represents a realistic view of the world. As an audience we have been trained by Hollywood to be impressed by realism. We might see a dinosaur on the screen, or an alien planet, or some fantastical creature, but we praise their qualities when these things visually appear as if they could logically fit into our own physical world in some fashion. We have a tendency to criticise or dislike the opposite. Speed Racer is deliberately showcasing non-realist imagery, yet it also includes human actors. Had the entire film been produced as a computer-generated animation I suspect audiences would have embraced it warmly. With the inclusion of human actors in among the digital sets and effects, I think we’re instinctively confused. There’s a cognitive dissonance at work that is sometimes difficult to overcome.

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This dissonance extends to the manner in which the film has been shot and edited. The Wachowskis were seeking a new visual language for cinema with this film, and to a large degree they discovered it. This has the benefit of making Speed Racer visually unique, but it has the drawback of forcing its audience to learn how to properly read what they are seeing.

Filmmakers develop new visual techniques all the time. Motion pictures went almost 20 years before Giovanni Pastrone invented the dolly shot for Cabiria (1914). It took until 1960 for Jean-Luc Godard to repurpose the jump cut for narrative purposes in Breathless. Even the Wachowski’s own The Matrix (1999) adapted Michel Gondry’s time-slice photography techniques to generate the much-lauded “bullet-time” effect, which created a method of representing critical moments of time in a striking and dynamic fashion.

Speed Racer arguably jumps too far ahead in terms of visual technique. The viewer is required to come to terms with the aforementioned ‘nouveau pan’, as well as scenes composed of separately shot fore, middle and background plates combined together with an equally clear focus from close-up to the horizon. Background imagery is regularly and intentionally repetitive. The film garishly employs an excess of colour, and excessive and pronounced camera movements through its mostly virtual environment.

There is also a pronounced lack of visual hierarchy. A typical shot in a feature film will use focus and image composition to draw the eye to a specific part of the picture. Speed Racer regularly abandons this strategy during its racing sequences. The result is a blur of speed and movement that certainly provides a thrilling experience, but also a regularly incomprehensible one. It’s glorious to watch, but at the same time is rather like having a seizure inside a washing machine full of paint.

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Attempts to make the film emulate the limited animation style of the original anime are only partially successful, in the main because the film still uses live-action actors. They all perform their roles in deliberately two-dimensional, mannered ways, but there’s still a physicality to them that makes the film miss the mark in this regard.

Of course, while it fails to fully appear like a human cartoon it does ultimately resemble something rather fascinating. There isn’t a movie quite like Speed Racer. It seems rather unlikely that there will be a film quite like it ever again. It is a wonderful exercise in excess: too much colour, too much movement, too much noise and altogether too much sugar. The Casa Cristo 5000, a cross-country race undertaken partway through the film, is a gleeful extravaganza. It’s worth the price of admission all on its own.

Taken all in one, Speed Racer is simply a strange film. It’s an experiment in filmmaking, and a very bold and intriguing one, and certainly the most expensive one as well. I suspect it is the sort of film that is going to find a cult audience as the years go on; movie enthusiasts who missed the attempts at hype and the high-profile crash in cinemas, but who will become fascinated by the energetic, colourful visuals on display. It is by no workable criteria the Wachowskis’ best film – that is probably a toss-up between The Matrix and Bound – but it is probably their most interesting work. It’s an amusement park ride in the shape of a movie, and based on that criteria it’s awfully good fun.

[i] Bob Flynn, “Who does Julien Temple think he is?”, The Guardian, 4 June 1999.

[ii] Michael Fleming, “Cuaron revving up cartoon pics”, Variety, 7 December 1997.

[iii] Michael Fleming, “Vaughn revving up interest in pic”, Variety, 23 June 2004.

[iv] Steven Weintraub, “Joel Silver interview Speed Racer”, Collider, 7 May 2008.

[v] Quoted in Speed Racer production notes, Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures, 2008.

[vi] Joe Fordham, “Formula for a universe”, Cinefex, No. 114, July 2008.

[vii] Logan Hill, “How to make poptimistic photo-anime”, New York, 28 April 2008.

[viii] Logan Hill, “How to make poptimistic photo-anime”, New York, 28 April 2008.

[ix] Steve Weintraub, “Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer talk Cloud Atlas, Speed Racer, test screenings, deleted scenes, favourite movies & more”, Collider, 29 October 2013.

[x] Quoted in Speed Racer production notes, Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures, 2008.

[xi] Quoted in Speed Racer production notes, Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures, 2008.

[xii] Joe Fordham, “Formula for a universe”, Cinefex, No. 114, July 2008.

[xiii] Joe Fordham, “Formula for a universe”, Cinefex, No. 114, July 2008.

[xiv] Rob Carnevale, “Emile Hirsch interview”, Indie London (http://www.indielondon.co.uk/Film-Review/speed-racer-emile-hirsch-interview)

[xv] Bob Thompson, “For Ricci, it’s back to the blockbusters; Speed Racer actress was happy switching gears from arthouse films”, Edmonton Journal, 10 May 2008.

[xvi] Sheila Roberts, “John Goodman & Susan Sarandon interview: Speed Racer”, Movies Online (http://www.moviesonline.ca/movienews_14616.html)

[xvii] Sheila Roberts, “John Goodman talks Monuments Men, Speed Racer”, Collider, 4 February 2014.

[xviii] Quoted in “Speed Racer: interview with Rain”, Sci-Fi Japan, 9 May 2008.

[xix] Cole Smithey, “Matthew Fox talks to Cole Smithey about Vantage Point, Speed Racer, and staying Lost”, Cole Smithey, 21 February 2008.

[xx] Paul Fischer, “Ricci fast tracks her career in Speed Racer”, Girl, May 2008.

[xxi] Rob Carnevale, “Susan Sarandon interview”, Indie London (http://www.indielondon.co.uk/Film-Review/speed-racer-susan-sarandon-interview)

[xxii] Steve Weintraub, “Emile Hirsch interview Speed Racer”, Collider, 5 May 2008.

[xxiii] Steve Weintraub, “Matthew Fox interview Speed Racer”, Collider, 3 May 2008.

[xxiv] Steven Weintraub, “Exclusive: Michael Giacchino talks Cars 2, Speed Racer, Star Trek and Star Trek 2, MI:4 and what it will take to get The Incredibles 2”, Collider, 21 June 2011.

[xxv] Lauren A.E. Schuker, “Speed Racer stalls, highlighting a risk”, Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), 12 May 2008.

[xxvi] Jack Giroux, “Matthew Fox transforms for Alex Cross and mourns the fate of Speed Racer”, Film School Rejects, 17 October 2012.

[xxvii] Jack Giroux, “Comic-con interview: Emile Hirsch discusses The Darkest Hour”, Film School Rejects, 31 July 2011.

[xxviii] Steven Weintraub, “Exclusive: Michael Giacchino talks Cars 2, Speed Racer, Star Trek and Star Trek 2, MI:4 and what it will take to get The Incredibles 2”, Collider, 21 June 2011.

  1. Nice review. I was disappointed that it didn’t do better as it really is an excellent movie.

    Reply

  2. I have so so so much love for this film!

    Reply

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