Jun 5, 2008

[Movies] Speed Racer

Speed RacerOne of the older Anime cartoons that I ever got into was Speed Racer, originally Mach GoGoGo in Japan. It was a strange series that was a bit beyond my normal interests (at the time mostly robot cartoons like Transformers and Voltron) given it was pretty much just some guy with a fancy race car. Still, there was an innate campiness associated with the series that was just too hard to completely ignore and given the original period in which the cartoon was created, it was pretty "high tech" compared to other shows.

When it was announced that a live-action Speed Racer movie was to be created, I was a bit skeptical since a lot of the appeal of the show was intrinsically tied to its often over-the-top nature and unrealistic stunts. As much as Speed's car, the Mach 5, had a lot of high tech enhancements and gadgets, it still couldn't have possibly done a lot of the things it did in the original show. To somehow bring this into a more modern setting with the same level of surrealism would definitely turn-off audiences unfamiliar with the original appeal of the cartoon.

When the movie did come out, I was of mixed feelings about it. Perhaps in the course of this entry, I'll come to a more definite final opinion of sorts, haha.

Emile Hirsch at Hollywood Life Magazine’s 7th Annual Breakthrough AwardsImage via WikipediaThe Speed Racer movie loosely follows the original cartoon. We're still following the adventures of the racing-obsessed Racer family primarily centering around their second son Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) who now races using the Mach 5 as part of the racing team of his father, Pops Racer (John Goodman). The whole family is still there with a much better fleshed-out version of Mom Racer, as portrayed by Susan Sarandon. This was both a good and a bad thing since the slapstick antics of Spritle (Paulie Litt) and Chim Chim were a bit annoying when done in live-action.

If taken independently of the original cartoon, I'd have to admit that the movie felt rather slow and drawn-out in certain points with the generous amount of flashbacks and the need to have the camera go around the character so much that it's bound to make your head spin. Then again when you remember the cartoon, these sequences make a lot more sense since the show did have a lot of long and drawn out sequences and seemingly unnecessary verbose speeches and circular dialog. This is one case where you can't really ignore the original show since the the movie was designed as an homage of sorts, trying its best not to change too much of the original story while trying to update it to be a bit more hip and modern.

Somehow the primary method of making the movie as dynamic as possible was by using garishly bright colors that would make you feel you've been tripping on magic mushrooms while watching the film. I know they wanted to convey that cartoon-ish feel by using such painfully vibrant colors and to some extent they achieved that effect at the cost of our ability to see things clearly outside of the cinema for the first 30 minutes after the movie.

Overall the movie seemed at work with itself. In some parts it was clearly a children's movie - shallow with lessons on morals and values amidst antics involving a chimpanzee and way too much sugar. In contrast, it was also attempting to be a somewhat more serious action-drama with some pretty heavy themes and concepts and out-of-your-mind racing sequences. This part of the film could only work if you were a fan or at least fairly aware of how the original series worked since without that kind of background, you'd find a lot of the sequences overly forced and just too long.

The movie constantly had me thinking of the Gwen Stefani song, Bubble Pop Electric for some reason - perhaps because it's a fast-paced song that's highly bouncy and yet mostly a lot of fluff.

Overall I liked it, but mainly as a fan of the original series. On its own the movie doesn't really carry its weight and I shudder to think of what a sequel might feel like. At least the music was fun - I have to admit I enjoyed the closing credits just because of the soundtrack.
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  1. yeah the soundtrack is neat.

  2. I think it could appeal to anime/manga fans even if they haven't seen the original show. Or at least it appealed to me. I'm going to go see it again today; third time, first (and last, alas) in IMAX.