Maybe 20 or 30 years down the road, we can all look back on the theatrical debacle that was Speed Racer and wonder why… why didn’t it have a $300 million take at the box office? Speed Racer is everything we’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters, while still adding in enough to satisfy the fans of the cult classic TV series. The casting is perfect, the visual effects mesmerizing, and the style undeniable.
For the uninitiated in the Speed Racer saga, directors The Wachowski Brothers do a simply amazing job of getting the audience up to, well, speed. The opening 20 minutes are all over the place, going into flashback, modern times, and back again. Yet, with a keen eye for visual cues and startling editing, it’s never confusing.
The obvious complaint with Speed is its story. To that extent, there’s a valid complaint. The film is trying to be a Saturday morning cartoon, and the constant explanations about corporate business, stocks, and other financial details feel out of place. The other plot that ties all of this together, that of revenge and betrayal, is more suited for the format, even if together they push the movie over the two hour mark.
Young Paulie Litt is the obvious connection that makes this a true live action cartoon, at least from the human standpoint. He’s everything an annoying young companion should be, and hams it up in his role as Spritle. Toss in a crap-flinging monkey, and you have the final piece.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’re going into Speed to see the humans. This is all about technical wizardry at its finest. Some will deride the effects as cartoonish, and to do so is to completely miss the point. There’s such a dazzling array of color, action, and style yet not a single moment of action feels overdone, even though every bit of it is the definition of excess. It all simply blends to create a cohesive means of telling a story.
The Wachowskis even manage to cram in some martial arts fight sequences, including one on a mountain that has to be one of the most visually arresting brawls ever put on film, and that has nothing to do with the choreography. Speed Racer is a vastly underrated, sure-to-be cult classic in the coming years. Films rarely attain this level of spectacle and still manage to present the story as intended.
If the film was a stunning collection of visuals, then this Blu-ray is the next evolution of this movie’s style. Speed Racer instantly claims its spot amongst the top 10 discs on the current market in terms of its video. It’s a remarkable display of technology in that with all of the flying colors, cars racing by, and kinetic motion, there is no distortion of any kind.
Thanks to a ridiculously high bitrate during the action, this VC-1 encoded disc never exhibits any flaws. It can be argued that it’s even more impressive than many animated films, usually a sure thing for crystal clear video. Sharpness is nothing short of remarkable. Colors are presented so rich, your TV will hate you. The contrast and black levels never cause problems. Details are nearly at the level of “miracle.” This disc should be in everyone’s Blu-ray collection if they ever desire to show off what the format can do.
Sadly, something had to give for that video presentation, and that’s the audio and extras. Warner has chosen to forgo any of the next-gen audio formats, and slaps a meager Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the disc, right off the DVD. That’s not to say this movie doesn’t sound great. The amount of positional dialogue that travels through the channels is impressively handled, and cars fly from front to back with regularity.
However, there’s that extra punch missing that those spoiled by uncompressed audio will notice immediately. Bass doesn’t feel meaty even at its highest point. The separation isn’t as strong as it could be. In fact, the entire time the film is playing, you can’t help but think about how incredible this should be sounding.
If you have kids, this is the disc for them. No commentaries, no real behind-the-scenes stuff, no picture-in-picture, etc. Instead, there’s a half hour feature that’s an extended advertisement titled Car Fu. Spritle in the Big Leagues follows Paulie Litt around the set, and is made purely for the younger set. Speed Racer Supercharged is a 16-minute look at the characters.
If the Blu-ray case feels heavy, that’s because there’s three discs inside the case. Features are housed on the Blu-ray (and all are in SD), the second disc is a digital copy of the film, and the third is a boring DVD game not worth the digital code used to make it.