Cinematic Heaven: Speed Racer

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Speed Racer | The Wachowskis, 2008

After the failing to live up to the hype that resulted from the first Matrix movie, the Wachowski Brothers decided to take on something different. This was an adaptation of the old anime series Speed Racer. The end result was one of the most polarizing films of the last decade. There are those who despise it, and those who love it. There is no middle ground. You can’t kind of like it, and you can’t think that it was bad but not horrible. Those who hate it complain that it is “too cartoonish,” that “it looks like a video game” that “the story is weak,” that “it raped my eyes” and that “Chim Chim and Spritle were annoying.” Then there are those of us who love it because we understand that the filmmakers wanted to pay homage to the original cartoon, they wanted to make a movie for the whole family to enjoy, without dumbing things down (if there is anything that seems dumb it comes from the original source), For me, and I bet I’m the only one who thinks this, it is a perfect movie. Watching this for the first time in a nearly-empty theater was one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had.

Despite the technical aspects of the film, the reason why this movie succeeds is because of the story and the script. Yes, the story is not original and is just a simple “family kicks ass” and “sticking it to the man” sort of thing, but those are timeless themes that when told well, and in a good manner, can feel fresh. This time, it is wrapped around a story set in a world where car racing is the world-wide past time. As one would expect, it is not an honest sport, but there are a few companies, like Racer Motors, who are in it for the love of the game. And when the time comes to stop the evil companies, it is up to Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), Pops Racer (John Goodman), Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon), Trixie (Christina Ricci), and the rest of the Racer clan to stop them.

Like I said, the main reason why I love this so is the story and the script. When I first saw the trailer for this, I thought the dialogue was horrible, but in the end, it completely worked on the film. Also, all the scenes feel like they belong and they are awesomely written. But of course, this would not have worked without the actors, and the directors, and the rest of the production team.

Each role here is  perfectly cast and the performances are incredible. One would think that they actors would wink at the camera all the time looking like “hey, I’m doing a trippy movie based on a Japanese cartoon.” No, the actors take their role seriously and do the best they can. Emile Hirsch gives the best performance of his career so far (not a fan of Into the Wild or Milk). Susan Sarandon and John Goodman fill their roles of the supportive parents really well. Christina Ricci is cute and awesome as Trixie, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “cool beans” as good as she did. And Matthew Fox makes the most of his limited acting abilities as the mysterious Racer X.

The biggest props however, go to the Wachowskis for their vision for this film. Any other directors would have tried to set this in the real world, maybe in the world of NASCAR (*shudders*). But they decided to pay their respects to the original show by setting it in a world where everything is so bright and colorful that one may feel like he is being hit by Skittles all the time. It is a world beautifully realized by the guys at Industrial Light and Magic, the art directors, the cinematographer, the costume designer, the composer, the editors, and everyone involved in the production. Yes, the movie is an attack of the senses, but it is quite an experience. Even the end credits could possibly trigger a seizure.

I loved everything about speed racer. Everything about the production, from the script and Michael Giacchino’s score, to the editing is perfect. Plus, it is endlessy rewatchable. Sadly, upon its release this movie was trashed by critics and bombed at the box office. Hopefully over time this will get the audience it deserves.

Note: Although I’ve updated my reviews of Amarcord and The General to be part of the “Cinematic Heaven” series, this is officially the first entry. For more information on the series click here.

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