The Matrix is my all time favorite film. I believe it's about the most perfect film ever made. (At least for my tastes.) It beautifully blends a mind-bending sci-fi story, with jaw-dropping action scenes, through brilliant, top-notch filmmaking. I became a Wachowski Brothers fan for life the moment I walked out of seeing The Matrix for the first time. I don't care that the sequels didn't live up to the original. I still enjoy them as decent follow-ups, they also have excellent action scenes and continue the story that I fell in love with. I think that the films were rushed out too quickly and that's what sullied what they had built. But in time, as kids grow up with these films, without the great expectations from the first one, instantly able to pop in the sequels after watching the first, that the films will become a classic trilogy on level with Star Wars for my generation. I honestly think that The Matrix Revolutions is a much better film than Return of the Jedi, it's only a matter of nostalgic perception.
So I was ecstatic to hear that Andy and Larry were making another film. After V for Vengeance, I was afraid they'd moved into producer territory and weren't coming back. I didn't care that it was Speed Racer, a cheesy cartoon from the 70's that I never watched and didn't know anything about beyond the name. But they had me practically drooling the first time I saw the trailer. The candy colors, the futuristic editing and the full frame in constant focus, I knew I was seeing something brand new. I predicted based solely on that glimpse, that the film wouldn't make money. I could tell that the film was too far ahead of its time and most people wouldn't get it. But mark my words, as kids grow up with this, watching it over and over on hi-def TVs, the film's reputation will grow. In 10-15 years time, Speed Racer will be one of the best remembered films of this generation.
Emile Hirsch, of Into the Wild fame, a film that ascetically couldn't be any more different, stars as Speed. In the opening few minutes, we're given everything we need to know about who Speed is and where he comes from.
I absolutely adore the shot where the young Speed is racing along with the badly animated cars. This is exactly what I think a young kid envisions when they're imagining these sorts of things. And look for the shot with Speed in the background and young Trixie is in the foreground, both in crystal clear focus. That doesn't happen in normal films. The Wachowski's and their team came up with this effect to imitate the world of animation, where everything can be in focus at the same time. The whole film is like this, along with the other-worldy colors, it gives the film a totally unique look. I think a lot of older viewers were thrown off by this nearly hypnotic effect, but that the kids of today will adore it.
Also completely different, is the editing style of the film. There is often 4 to 5 things going on in a single shot, it's overwhelming at times, but also incredibly ahead of its time. You'll see a current Speed remembering his past in the foreground, with his memories playing out behind him. Or you'll see a multitude of characters reacting to something at the same time, they're faces cut out and floating through the shot of a car racing by. The amount of detail in this film is breathtaking. So while Iron Man, may be the film of summer '08, Speed Racer, will have a much greater affect on the future of films; as more filmmakers copy these new techniques.
I'll admit that the story of Speed Racer is somewhat weak. I didn't mind the independent racer and his family, fighting the large, evil corporation storyline; I think it's the right one for the film. What's wrong with it, is that they took too much time developing and talking about it. This is after all a film made for kids. If they could have cut about 15 minutes of the talking, the film would have been much more effective. However, I did like most of the film's performances. They're intentionally campy, without totally overdoing it, neatly straddling the line between cartoon and live-action. I didn't even mind little brother Spritle and his monkey Chim Chim, they're goofy, but provide a few good laughs.
But we're not watching the film for story or characters, it's all about the racing scenes. And believe me, they're well worth it! The four main racing scenes are the heart of the film, each visually stunning in their own right. But I particularly liked the cross-country, no-rules race. We get to see Speed team up with Racer X and Taejo Togokahn, to take on all comers, in a race across the desert and through the high, snowy mountains. This is Wacky Races brought to sparkling life. I mean, how many times have you seen a gang of Viking race-car drivers, toss live beehives at another driver or flip towards the lead car, with a huge mace and chain dragging behind them. It's a total cartoon, you can't take this stuff literal for a second. But from the start the Wachowski brothers set up the world for things to work this way, so I never had a problem with it. When Speed Racer jumps off a cliff, pops some spikes out of his tire, drives straight up a mountain, and jumps over his last competitor, I cheered inside.
It seems that so many people went into this film wanting to tear it down. People are often afraid of the new and different, so they immediately dismissed it without another thought. But the kids that were at the screening ate it up, my son included, we had to take him back to see it again a week later. They're the true audience for this film, and I guarantee that it will be well remembered. Let yourself become a kid again, zone out a bit while the characters are talking about sponsorships and conglomerates, and focus in when Speed Racer and Racer X start doing their thing. Speed Racer is pure visual candy; it has zero nutritional value, but damn, does it taste good! - Grade: A-