Movie & Blu-Ray Review: Speed Racer

Speed Racer is a much-maligned movie. It made a paltry $92 million worldwide, which may seem pretty good, but considering the movie cost $120 million to make and the studio only receives on average half of the box office returns, that turns into a major loss. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has only a 37% rating. Does Speed Racer deserve this criticism? Read on for my movie review, and stay the course for my thoughts on the Blu-Ray disc.

First, I should point out that I'm not a big fan of racing. Actually, I'm not a fan of racing at all. Watching cars make the same loop around a track over and over again isn't my idea of fun. And I'm not a big fan of the original Speed Racer cartoon either. Although I appreciate it for what it is, it's from a time period of anime that had iffy animation and virtually non-sensical plots. Not that I'm criticising it, because there are plenty of movies that I like that have iffy special effects and inane plots (Basket Case comes to mind)... just that those features aren't my cup of tea in anime. So that's two strikes against it.

Movie Review
And yet, the movie is awesome. Dare I say it... awesome to the max. Let's start with the highlight of the movie: the special effects. This movie has some of the best eye-candy that you'll see in film. The Wachowski brothers infused a great style to the movie that is kind of like a mix between Dragonball and Xanadu. It's certainly unique. The movie is supposed to mimic a "living cartoon", which led to interesting directorial decisions. For example, both the foreground and background in many of the scenes are in focus, like in a cartoon. (As a side note, I love this concept. It allows you to divert your attention to where you'd like.)

The action is fast-paced and interesting... even I enjoy watching this type of racing. The cars fight each other in what the movie producers term as "car-fu", smashing and flipping into each other while trying to gain the upper hand with gadgets. It sounds goofy, but it actually works pretty well in the movie. Also, the tracks are fantastic, looking like something out of F-Zero. I wish I could play these tracks in a game myself.

I also really dig the characters. Speed is the hero who is forced to come to terms with reality; Rex is the "Qui-Gon"-esque big brother mentor; Trixie is the hot girlfriend; Racer-X is the mysterious cool customer, like a good guy version of Boba Fett. Even Sprittle is effective for comic relief. And each character, even the minor ones, has a scene where he/she shines.

The plot, which covers big-corporation corruption in the racing industry, is complicated but manageable. It might lose some of the kids, though. And maybe a bit too much time is spent on the corruption and not enough with Speed. Speaking of time, the movie exhibits the same problem as virtually every single summer popcorn movie these days: it's 2 hours and 15 minutes long, which is about 15 minutes over the acceptable movie time limit. If 15-30 minutes of the movie were edited out (especially from the corporation corruption plotline), it would have been perfect.

So are the above reasons why Speed Racer did so poorly at the box office and was blasted by critics? Probably not. I suspect that the main reason is that the style of the movie only appeals to a subset of the audience. The action is pretty frantic and very much like a video game. My wife said that if she hadn't been a fan of Burn Out, she would have no clue as to what was going on. So, critics (who are likely not gamers) probably felt like their heads were going to explode trying to process all that information.

But for me, as a video game nerd, I loved it. I give the movie 5 out of 5 Machs.

Blu-Ray Review
The video quality is nearly perfect; a movie like this truly is the reason to own a Blu-Ray player. I suspect we'll see this movie playing on the TVs at Best Buy. It's a great demo to show how good a Blu-Ray disc can look.

But the special features are a bit lacking:

  • Digital Copy: I suspect this is for users who want to download the movie onto an iPod or iPhone, which is a pretty cool concept. Thumbs up, especially if you own one of these gadgets. If you don't, at least you can load this on your computer or laptop. (And it's great for screen shots, which is where all these shots came from.)

  • Computer Game: This is pretty much worthless... does anybody actually play these things?

  • Featurettes: Included are three featurettes. The first, "Car Fu Cinema", is a great "making of" featurette, explaining the gorgeous panaramic photographs and a gimble which was hooked up to a video game version of the tracks so that the actors can react appropriately. Awesome. "Speed Racer: Supercharged" showcases the cars in the movie, which is great for those interested in the toys like myself. But "Sprittle in the Big Leagues" is pretty much just comic relief for the kids and provides little useful or interesting information.
Missing are commentaries, trailers, and cut scenes. Hopefully they'll release a Blu-Ray in the future that's all decked-out with special features.

In the meantime, this is good enough. The main selling point, the movie, looks fantastic, so I can't complain too much. I give the Blu-Ray 3 out of 5 Machs.

DISCLAIMER: All items reviewed on Dork Dimension were purchased by the reviewer unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed on Dork Dimension are solely those of the author and are presented for entertainment purposes only.