Sunday, May 11, 2008
SPEED RACER: I Get it, But no One Else Does.
I went to see SPEED RACER yesterday with my friends Jerry, Murray, and Carlos, and it was pretty much exactly what I both expected and wanted from the movie... which is why I can understand the intensely negative critism the movies been getting (seriously... 35% at Rotten Tomatoes is a little harsh....), because what I expected and wanted from this movie is vastly different from what your average critic, or even your average movie goer, is looking for.
See... the problem is that SPEED RACER is a PERFECT adaptation of the cartoon. It is EXACTLY like the cartoon in every possible way. Nothing was really done to tone down the 1960's absurdity of the material they were adapting... no effort was made to make this movie darker or more realistic, or in any way more palatable to a 21st Century audience. Characters have names like "Inspector Detector", or "Crusher Block", Racer X is still has an incredibly melodramatic back story, and Spriddle and Chim-Chim are still annoying but somehow endearing. Some of the movie's humor involving Spriddle and his pet monkey was positively groan worthy at times, but obviously appeals to a younger audience (they literally throw monkey poo at a guy... kids LOVE that kind of shit, pun intended). The improbable stunts, the simplistic, "Everything will be ok if I can just win this race..." plot... it's all there.
Everything about this movie was exactly like the cartoon... which is awesome if you've got that prior knowledge. It was actually interesting going with Jerry and Murray, because it perfectly illustrates the divide between someone with an affinity for the original content, and the average movie goer who never watched SPEED RACER, or even any anime at all, and thus just would not "get" a lot of the movie's visual cues, in-jokes, and homages. In the end, Jerry ended up enjoying the movie a lot more than Murray did, and that's exactly how it's going to be for EVERYBODY. This movie is just going to fly right over people heads. Which is too bad, because it was actually pretty entertaining, and I really enjoyed the visual style... my only real critism with the movie is that it starts REALLY slow; especially for a movie about RACING. It took at least 15-20 minutes to get all of the plot setup out of the way and get to the shit you actually came to see... absurd car stunts, ninja's, mobsters, secret identities, cute girls flying helicopters, race-car vikings (YES... VIKINGS), melodrama, speed-lines, and a pounding orchestral (the chimes and harps make it sound very Hanna Barbara) soundtrack. Which this movie delivers in spades. It's a slightly deeper and more complex story than the cartoon (a parable about Big Business VS the Little Guy, corporate politics, and cheaters never prospering), but it still has that childlike sense of focus... "If I can just win this one race, everything will be ok."
Visually, I found the movie went back and forth between looking garish and looking stylish, but I really enjoyed a lot of the anime style wipes and transitions. The cast was perfect, and everyone played their parts to a T (particularly John Goodman, who I always like anyways, but seemed to be really channeling something as Pops Racer). This is a movie that will appeal greatly to children, who will appreciate the bright colors, fast paced action, and monkey-poo humor, and adults with prior knowledge or fond memories of the series, or at least some exposure to oldschool anime, and it's conventions. The only thing this movie really needed was to end on a watercolor still of Speed jumping out of the Mach 5 and taking his iconic pose.