Warner Bros. // 2008 // 132 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 24th, 2008
The Wachowski brothers open up the garage door and let loose one of the trippiest kids movies you'll see this side of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And no matter how you might feel about the movie itself, this disc is a sight to behold in high-definition.
So you've got the Racer family and believe it or not, they love racing. Racing really fast cars around whacked-out tracks in a futuristic neon world. The best at that is Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), who's taken after his late older brother, the one-time best in the world until an accident claimed his life. Now Speed is angling for the mantle of greatest ever and to get it he's going to have to overcome a corrupt racing bureaucracy, a thug syndicate, an evil corporation and a whole slew of drivers that have oil slick guns and harpoons.
Sounds like a tall feat huh? Nah, Speed drives a car that can deter all manner of vehicular malfeasance. Plus he's got help from his helicopter-piloting girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci, Black Snake Moan), his renowned car inventor of a father (John Goodman) and the skilled, mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox, Vantage Point).
Speed Racer is the Halloween candy binge of home video entertainment, an intensely over-sweet experience that will assault your senses and give you a headache and there are lot of people dressed like freaks. Though the Wachowskis' foray into kid-friendly CGI-brain-assault was famously savaged by critics, I still nurtured an interest in seeing the insanity unfold in Blu-ray, the format that this film was made for.
Before I get into the impressive technical treatment -- and it is impressive, probably the most striking HD picture I've seen so far -- a few reactions on the movie itself. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be, considering the venom that had been espoused in the reviews. Still, we're not talking children's classic by any stretch -- Speed Racer is bombastic and over-the-top and relatively wit-free. What saves the experience is the sheer imagination that's been pumped in by its creators.
The Wachowskis have crammed an unbelievable amount of eye-scorching, computer-generated craziness into each frame. There's so much going on it's mentally oppressive, but, hey, if you're going to fix yourself a bowl of the most sugary, non-nutritious breakfast cereal you can find, you might as well go all-out. The Wachowskis have gone all-out, cranking the Sensory Overload Meter to "Exploding Naked Cyborgs in Space."
This is best displayed in the race sequences, ridiculously cartoonish events that redefine what it means to have one's eyeballs over-stimulated. There are three major races in the film and credit where credit's due: the Wachowskis put something new into each race. These spectacles are great fun and will certainly appeal to the low-attention-span-having child in your family,
It's the non-race stuff that's a nightmare. The writing is flat and the slapstick-centered humor never remotely flirts with eliciting laughter. And talk about boring, extended conversations of profit margins and stock values and insider trading? Then there's Spritle Racer (Paulie Litt) and his damn monkey. These two are responsible for like 99 percent of the humor and they are unbearably annoying. Cinema death when they show up onscreen. Cinema death.
While the movie is a mixed experience varying from the visually exciting to the intellectually insulting, the Blu-ray is a tour de force. Sporting the most vivid and colorful picture I've ever seen the format produce, Speed Racer demands to be seen to be believed. If Circuit City and Best Buy want to move some Blu-ray players, they should play this thing nonstop on their display units. That much sensory overload will likely to lead to isolated incidents of shoppers enduring violent nervous breakdowns, but I guarantee sales will go up. The crowd scenes, the racing, the flyovers of the cityscapes, all of its rendered in exquisite CGI an dripping in color and detail, just pop out from the screen. I know the term "visual feast" is a cliché, and would be sign of a lazy writer, but that is an apt description -- if your eyeballs had stomachs they be nauseous because they'd be so full. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is aggressive, and really pounds during the race scenes, but audiophiles will lament the absence of an uncompressed track.
Extras: featurettes on the visual effects ("Speed Racer: Car-fu Cinema"), the movie set, with Paulie Litt as the tour ("Spritle in the Big Leagues") and the fictional drivers and cars from the film ("Speed Racer: Supercharged!"). A bonus DVD includes an interactive game and a third disc holds the film's digital copy.
The movie swings wildly from out-of-this-world eye candy to excruciating slapstick, but the visuals will knock your socks off.
On the charge of Sporting a Smoking High-def Picture: Guilty. On the charge of Giving Me a Big-Ass Migraine: Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Interactive Game
* Digital Copy