Judge Michael Nazarewycz wonders if Formula 1 is good, Formula 44 must be awesome.
"Formula 1 was born in a bygone time, when boys' heroes reigned in the skies."
I had something of a Formula One awakening in 2013. I've never been overly interested in the sport, but I had very much anticipated Ron Howard's Rush. Sadly, that film left me disappointed, so I sought out 2010's Senna, which I had read good things about. Those good things are true; Senna is superb. So when the opportunity to see 1—a Formula One documentary I had never heard of—presented itself, I raced to the chance. (I'm already sorry I wrote that, and it won't happen again.)
Facts of the Case
1 is a documentary about the history of Formula One racing. It covers the span of time from the 1930s to the 1990s, and is narrated by actor Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds).
1 wastes no time in getting your attention. It opens with a spectacular crash by driver Martin Brundle, who not only emerges from the wreckage unharmed, he sprints…SPRINTS…to the track doctor for clearance so that he can get into his backup car and continue the race. This establishes what you need to know: race cars are safe, race car drivers are a breed apart, and you want to see that again.
And you do, but it doesn't always end so happily, because while the men of Formula One have always been the different breed they are today, their cars haven't always been as safe as they are today. This is the overlying narrative to this (mostly) linear history of the sport: death and safety. Woven throughout the history of the men, the money, and the motors of Formula One is the constant reminder of just how dangerous the sport is.
You learn that in the earliest days, "protective headgear" was not really protective and more closely resembled a swimming cap in both form and function. As time marched on, titans of the sport's ownership—led by Enzo Ferrari—built bigger engines to make faster cars. Others chose a more scientific route, adding wings to increase speed by affecting aerodynamics.
In what is now one of my favorite sports quotes of all time, Enzo Ferrari said, "Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines." Boom.
While the sport's automotive advances lurched forward, driver safety remained stagnant. Even after speeds doubled yet everything else stood still, the governing body itself essentially dismissed driver safety by stating that the drivers control the speed of the machines, so they should simply drive slower.
Reminders of the dangers of the sport, and the efforts to improve its safety, are oft touted via on-camera interviews with legends of the sport like Jackie Stewart (the sport's biggest safety proponent), Michael Schumacher, and Niki Lauda. Other times, though, real footage of real crashes stop the narrative cold—and to intense effect. I found myself audibly reacting to the suddenness of more than one crash.
Director Paul Crowder (The Last Play at Shea) does a great job at keeping the subject matter interesting, maximizing the endless amounts of footage made available to him. That footage, like the footage used in Senna, puts you in the driver's seat in a way Rush failed to. There is so much great racing footage in this film, from all angles (visual and thematic), that if Formula One doesn't have an NFL Films equivalent, this could be the start of it.
The clarity of the Blu-ray transfer, presented in 1.78:1 1080p, is very good, and only uneven because of the source material. There is much unrestored historical footage that is used throughout the film, and while that imagery is clear, it still shows its age. This is even more evident when footage form varying eras (and thus varying qualities) is shown back-to-back or side-by-side. The imagery of the footage shot specifically for the film—the interviews and some vfx-modified shots—is excellent. The TrueHD 5.1 audio track is also solid, with clear dialogue and music during the interviews, and an emphasis on the rumble of the engines as opposed to the whiz of the cars during those scenes.
Unfortunately, there are no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have finally found something that Michael Fassbender is bad at: narration, at least here. His flat and emotionless delivery of the text suggests he is terribly disinterested in the subject.
I also wish they hadn't stopped at Senna's death. I understand that a main theme of the film is race safety, and the film is quick to note that there have been no deaths in the sport since Senna's, which is what prompted even greater safety changes. Still, it's a history of the sport first and a history of the sport's safety second. They could have at least brought the tale into the current millennium.
There is a length of footage of a qualifying lap in Monaco as run by the late, great Aryton Senna. The POV is from his dashboard camera. This clip alone is worth the price of 1 (Blu-ray). The rest is icing—a lot of icing.
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