May 18th, 2008
On Thursday night, I went and saw Speed Racer in IMAX at The Bridge across the street from work. I mentioned before that I wanted to see it but nobody seemed to be excited about it but me, then I mentioned that my buddy Chris told me he saw it and liked it.
Leah and Devon and I (along with Dev’s girlfriend) actually were considering seeing this last week on Mother’s Day but logistically it ended up not possible because of the boy’s coming back from a Model U.N. thing right when we were going to see it. Leah had not been excited to see it, it was more an excuse to hang with Devon and I know Leah was excited that I was excited.
I went alone after work Thursday. Nobody from work was excited to see it. Mind you, these are gamers, nerds, and fanboys–and I mean those terms with the utmost respect! I think part of what deterred people was that the advertising is very true to the film. It’s outlandish.
Here’s a fight between Racer X and some baddies.
Those lines of motion are a stylistic choice that is very much in keeping with the kinetics of the original animation. The animation in the original anime, and when I was a kid I never heard that term. Speed Racer was just this odd cartoon that I could watch when I visited my friends Celsito and Carlos. For whatever reason they liked Speed Racer. This would have been in about 1976-1978 or so.
Leave it to Wikipedia to catch me up on the history. I was 7 years old in 1977, and at that point the animated Speed Racer was already 10 years old. I only knew that the thing looked amazing and utterly unlike every other cartoon. It was like the white whale when I could actually see an episode. In retrospect much of the animation has a lot of basically static images with looping animation, and many images freeze frame with a camera move or zoom to emphasize the action. That technique seems like a cheat, and in less capable hands, it makes the animation suck. Scooby Doo, for example, is an example of a cartoon I dislike because of cheap animation tricks like this.
Sidebar: I stayed with Celsito and Carlos and their family when my sister was born. I vividly recall being called to their kitchen, which I remember as big and very white. They lived in a great house in San Gabriel. I was called to the kitchen to take a call from my father, who announced to me that I had a sister named Kelly. I was seven years old and it was awesome news but I had no idea what it really meant to me. The other thing I remember is someone (was it their Mom? or maybe a babysitter or housekeeper?) grinding masa to make tortillas. Oh, and they had some big Kiss posters too, in their room. Actually, I remember a lot more, but that’s another subject.
So you might make the argument, given how many memories Speed Racer activates in my brain, that it’s a pure nostalgia trip for me. I like Speed Racer because it is true, but enhances, something I enjoyed as a kid. That sounds roughly correct to me, and perhaps accounts for the limited appeal and so far, failing box office of the film.
The movie does have some real hokum in it. The characters are archetypes–pushed “to the max.” This did not really bother me, I was carried away. The film has a lot of goofy digressions in it, visual jokes, outright slapstick, but that didn’t bother me either. If you remember the cartoon, there’s a lot of silliness with the younger son, Spritle, and his monkey Chim-Chim. They get into shenanigans, stowing away and accidentally getting into fights. They’re very expressive and utterly unrealistic.
The action in the film is really great and really fun. When I got out, my co-worker Rich asked me if the movie was like a giant piece of candy–and I said absolutely. He didn’t see it, but he nailed the thing that is so fun about it, it’s like a giant piece of candy. The thing is made of magic, and it utterly sweet, and carries you along in a very satisfying way. I think if you don’t want that sugar rush, or you can’t suspend your disbelief, then you could be driven crazy by the movie. But I definitely was in the mood to have fun.
One of the things I enjoyed most in the movie was the attention to design–giant, over the top futuristic and retro design. Every square inch of the movie is designed. While in some movies, this actually takes you out of the “reality’ of the movie. I think the Star Wars prequels are a good example of incredible design and creatures taking you out of the world they are trying to put you in. The original trilogy was grounded in many more practical effects. When Luke gets hit by something, or falls, it looks like it’s really happening. When similar stuff happens in The Phantom Menace, it’s usually clear that they are in a giant computer generated space. Something is lost there. Speed Racer somehow manages to steer clear of this, despite being almost completely invented space. The visual style is never realistic–it’s always pushed into something that is peculiarly Speed Racer-ish, but always internally consistent.
As I said, I had a great time. It’s actually likely that I’ll try and see it again. I didn’t even mention how impressive and clean the screen at IMAX was. It was huge! Initially I had a hard time taking it all in, but once the trailers were done I had figured out how to look at the screen and understand it. It’s a scale I’m not used to in movies.