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Speed Racer
A high quality movie without an audience.
Speed Racer
Wachowski Brothers' Live-Action "Speed Racer".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $53,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

January 7th, 2008: Based on the classic 1960's Japanese animated series, chronicling the aspirations of a young race car driver as he attempts to obtain glory, with the help of his family and the Mach 5, the advanced car created by his father.

What to Expect: One of the worst things you can do is to take an old show and try to make it into a full length movie. Think of all the times this formula has failed in recent years. There was that horrible Scooby-Doo franchise, The Honeymooners, Bewitched, and The Flintstones. The one notable exception was Transformers, but that is based on one of the most popular cartoons of all time and was on TV very recently. The reason these movies fail is usually because the show was good for its era, but that era is over. And in order to be successful, the show must already have a large, young fan base like Transformers did. It seems that Warner Bros believes that it can defy history and has invested close to one hundred million dollars to adapt Speed Racer, a 1960's campy anime cartoon, into a live action kids movie. The worst part of this is that they spent most of that money to make the film look just like the cartoon did in the 60's. They achieved a technologically revolutionary movie without going too far away from the look and feel of the original. As a result, this movie will be appreciated by a few loyal Speed Racer fans, but most everyone else will be left scratching their heads.

Article continues below

For those of you who have never seen the show, it was on from 1967-1968, enjoying a very brief run of 53 episodes. It was one of the first anime series to become popular in America, paving the way for bigger Japanese successes like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon. The problem with it was the fact that it was way too corny and predictable to enjoy sustained success. It centered on the Speed family who owned the Speed racing team. The patriarch of the family, Pops Speed, designed racing cars including the super car, the Mach 5, which was driven by his talented son Speed. The Mach 5 was loaded with features to help him win, including round saws, a submerged feature that turned it into a submarine and even a bullet proof windshield and siding. Every show had pretty much the same plot outline where the other racing teams that were owned by big corporations would try to stop Speed from making the race and winning. The young racer would overcome the odds with the help of his car, his younger brother Spritle, his pet chimpanzee, and sometimes the mysterious Racer X.

The show was extremely predictable and very corny, but managed to win a loyal following mostly from people who appreciated its unintended comic value. After its original run, there were two more attempts made in 1993 and 2002 to bring the show back, but both were cut after only one season. Meanwhile, Warner Bros has been flirting with a movie version since 1992 with little success. The project never reached a serious level of production until the studio hooked up with super producer Joel Silver, who realized that this project required the latest in special effects technology and recruited the Wachowski brothers to direct. The brothers had previously worked with Silver on the Matrix trilogy which truly revolutionized action movies with its breath taking "bullet view" special effects. The Wachowski brothers got to work immediately bringing order and direction to the project. Silver was very impressed with their work saying, "I've struggled with this movie for a long time, but when Larry and Andy came across with their ideas and vision, it was so fresh and original that you wonder why nobody else thought of it." Many directors who Silver has worked with wanted to get away from the original concept, and simply make a racing movie. The Wachowskis on the other hand decided to stay very close to the basic ideas and make a movie geared for younger kids, just like the cartoon that their little nieces and nephews could enjoy with them.

The script they came up with reflected this. In it Speed rejects a lucrative offer from Royalton Industries, the biggest, baddest racing corporation in the world, to stay with the family team. This angers the company who decide to get their revenge by knocking him out of racing. Speed then uncovers that the big corporations are involved in a conspiracy to fix the races and as a result, vows to defeat the other teams by entering the biggest race, The Crucible, with the mysterious Racer X, who shares his righteous goals. Just like in the cartoon, the mysterious racer is actually Speed's older brother Rex (which is obvious to everyone but Speed himself) who uses racing as a cover for his double life as a secret agent. This storyline is almost identical to that of the show.

Next came the difficult task of casting for the movie. First, Speed was decided to be played by Emile Hirsch, who is an up and coming young actor coming off his best performance (so far) in Sean Penn's critically acclaimed film Into the Wild. Hirsch was probably best served to pass on Speed Racer, but like many of his counterparts in Hollywood, he decided to take the paycheck and the publicity. Hopefully this movie will not destroy his career like Scooby Doo ruined Freddie Prinze Jr.'s. Ironically, he was not even the first choice for the movie. Originally Silver wanted to cast Shia LaBeouf for the part, but Steven Spielberg stole him away for Indiana Jones 4, and Silver had to settle for Hirsch. It turned out to be a fine second choice, and Hirsch was very excited to take on the lead role, even though he had never even seen the show. To make up for lost time, he watched all 53 original episodes and even visited Lowe's Motor Speedway where he hung out with racing star Jimmie Johnson and drove real life race cars. Then opposite him, Christina Ricci was cast as Speeds girlfriend, Trixie. Speed's parents are going to be played by aging former stars John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, who were both popular decades ago and are now just trying to earn a living. The most interesting casting was that of Rex Racer/Racer X; Rex will appear in flashbacks played by Friday Night Lights star Scott Porter while Racer X will be Lost star Matthew Fox. Fox is actually a big fan of the show and fought hard for this part, because he felt he looked and had the attitude of Racer X. And his audition proved it. I guess the Wachowskis felt having two different people who look completely different play the same person will add to the mystery of Rex/Racer X. With the casting set, the brothers could now focus on the most important part of this project: the look.

The directors wanted to update the look of the movie, but still wanted it to be recognizable as Speed Racer. In fact, they described it as a kind of "future retro" look. To accomplish this they filmed in two phases, with the first part being filmed with all the actors in a studio in Germany (the German government gave them thirteen million to film there) in front of a green screen using a state of the art HD camera. The HD camera captures video in a way that makes everything stay in focus just like a cartoon. This part is very tough on the actors since there are no props there except for a live model of the car. They must imagine everything else. This phase was completed in the relatively fast time of 60 days; not leaving much time for re-shoots. For the second phase the Wachowskis sat down with a group of technical experts and created the entire Speed world. It is extremely colorful, sharp and futuristic, paying homage to the original 60's look. Many people who have seen the trailer were very disappointed with the visual appearances since it looks too cartoony, especially the action. It almost resembles a really sharp and detailed Mario Kart video game, but for better or worse, that was by design. The brothers even purchased the rights to the Speed Racer sound effects and included the original sounds and songs in the movie. Seems like they did a great job of staying true to the original, but people who have not seen the cartoon are really not going to get it.

In Conclusion: It looks like another show-to-movie adaptation is going to bomb. Warner Bros invested a huge amount of money and hired some of the best technical directors in the business. They were able to create a live action movie that stays true to its origins, but unfortunately, few young kids who the movie is targeting are really going to get the entire concept, since most have not really seen the show. The studio would have been better served to wait a few years until the new Nickelodeon "Speed Racer: The Next Generation" cartoon had a chance to introduce the characters to a new generation of fans. The way it looks now Warner Bros has another Scooby-Doo on their hands. Let us hope I am wrong.

Similar Titles: Scooby-Doo, Transformers, The Flintstones
May 9th, 2008 (wide)
September 16th, 2008 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Kick Gurry, Paulie Litt, Roger Allam, Ji Hoon Jung, Melvil Poupaud, Richard Roundtree, Christian Oliver, Nayo Wallace, Scott Porter, Hiroyuki Sanada

Total: 174 vote(s).

Action & Adventure

Click here to view site

Rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language.

129 min





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