Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go!!!!!
No, I'm not a hardcore speed racer fan. My only contact with the character and the cartoon series some 20 odd years ago, was from a couple of episodes from free-to-air television courtesy of Malaysia's RTM. Back then, since I did not understand Malay (which the series was dubbed into), I could only gawk at the wide eyed and often wide, moving mouths of the characters as they race around circuits in their cars, half the time not knowing what was going on, except to root for the kid in the white helmet emblazoned with a red M, and that kid could really drive (from those lines drawn across the screen), and had a really cool car christened the Mach 5.
Now that I'm all, ahem, grown up, I still found myself rooting for that same kid in the same white helmet in the same car, albeit in a grown up version of the cartoon being put on screen. Gone are the dark and gloomy Matrix and Vendetta movies made by the Wachowski brothers Andy and Larry, and hello psychedelic colours that provide a visual sensory overload. From the trailer you would have seen the assault of neon and pastels, and not since Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy or Zhang Yimou's Hero had I seen colours being brought out with such maverick disregard. And guess what, it was one heck of a trippy ride, and fun.
That's certainly one of the first things anyone coming out of the screening would attest to, the colours, and of course the visual effects. Like the Star Wars prequel gone totally wild, CG were extensively used to create new worlds, cities and interiors that I would like to raise my hand now and say The Jetsons could probably be made on a shoestring too. In fact, I thought the actors could probably be replaced by cartoons as well, but that would mean a waste of the charm that each of the cast brought to their roles, and wasn't it a hoot to see Rain in his first role in a Hollywood movie getting severely beaten in his first scene?
In any case, what shone in this movie, besides the races, were the characters, their interaction with one another, and what they stand for. No qualms about Emile Hirsch in the titular role, and I thought the entire Racer family was well cast, from Pops (John Goodman in yet another series-to-movie role after his Fred Flintstone stint), Mom (Susan Sarandon), mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry), kid brother Sprittle (Paulie Litt) who provides most of the slapstick together with pet monkey Chimp Chimp, and hot loyal girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci). The mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) also makes an appearance, and his secret identity is, well, an open secret even to those who's not in tuned to the original series.
The villains of course were purely one dimensional, and like Iron Man, Corporations are once again the main baddie whose motivation of pure greed for money goes against the spirit of sports in this instance. While the action on four wheels were breathtaking, there were ample moments which put on the brakes and allowed for a breather or two in giving some characters a little more depth. And the Wachowski's still can't rid themselves of kung-fu, giving almost everyone some set action pieces where they get to exhibit some fisticuffs, even though they might look quite awkward executing the moves.
But ah, the races. Straight out the cartoons, except with more realistic sound effects, and one for the fans - the retention of the specific effect when Speed activates the Mach 5's Auto Jacks. Pure pleasure to the ears, even though the visuals at times might be a blur with every car in "Ultimate Extreme Drift Mode" (TM by Stefan S) pulling off gravity-defying stunts consisting of never-ending-spins and drifts around tracks that don't stay still and resembling the zaniest roller coaster designs. There's enough variety in each race or track so that it doesn't seem repetitive, though I would like to warren a guess that everyone's favourite is probably the multi-leg Crucible underground tournament. What I liked about the narrative flow was how the races blend seamlessly with moments of drama thanks to creative editing, and of course, throwbacks to the animated series again with many a close up shots of drivers looking cool, or looking mean.
What's the best way to enjoy Speed Racer? My take is to be in a high (I will put a disclaimer as to how you're gonna achieve this, is totally up to you). Should there be an IMAX version/screening of this, then it's a natural and appropriate movie to do so. Summer looks good again with Iron Man and Speed Racer holding up the fort. Let's hope the rest meets and excels expectations as well.
And everyone please, to stock up on your knowledge of Speed Racer trivia and a look behind the many buttons and their functions on his steering wheel, this is one wiki site you must check out!