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He's off and flyin' as he guns the car around the track
He's jammin' down the pedal like he's never comin' back
Adventure's waitin' just ahead….
Go, Speed Racer, Go!

Oh my gawd… SPEED RACER ($36) is such a spectacular piece of eye candy that I found it impossible to take my eyes off the screen for the film’s entire running time. As a kid who grew up watching SPEED RACER cartoons on television, I applaud the Wachowski Brothers for taking the essence of the TV series to dizzying heights of visual excess, making the movie one hell of a killer ride. Sure, SPEED RACER crashed and burned in the eyes of movie critics, and there is mo denying that the film’s box office performance quickly ran out of gas. However, despite the slow start, SPEED RACER has all the earmarks of a winner of Cult Movie Grand Prix, and therefore, is certain to leave its detractors by the side of the road, as it comes into its own on home video.

For those unfamiliar with SPEED RACER, the movie is an adaptation of the 1960’s cartoon series, which was one of the earliest Japanese animes to find mainstream success in America. In the movie, Emile Hirsch portrays our eighteen-year-old title character, Speed Racer, who has auto racing in his blood. Speed’s father Pops (John Goodman) builds racecars, while his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter) was a record-setting auto racer, who met his unfortunate demise behind the wheel. With such a fine pedigree, Speed quickly finds success and notoriety while driving for his father’s independent racecar company… said success attracts the attention of corporate racing sponsor Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam).

While Royalton Industries does make Speed an attractive offer to come and drive for their team, we quickly learn that corporate sponsors, such as Mr. Royalton, are crooked, have ties to the underworld and are in control ever facet of auto racing- including which drivers wins major races. Of course, Speed declines Royalton’s offer to drive for him, which infuriates the ruthless corporate mogul, who promises to out an end the Speed’s racing career and ruin his family. At this low point, the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) comes knocking on Speed’s door; making the young Racer a proposition that could bring down the crooked racing sponsors, including Royalton, and protect his family. Unfortunately, said proposition, involves Speed entering the Casa Cristo 5000 also known as "The Crucible"- the cross country rally that cost the life of Speed’s elder brother Rex. The cast of SPEED RACER also features Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, Ariel Winter, Nicholas Elia, Paulie Litt, Benno Fürmann, Richard Roundtree, Kick Gurry, Christian Oliver, Peter Fernandez and Rain.

Warner Home Video has made SPEED RACER available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. SPEED RACER is an example of synthetic filmmaking at is best… creating a world that is uniquely its own, and that blurs the line between live action and CGI. The 1080p presentation is nothing short of astonishing in its beauty. Despite being a single layered release, image sharpness and detail are truly quite excellent. Close-ups of the actors always produced wonderful levels of fine detail, and although every frame of SPEED RACER has been digitally manipulated, the actors’ skin never appeared particularly waxy or over processed. Colors are truly extraordinary- the film was created with a hyper over-saturated palette that could only exist in a cartoon world, and the Blu-ray renders the candy-coated hues flawlessly. Black are inky, while the whites appear pure. Shadow detail is first rate for a digitally created world. Contrast can occasionally push towards the slightly the slightly exaggerated side, but the Blu-ray handles it without incident. Grain/video noise are very minimal, but since so much of SPEED RACER is computer generated one really isn’t expecting there to be much anyway

SPEED RACER is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital 640kbps soundtrack. As many fans already know, Warner ditched the lossless audio in favor of the film’s visuals, since they wanted to keep SPEED RACER to a single layer release. The lack of a lossless soundtrack is going to be a point of contention with a lot of Blu-ray consumers, but I will say that the existing soundtrack is excellent for what it is- especially as the bit rate is higher that of an SD DVD release. The sound design is strong and highly aggressive. There is excellent use of all the discrete channels for sound effects placement, plus the effects bounce, zip and ping around the sound field effectively- the car races are a lot of fun. Of course, the sound is somewhat thinner than it would be on a lossless soundtrack and it lacks the "you are there" quality. The bass channel is weighty and add significant rumble to the sound of the engines. French and Spanish 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extra featurettes. Speed Racer: Car-Fu Cinema runs twenty-seven minutes and looks at the CGI effects. Spritle In The Big Leagues is a fifteen-minute set tour with young actor Paulie Litt. Speed Racer: Supercharged! offers a sixteen minute look at the cars and the World Racing League. Two other discs are included in the set, one offers a Speed Racer: Crucible Challenge game, while the other features a Digital Copy of the film. Personally, I would have rather Warner forgone the two other discs in favor of a dual layered feature disc with lossless audio.

I grew up watching SPEED RACER on television and thoroughly loved the movie version and its dizzying visual excess. The Blu-ray release looks phenomenal and qualifies as demo material for its visual portion. Kinda, sorta recommended.



Speed Racer [Blu-ray] (2008)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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