Speed Racer (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Event” movies just aren’t what they used to be, are they? Long before the opening credits of “Speed Racer” graced our pre-Summer screens, we heard buzz that this would kick start the summer movie season. As time has shown it was actually “Iron Man” that gave rise to Hollywood’s biggest summer in history, but that’s not to say that “Speed Racer” wasn’t part of it. This was also a big step for Emile Hirsch, an up and coming actor who won critical acclaim for his role in “Into the Wild.” I enjoyed Hirsch in that and in “Alpha Dog” before that he’s got a big career in front of him. Add to this the fact that the duo behind “The Matrix” movies are helming their first movie in a decade and it should equal success, right? Right? Well, not so much…

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is obsessed with racing always has been and most likely always will be. As a child, he idolizes his brother Rex (Scott Porter) who’s among the best. However as time marches on, Rex takes part in a controversial race that isolates him from the family and Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pops (John Goodman) are none too happy with Rex’s decision. Rex dies in a tragic accident giving Speed the motivation to become a great racer as well. We see that Speed does eventually become all he’s meant to be and he catches the eye of corporate magnate Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam). Royalton offers Speed the world and a life of luxury if he signs on to become a racer, but Speed has values and declines the offer. Royalton’s ego is shattered and instead sets out to ruin Speed’s life and family (and not in that order). Speed must qualify for the “Grand Prix” race by winning another and he needs the help of one time nemesis Racer X (Matthew Fox) and Taejo Togokhan (Rain). Can speed qualify for the Grand Prix and expose Royalton as a hero or is all lost?

“Speed Racer” isn’t at all a bad movie, bear in mind that we’re getting the main plot from a campy 60’s Japanese cartoon and it all makes sense. The entire crew is here with Pops, Trixie (the lovely Christina Ricci who’s not used enough), Sparky (Kick Gurry) and even Sritle (Paulie Litt). I never even saw an episode of “Speed Racer” so I can’t really comment on how authentic it was, but after watching a few of the featurettes it looks like they were pretty true to the original show. The real treat here are the special effects, which literally make the movie come alive. What the Wachowski Brothers did with “The Matrix” they were obviously trying to re-create here but the former movie had something this one did a good storyline. While the movie has its detractors, there are far worse out there and for what it’s worth, “Speed Racer” might actually be one of my guilty pleasures.

Video: How does it look?

To say that there’s a lot going on in “Speed Racer” is like saying that it’s just a tad bit colorful. “Speed Racer” is perhaps one of the most visually-stunning movies that I’ve ever seen and suffice it to say that it’s a veritable orgasm for the eyes. The 2.40:1 VC-1 HD transfer is lively and utilizes every color in the spectrum, focusing mainly on the magentas and blues. This movie was done so much in the digital domain that the colors are so manipulated it looks like a video game (oddly enough, included on disc two). I couldn’t really detect any flaws in the transfer at all and even if I could, I couldn’t be sure if it was intentional or not. Suffice it to say that you’ll pretty much get what you ask for in terms of a sparkling transfer. If nothing else, this is one to demonstrate what Blu-ray is really capable of.

Audio: How does it sound?

There are things in this world that make sense and there are things that make you scratch your head and say “what the hell?” The inclusion of only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track on “Speed Racer” is certainly one of the latter as it just doesn’t make sense. The movie was originally announced to contain a Dolby TrueHD track, but I assure you that only a 5.1 track is included on the disc. Now I’ll resist the urge to keep asking why Warner did this. This movie is a perfect example of the technical marvels of what Blu-ray can do and as it stands, it will still be that way, just on the video side. The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track isn’t wasted, by any means. It sounds fairly good and if I could go back in time a few years having not heard any TrueHD or uncompressed mixes, I’d probably hail this track as the end all be all of soundtracks. That said, it’s just not quite there in terms of what it could be. Dialogue is very crisp and the surrounds are almost constantly humming or doing something, what we’re lacking is the “oomph” that those uncompressed mixes contain. Again, I don’t see the logic in this but I just review what’s included and this is what’s there.

Supplements: What are the extras?

For a Blu-ray set that contains no less than three discs, “Speed Racer” is surprisingly short on supplements. The second disc is a video game and the third disc is a digital copy of the movie which seems to be en vogue these days. The first disc contains the movie along with a few featurettes that range from the casting, the production and of course the barrage of special effects that the movie encompasses. Perhaps in time we’ll get a true special edition of this movie with a true uncompressed soundtrack, but for now this is what we have.

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