Plot: What’s it about?
In the world of auto racing, no course is as demanding as Le Mans, which is home to one of the harshest races in the sport. The event lasts for over twenty-four hours and the eight and a half mile track allows for some serious speed. A driver could easily cruise at over two hundred miles per hour, but speed like that involves immense dangers. As was discovered by Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen), a man obsessed with racing who wound up in a bad accident at the previous Le Mans, one which left him off the circuit. But Delaney loves to race and this is the prime race to be in, so after a year on the shelf, he returns to Le Mans in hopes of a win. In truth, there is little else that interests him, as he considers racing to be life and everything else is just waiting. His accident also impacted the life of another person at this year’s race however, the widow of a man who was killed in the tragic event. As time passes, Delaney finds himself drawn to the woman, despite the horrific bond they happen to share. But his story is just one of many to be heard at Le Mans, as each driver has different motivations and outlooks on the sport. Some are entered for pleasure, some just to experience the speed, and others, like Delaney, because they have to be there. But can he shake off last year’s accident, or will it cause him to hold back?
I’ve seen a lot of movies about racing cars, from Driven to Days of Thunder, but none have been as involved as Le Mans. Those movies focus on the storyline, actors, and traditional elements, while the racing aspect is left behind at times. The attention is paid to the characters, not the racing aspect and as a result, fans of the sport have been somewhat disappointed. But in Le Mans, the focus is on the race itself, as well as the assorted cars that are involved. This is not a documentary or what not, but the sense of realism is excellent and it feels like you’re in the middle of a real race, which means things can get heated. We have characters and stories behind them, such as Steve McQueen as a racer returning after an accident, as well as another driver who contemplates his place in the sport. I think this movie should appeal more to those interested in the real world kind of race dynamics, since the storyline is thin and in truth, exists just to ensure the race is more intense and emotional, as odd as that might sound. The camerawork is superb and really puts you into the action, as well showing some gorgeous scenery. If nothing else, Le Mans is fun to watch just to see all the cool cars and of course, the crashes. Paramount hasn’t done much with this disc however, so unless you’re a diehard fan, a rental should suffice.
As we all know that he loved to drive cars, it should come as no surprise that Steve McQueen was involved in this project. He was in some of the greatest chases in all of cinema, including the incomparable Bullit. As such, you know he was highly interested in Le Mans, since the race is one of the world’s most famous ones. And since the event yields itself to a cinematic presence quite well, it was only time before a movie was produced. Le Mans was shot on location in France, as some of the world’s greatest drivers were assembled to take on the eight and a half mile course, with cameras mounted on their cars, of course. McQueen was a gifted driver in his own right, so when it came time for his character to get behind the wheel, he was able to do much of that work himself, which enhances the experience. All too often, you can tell when stuntmen are used, but when you can tell its the real actor, that adds a lot to the realism. So his acting skills aren’t pushed much here, but he balances it out with his skills behind the wheel. Other films with McQueen include The Thomas Crown Affair, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Papillon, The Towering Inferno, and The Sand Pebbles. The cast also includes Elga Andersen (Sex Power, The Twilight Girls), Siegfried Rauch (Contamination, The Big Red One), Luc Merenda (Torso, Sisters of Satan), and numerous international racing stars.
Video: How does it look?
Le Mans is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I’ve found Paramount catalog releases to be a mixed assortment. Some have superb visual efforts, while others have a worn, marginal appearance. The image here is quite impressive, with a much cleaner and more refined presence than expected. I compared this new transfer to the laserdisc and there’s on contest, this one is a massive improvement. The framing is enhanced, so the visuals look as intended this time and the image has much more depth. The print is clean and in good condition, while colors seem bright and bold throughout. No troubles with contrast either, as black levels seem well balanced and accurate in all scenes. In the end, we have a terrific new transfer for an older catalog title, so kudos to Paramount on their work here.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 option is found here and while it is by no means dynamic, the added presence is effective. As with a lot of 70s productions, this one has some rough spots in the audio, but it seems to be common with releases from that decade and as such, I think we can overlook those minor flaws. The surround presence is well done, with some nice touches during the race, such as engines roaring and tires screeching. The crashes yield some cool noises too, all of which are handled with skill in this new soundtrack. No troubles with dialogue either, as vocals are smooth and crisp at all times. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround option and a French language track, as well as English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes no bonus materials.