NOTE: This is a review for a movie I haven’t seen in a while; as such, I don’t see myself sticking to my original format as far as writing it goes. Instead, I’ll probably just meander around a little bit until I find something that sticks. Either that, or it’ll be completely coherent and thought-provoking. Either way it goes, it’ll be a heckuva lot of fun to write.
Sometime last year, while waiting on someone to come and take a look at our AC unit – which decided to die on us in the middle of the Tuscaloosa-South summer, I began flipping channels on the ol’ TV to find something to keep my mind quasi-occupied. I settled on HBO, because I believe they were about to show The Dark Knight after the current movie went off. What was that movie? I’m glad you asked (even if you didn’t). That movie was the 2008 film Speed Racer, based off of the 60s Japanese anime of the same name. The movie stars Emile Hirsch as the titular character, and Christina Ricci as his girlfriend Trixie. Now, when I initially saw the previews for this movie, I figured it couldn’t be that bad; after all, it appeared to remain relatively in line with the original source material.
If I were any more wrong, I would sprout wings and fly.
If you are remotely familiar with the anime, it’s about a family of race car aficionados known as the Racer family. No, really. Speed participates in multiple races, with most of his family’s overwhelming approval; his father disapproves somewhat, but he’s fine with it. The anime takes the family to many different exotic locales and many different foes. Speed also has to face off against the mysterious Racer X, who appears to be either helping Speed or competing against him.
I decided to give it another go just to see if my feelings for it last year remained the same. What were my feelings for it? A bit of apathy mixed in with disenchantment. The premise was intriguing, but I wasn’t sure it would work as a live action movie. Well, after further review, my feelings are still the same.
I won’t give a storyline write up; if you want that, go to Wikipedia. Instead, I’ll look at it from a more visual and technical standpoint. I’ll start with the actual viewing. When I first saw it, I watched it on a SDTV, and it looked colorful and inviting. Watching it in HD shows that it is still warm and inviting – even more than in SD, but it’s incredibly digitized in certain aspects. In fact, there are certain scenes that just don’t translate well at all due to the extreme digitization. I don’t know if it’s just because I watched it OnDemand instead of on Blu-ray or DVD, but some scenes were completely horrible.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, I love musical scores. The music in movies have the ability to make a movie that much better…or that much worse. In the case of Speed Racer, Michael Giacchino has done it again. The man behind Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Lost and the lone musical theme from Cloverfield incorporated the famous Speed Racer theme into the entire score, and it is is eloquently done. His score is escapism at its best, as it makes even the most miserable dreck of the film seem palatable. He even helped to make the emotional scenes that much more emotional. Very few people can make what’s old sound new again, and no one does it better than Giacchino. He proved that with Mission: Impossible III, he would go on to prove it with Star Trek, and he proved it with this score.
The acting is a veritable who’s what of acting. Emile Hirsch does admirable with what he was given, but he does look kind of hokey with the Elvis-style curls. Christina Ricci was adorable as Trixie, and she was able to be as silly as she wanted to be. I’ve always enjoyed John Goodman as an actor, and I enjoyed him in this movie as well. Susan Sarandon is one of the dames of Hollywood, so I guessed that she wanted to be silly for a few moments and do a movie to make people laugh. Works for me. I would go on and on, but I think I can stop with the addition of South Korean pop star Rain (birth name Jeong Ji-hoon). He made his first appearance in this movie, and it was even sillier than Susan Sarandon. He would turn his performance here into a starring role in Ninja Assassin; not bad for a K-pop star.
In short, this was a movie that failed to meet expectations, and that’s solely because of the Wachowski brothers. This was an attempt to cash in on an an animated series that was loved by all, and it failed. As would later be seen with the motion picture adaptation of The Watchmen, it’s not entirely prudent to make a live action adaptation of a work of art.
More often than not, it gets lost in translation.