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February 6, 2010
Speed Racer Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
12/6/200824/12/2008Village RoadshowWachowski Brothers
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DD5.1 640kbpsPGEmile Hirsch

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Emile Hirsch is pretty good in Speed Racer.

For Warner Brothers it must have seemed like a sure thing. Take the much loved Japanese TV cartoon series Speed Racer, nab the Wachowski Brothers who directed The Matrix Trilogy and give them $120 million to turn the cartoon into a live-action movie. What could go wrong? Well something did and the movie only managed to gross $US93 million worldwide. Perhaps it was the marketing which was aimed at a very young audience - it was for this reason that I, like several friends of mine, passed on seeing the film in cinemas. We only just picked up this Blu-Ray and you know what, we actually quiet enjoyed the film.

Hurtling down the track, careening around, over and through the competition, Speed Racer is a natural behind the wheel. Born to race cars, Speed is aggressive, instinctive and, most of all, fearless. His only real competition is the memory of the brother he idolized - the legendary Rex Racer - whose death in a race has left behind a legacy that Speed is driven to fulfill!

Speed is loyal to the family racing business, led by his father, Pops Racer, the designer of Speed's thundering Mach 5. When Speed turns down a lucrative and tempting offer from Royalton Industries, he not only infuriates the company's maniacal owner but uncovers a terrible secret - some of the biggest races are being fixed by a handful of ruthless moguls who manipulate the top drivers to boost profits. If Speed won't drive for Royalton, Royalton will see to it that the Mach 5 never crosses another finish line. The only way for Speed to save his family's business and the sport he loves is to beat Royalton at his own game.

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Have you ever seen more neon lights?
With the support of his family and his loyal girlfriend, Trixie, Speed teams with his one-time rival - the mysterious Racer X - to win the race that had taken his brother's life: the death-defying, cross-country rally known as The Crucible!

Directed by Larry (who now preferrs to be called Lana) and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy), Speed Racer was a suprisingly entertaining movie. In fact, I am now quite disappointed that I didn't see this in the cinemas as it is certainly an entertaining movie with some wonderful camera work, jaw-dropping visuals and yes, a moderately decent, if not overly complicated, storyline. I know this movie is aimed at youngsters, but it's pretty good entertainment for the whole family.

One aspect of this film which I though was a little over the top was Speed Racer's younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his pet monkey. They appear in numerous scenes littered throughout the movie for comic relief, much of which falls flat, and many scenes could be cut to make the movie a little tighter and better paced. Likewise while the races are running there are some pretty cool cutaways to characters in the crowd and other drivers, but they soon become too frequent. Indeed the editors could have trimmed the movie down from 135 minutes to a slightly slicker 120 minutes or so without any loss of story.

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Racing in Speed Racer is intense, and colourful.
Despite so many negative reports about this movie I actually really enjoyed Speed Racer. It is visually stunning, and while the storyline could have been tightened in places it moves along at a brisk pace. This is a fun movie for the whole family and is well worth checking out.

If there is one thing Speed Racer is not, that would be dull. This is one of the most colourful, vibrant, flurescent-soaked movies that I have ever seen. Sure many of the visuals look very CG-ish, but it adds to the cartoon heritage upon which the universe originated. Encoded using the VC-1 codec at 1080p in the films original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 this is a solid presentation. I was surprised to discover the disc is only a BD-25 release, and the bitrate is fairly low at times, but this is still quite gorgeous looking. In fact, despite the length of the movie and the single layer disc this is a premium presentation which even more then a year after release remains one of the most stunning transfers we've seen on Blu-Ray.

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Christina Ricci as Trixie.
Certainly being sourced from the original digital master means the print is pristine, and there are next to no compression artifacts, but finding them in this very fast-moving, quick-cutting styled movie and editing is near impossible. If we are to nitpick on a very minor level some scenes seemed to lack some fine detail, there was some very minor colour banding and black crush present on occasion.

One of the most contraversial, disappointing and most discussed topics about this Blu-Ray release revolves around the audio. Where almost every major Blu-Ray release had shifted to lossless audio of one format or another, Warner Brothers have only provided a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix at 640kbps which for such a new, effects laiden release, had to be seen as disappointing.

Having said that this is still a great sounding movie. The audio mix is aggressive in music and effects with great use of surround sound channels and sub woofer while we can't get enough of that catchy "Speed Racer" music.

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Visually Speed Racer is quite stunning.
This Blu-Ray also includes French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, each of which is also encoded at 640kbps. Subtitles are provided in each of those languages as well as English for the Hearing Impaired which from samples was accurate to the events on-screen.

Speed Racer is presented on Blu-Ray with a couple of extras. The Australian release does not include the (apparently fairly lame) extra DVD with interactive game.

Car Fu Cinema (27:38): This rather extensive documentary looks at the designing and production of the cars in this movie from the making of the real Mach 5, Mach 6 and others as well as the extensive CG cars and racing developed for the movie.

Spritle in the Big Leagues (14:34): This is a pretty entertining clip with Paulie Litt as he visits various people associated with the movie. The most interesting aspects coming from the pop-up trivia which tells a lot about the movie and production.

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Art design in Speed Racer is great.
Supercharged (15:43): This featurette is aimed at children and look at the different cars and tracks that appear in the movie.

I was genuinels surprised by Speed Racer. Sure, the movie is certainly aimed a kids - and perhaps a little too young at times - but it's a visual tour de force given a good transfer on Blu-Ray. Shame about the audio and lack of extras though. Still, families should love this movie.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.