Speed Racer (TQP0124)

Posted: December 1, 2008 in Braak
Tags: ,

normal_speed_racer-speedOver the looong weekend, I saw a movie called Speed Racer, produced by the sometimes lauded, sometimes reviled Wachowski brothers.  It is based on a cartoon show that my dad used to watch, about a guy who saves the day by going fast.  In this movie, the car does a backflip, and also, there is a monkey.  A man punches another man in the face while their cars are flying through the air.


No, I’m serious.  I am one hundred percent serious.  And if you don’t think it’s awesome, I think maybe you should take some time and re-evaluate.  Why can’t you appreciate the fact that the car does a backflip?  What happened to you, that you became so jaded and insensate that you can no longer laugh at a monkey?

I know that this seems rich coming from me, with my previous critcisisms of Daredevil and Ghost Rider for being mind-blisteringly stupid.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe Speed Racer is, in some way, my Ghost Rider.

No.  No, it’s not.  I will explain.

First of all, the cinematography and direction of Speed Racer has got to be the fucking ballsiest cinematography for a mainstream American film in the last fifty years.  The Wachowski brothers literally gave a live-action movie the feel of a cartoon–and not just any cartoon.  A shitty cartoon.  You know how in shitty cartoons, when they don’t want to animate a whole scene, they drag a cut-out of the character across and just animate the lips in order to give the impression of motion?  Or how they only had basically five colors, and so everything was electric day-glo primary or the color of mud?

Well, they do the same things in Speed Racer.  What’s fascinating is that, because we now know that this isn’t a result of a lack of resources, we’re able to appreciate the effects in a much more genuine way.  The techniques help us to leave verisimilitude at the door; they break down the boundaries between places, times, characters, the rigid isolation of individuals from the world they inhabit.  The movie becomes a panoply of color and movement; the scenes don’t just add to semiotics of the film, they reflect them.  Speed Racer is a vivid expression of its premise, and the Wachowski brothers have clearly laboured over every inch and second of this movie to ensure that not an atom of it goes by without being touched by the nuclear blues and laser purples of Speed Racer‘s heart.

The plot is utterly simple and formulaic.  You’re not meant to be surprised by anything that happens.  You know that Speed is going to win the race, because that’s what he does–and I think that this is even more interesting.  There’s a way in which the simplicity of the film becomes almost mythopoeic.  The characters are drawn with these broad, stark strokes, and I don’t think they feel flat.  There isn’t much to them, it’s true, but in a way there doesn’t need to be anything to them.  The story harnesses the essential qualities of the characters, and let’s the details slip away because they’re not important–Speed Racer is not a whole character who, among many other things, happens to be able to go fast.  He is a character that goes fast.  Everything else about him is incidental.

I think that that’s what’s important here.  A lot of times, as we grow up, we start to think that we aren’t allowed to appreciate the things that kids do.  That every characters needs to be complex and morally ambiguous, that plots need to be intricate and murky, that direction needs to be slow and measured.  And you know, whatever.  Here’s how kids enjoy things:  completely.  Thoroughly.  Unselfconsciously.  Uncritically.  Because of that, they don’t care what kind of things they think are awesome.  They aren’t embarassed to enjoy something that doesn’t bother with a plot that’s any more complex than “he wins because he goes fast.”

That’s what I liked about Speed Racer.  This is a story of epic simplicity, a character not half-formed but distilled to his essential nature.  He personifies an idea that is basic and primal and deep down.  It’s the shortest sentence in the English language, and if you let yourself, you can enjoy it with a child’s eyes.


  1. matt says:

    I liked Speed Racer. That being said, I did have a headache by the end of the film. The Wachowski brothers didn’t necessarily show us a movie. They made our eyes taste the movie in all it’s sugary goodness. It like honey. A little goes a long way. But when you have too much, it can really make you nauseous. But I think that was the point from the beginning. Make you feel like your having a seizure while you watch in air car flips and impossible moves. Love it!

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    Crap. I’m going to have to deal with this, aren’t I?

    You utter bastards.

  3. threatqualitypress says:

    @Holland: Well, I didn’t have seizure danger. Maybe it’s because of the prep work I did playing Super Smash Brothers on the Nintendo. Maybe this is a good way to get accustomed to insane sequences of color and light and vertigo.

  4. Moff says:

    Oh, I am so glad you wrote this. I know my credibility is dashed in light of the whole “liking Daredevil” thing, but I watched Speed Racer on an airplane a couple months ago, and all I could think was No one will believe me when I tell them they should bother seeing this movie.

    Christina Ricci’s line about the ninja might have been the funniest single line of dialogue in a non-comedy I’ve seen in years.

  5. hugparty says:

    That poster looks like some kind of Son of Buck Rodgers meets The Real Story of Billy the Kid in Space.

  6. threatqualitypress says:


    That…that would ALSO be a pretty cool movie.

  7. hugparty says:

    When I finish the screenplay I’ll send it over. Perhaps I will add a part for a monkey. A REAL monkey. Not that monchichi on applejack they have in the Speed Racer cartoon.

  8. threatqualitypress says:

    It’s a chimpanzee in the movie–which, obviously, is not a monkey at all, but an ape.

    I think that you should have an orang-utan, though, and it should be from space, and know the secrets of relativity.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    “Orangutan, though, and it should be from space, and know the secrets of relativity.”

    So, just a standard orangutan, then?

  10. threatqualitypress says:

    Yes. But also it should smoke a pipe.

  11. hugparty says:

    You forgot his monocle. He needs one.

  12. Erin says:

    There are many ways to word this; many approaches I might take, but I feel the classic, the traditional, is the best:

    I. Told. You. So.

  13. threatqualitypress says:

    Yes, but no one listens to what you say. It doesn’t count until I say it.

  14. Tivius says:

    The movie is something special – and if you’ve ever loved playing with Hot Wheels zipping across the kitchen floor – then this flick is going to bring out your inner child in a CRAZY AWESOME way! I went into the theater with my kids, and came out feeling like I used to back when my father used to take me to Sunday matinees… with a starkissed smile on my face that was almost embarassing for its sense of wonder and optimism.

    Its a shame what happened at the box office to this great vision of a movie. A cult classic for years to come — GO SPEED GO !!

  15. Tivius says:

    **Really loved your expressions and characterization of the movie – by the way! Nicely written ! I’m going to FAV this page and send it out to others, so that they might take a chance on enjoying this movie as well.

    It is something special – Thank you for giving it such attention and voice!

    And remember – “Pancakes are Love! ” … lol ! ^ ^’

  16. katastic says:

    …But what if I just DON’T LIKE CARS?

  17. threatqualitypress says:

    Trixie has a helicopter, too.

  18. V.I.P. Referee says:

    I’ve been waiting to see a specific film frame since childhood; the background moves while characters in the foreground hang in mid air—“Thundercats” style. It’s been so long.

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