A Japanese animated series that became an American TV hit in the 1960s has finally reached the big screen in a colorful and imaginative feature film written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, the film-making brothers who created The Matrix trilogy. Alan Silverman has a look at Speed Racer.
The 1967 TV cartoon show gave many Americans, including the Wachowski brothers, their first taste of Japanese 'anime.'
It may have the style and colorful, vinyl-coated look from the '60's, but Speed Racer is definitely a movie for this century with its futuristic cars careening wildly around the track to the cheers of millions watching on TV around the world. Young Speed Racer is a daredevil driver, following in the family tradition of taking chances to win the races.
His exploits catch the eye of corporate wheeler-dealer Royalton who tries to tempt Speed away from the home-grown operation run by his dad, Pops Racer. Will he give in to the lure of money and fame? Or will he stand by his family?
Hollywood veteran John Goodman is "Pops;" and young Emile Hirsch stars as the title character, Speed Racer.
"It was more about getting his vibe down," said Hirsch. "The back-story is actually fairly well described in the script, so that was there. It was more about getting down what kind of vibe Speed has, what kind of guy he is. It was really finding out his is a very sweet-natured, cooler-than-cool kind of guy who is very by the book in a lot of ways. He is not into cheaters. He likes things done the right way and he has certain morals he is not willing to compromise, no matter what."
The world of Speed Racer as imagined by the Wachowski brothers is a dazzling mix of live action and CGI - computer-generated-imagery; and while the cars on screen whiz by at near-supersonic speeds, Hirsch says he was never actually moving:
"I didn't get behind the wheel of a car the entire time," he said. "It was crazy. It was like being in warehouses with green walls everywhere and imagining this whole fantasy world around you. It was a mental challenge."
Susan Sarandon plays Speed's mom and she says the actors never knew just how the world the Wachowskis were creating would look on screen:
"Even when they told me, I didn't understand what they were talking about and I said 'Stop, I'll just do it,'" she said. "They invented everything so you really have to take a leap of faith and just say if ever I'm going to do something like this it should be with these guys because they are the best and also in the story-telling they do feel passionate about certain things they are saying."
Larry and Andy Wachowski have remained curiously incognito since The Matrix, in 1999, put their work out in front of a global audience. They do not do publicity interviews, leaving it to their longtime producer Joel Silver to explain their film-making style. Silver says making Speed Racer was a matter of faith in "the boys," as he calls them, because they really couldn't show what it would look like until all the computer-generated imagery was added:
"In The Matrix Reloaded, there was a car chase in which Trinity's character is riding against traffic on a motorcycle, which we really couldn't do with real cars because if somebody had made a mistake, that would have been the end of her," he said. "So virtually all of the cars in that sequence were CGI, but they were meant to look photo-realistic. You were meant not to realize they were CGI cars; they were meant to look like cars. On this movie they wanted the cars not to be totally photo-realistic, to be kind of a fantasy car that looks real, but does things and acts in a way that a real car couldn't."
Speed Racer also features Matthew Fox of the TV show Lost as the mysterious "Racer X." Christina Ricci is Speed's sweetheart Trixie. Korean music sensation Rain plays a rival driver who becomes the hero's staunch ally in the battle against corporate bad guy Royalton, played with great gusto by English stage veteran Roger Allam.