Nordling screams Go Go Go SPEED RACER as he reads the Wachowski's script!!!
Published at: Aug. 11, 2007, 10:56 a.m. CST by headgeek
There's a pretty insidious trend going on right now at a lot of Hollywood studios. Now that TRANSFORMERS rocked the box office, there's plans for a THUNDERCATS movie, a VOLTRON movie, HE-MAN... they're pretty much mining Saturday morning at this point. Never mind that practically none of those cartoons are any damn good. Please, look into your hearts and realize this, fellow geeks and nerds. Eventually, the Underroos no longer fit, and then it's time to move on to Fruit of the Looms. It's not nostalgia you're feeling. Nostalgia, taken in small doses, is a good thing. It reminds us of good moments in our lives and helps to make us understand what we truly value on our lives.
What's happening here is something I like to call nerdstalgia, a constant living in the past that stunts your growth as a person. Living through your childhood TV shows and films is no sort of life. You can appreciate their value as art (if they have any) but you can't grow if you're constantly bombarding yourself with it instead of moving on to something better. I fully realize I'm guilty of much of what I'm talking about here. And it's exploited by the studios to no end. If you buy a ticket to ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, just play that segment of the trailer where Alvin eats a turd and put it on repeat and gain some sort of perspective.
I guess this is where I tell you that the script of the Wachowski Brothers' SPEED RACER is indicative of what I just described, but you'd be wrong. Simply put, for the most part, SPEED RACER kicks unholy ass. In this draft I've read, there's some mistakes that cut the flow of the action sequences, and it's too long, but what they got right, they got spectacularly right.
Some background here - as a kid, I adored SPEED RACER. I watched it voraciously after school. Speed, Racer X, Spridel, Chim-Chim, the Mach-5... it was all good. I especially loved how everyone-talked-like-this-giving-tons-of-exposition-without-taking-a-breath-for-minutes-at-a-time. I thought it was a pretty violent cartoon for children's fare - explosions everywhere, gunfights, carfights, fistfights, and a crazy-ass monkey. But as I grew older, I stopped watching. You're supposed to do that when you get older, by the way.
However, when I read this early draft, it took me right back. The enigmatic Racer X? Check. Spridel and Chim-Chim hiding in the trunk? Check. The Mach-5 jumping over cars to avoid certain death? Check. Trixie spotting the race from her pink helicopter? Check. Those insane car races with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in? Check. This film, as described by the script, comes straight out of the television show. This isn't some "re-imagining." It's not dark for the sake of being dark. It's the cartoon, in live-action, very much oriented towards family audiences. No long pieces of dialogue dripping with quantum philosophy here. For a 160+ page script (too long, but I'll get to that in a bit) it's mostly very tight.
It begins with young Speed Racer in school, which holds no real interest for him (on the Scantron test he's taking he doesn't even bother to try to answer the questions, instead coloring GO REX GO! into the dots on the test sheet) - only cars, racing, and especially his older brother Rex. Rex runs the cross-country rally circuit, a series of races that are known for their brutality and the cheating that seems to occur. Cars shoot grappling guns, blades pop from the wheels, and everyone does their best to see that their opponents don't even finish the race, much less win. But Rex is a natural, and his brother thinks the world of him. Rex even lets his brother steer around the track a few times, all the while teaching him how to listen to the car, to race like a professional. But Rex and Pops have a falling out, and soon afterwards he dies in a terrible crash. Nonetheless, Speed is resolved to become a race driver like his brother, racing Rex's ghost around the track, trying to beat his record. He grows up to be a successful racer in his own right, driving his Mach-5 to victory.
The Racer family remains fiercely independent, taking no corporate sponsorship. Then, one day, a Harrier jet lands on the Racer lawn(the world the Wachowskis have created here makes it seem perfectly routine that airplanes land on people's lawns), and out steps E. P. Arnold Remington, owner of Remington Industries. He makes Speed an offer to race for his team, doing his best to impress Speed and the Racer family (Pops, Mom, Sparky, Trixie, Spridel and Chim-Chim are all here). After careful thought, Speed turns him down, and Remington coolly informs him that everything he knew about racing is a lie - it's all rigged for company profits. If Speed doesn't join up, he'll be eliminated and his family humiliated.
Disgusted, Speed considers quitting racing altogether, but then Racer X shows up on his doorstep. He's something called a Chief Inspector Detector, and he wants to make sure the races are on the up-and-up, without corporate interference. Racer X asks Speed to race in the Casa Cristo 5000, known to drivers as the Crucible, and the very same race that killed Speed's brother Rex. Another driver has been contracted to lose the race to help decrease the stock value of a company that Remington wants to take over. If that driver wins, Remington won't be able to buy it off. There's something oddly familiar about Racer X, and so Speed decides to take him up on it, with the hopes of gaining the almighty invite to the World Grand Prix. Because when the odds are against him, and there's dangerous work to do, you bet your life Speed Racer will see it through!
The world the Wachowskis have created here is obsessed with racing and speed, with vintage cars filling the landscape, and the races themselves are huge, physics-defying spectacles of rubber, steel, and smoke. It's very cartoony and colorful, and I look forward to seeing it on the big screen. The script is also very earnest. The love for the cartoon really shines through here - it's obvious the Wachowskis love SPEED RACER and treat it with great respect, taking it seriously and at the same time keeping the inherent camp and goofy comedy of the show. I knew they nailed the show when we got our first Spridel/Chim-Chim trunk scene. Racer X is also expertly handled. Anyone who has seen the show knows Racer X's secret, but the Wachowskis toss a change-up pitch and call into question that whole aspect of the Racer X/Speed relationship, and it's well done. They have made a genuine family film here - there's hardly any cusswords in it - and at the same time they don't play down the excitement, the cartoon violence, and the explosions that made the show such fun. There's a line or two that's a little questionable for young audiences, but I guess if Michael Bay can fit a whole masturbation gag into TRANSFORMERS, the Wachowskis can get away with it here. I hope they take it out, though, myself - it doesn't work and it takes away from the family-friendly atmosphere they have going.
Where the Wachowskis have issues is all the exposition. This was an issue in the MATRIX films and it's an issue here, even going so far as to cut into a race sequence with plot exposition flashbacks that totally mess with the tempo of the action. Also, much of the action doesn't happen in the script until the first rally race, almost at the midpoint. The script is entirely too long, however. This is a movie that needs to be a packed two hours, not two and a half. A lot of the front end needs to be edited down, but they still need to keep the characterization, which is very well done. The Racer family dynamic is terrific, done with real emotion and love. You truly care for the Racer family and want to see the best for them. The villains are appropriately hissable, but it's the races where the Wachowskis really shine. The Wachowskis have never had a problem writing great action setpieces. They just need to be careful not to undermine the action with too much exposition. And, at the same time, it's important plot information and needs to be there. I'm confident they will iron out the kinks, because these are really minor issues. Much of the script works like gangbusters.
So... here's a case where real nostalgia has created something truly enjoyable, and I hope that it translates well to the big screen. All signs point to a blast of a movie. It feels like they're making a live-action family film that parents wouldn't be embarrassed to watch with their kids, and with crap like BRATZ and DADDY DAY CAMP clogging the cinemas right now, that's saying something.