Written and Directed by The Wachowski Brothers
Starring Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and Christina Ricci
A young Speed, as in Racer, sits at the back of his elementary school classroom, his foot practically tapping straight through the linoleum floor. It’s not just that he can’t sit still or focus on anything; it’s worse than that. He may be there in that room but this is in a purely physical sense of the word. Speed is beyond the snail pace of every day life and the majority of the people that shuffle their feet to and from here and there while draped in blandness. Speed knows he’s going to burn past everyone around him and he knows exactly how he’s going to do it. Why then does he have to sit here and wait to figure it all out when he already has? It’s as though the world is holding him back. Fire that starter gun already and get this race underway!
Speed isn’t the only one itching to get out of his seat. As soon as the kaleidoscope of candy coating colors graces the screen, the mysterious and revolutionary directing team known as the Wachowski Brothers (separately they are Andy and Larry), busts their remake of the popular 1960’s Japanese anime, SPEED RACER, out of the gate and into the race. As the opening race erupts into an explosion of every bright color imaginable, it feels as though the Wachowski’s are floating above it all and magically weaving all the elements together – from the extreme close-up’s of wheels spinning to the character profiles wiping across the screen in transition – to create a new live action animation hybrid. The enthusiastic race crowd cheers with fervor as the now grown Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) cruises past the competition and asserts himself as a genuine talent. Speed is seemingly unstoppable. Only, when the dust settles and the feeling of being immersed in a video game you’ve never played before comes to a halt, you realize the Wachowski’s have gone on ahead without you.
SPEED RACER most certainly solidifies the Wachowki’s, the people who gave the world THE MATRIX – and nothing else since – as two of the most innovative filmmakers working today. Not only do they see things in a way that most of us only see in our dreams and forget once our eyes are open but they know how to put all the pieces together to make their visions a reality. The danger with being ahead of your time is that most everyone else is not. You run the risk then of creating something that may be genius in its own right but is rendered entirely meaningless if no one cares to bask in its glow. While the Wachowski’s strive to get every detail just right, a task that would have been near impossible if it weren’t for the talented cast, they slip off track without realizing. There seems to be more focus on orchestrating the elements that should amount to the appropriate level of fun instead of simple fun being had.
I don’t think the Wachowki’s are the problem though. They truly outdid themselves visually with SPEED RACER. In a time when so many animated films attempt to look as realistic as possible, they decided to go against the traffic and make reality look entirely animated. I think the problem is the content. Recreating a cheaply animated series from another country and another era may be impressive from a visual standpoint but the content itself can be just as hollow as it once was if the translation never moves past the point of literal. Without anything of true substantial value to sink your teeth into, you’re left with an abundance of sugar. While SPEED RACER is certainly sweet to start, your teeth may be slightly rotten by the time you cross the finish line.