Although the original SPEED RACER cartoon was a favorite of my peers, I never heard of or saw it as kid, nor would I have probably cared for it: I'm not much into cars for one thing and it frankly left me cold when I finally saw it as an adult. Still my 8-year-old son (who has also never seen the show) was excited about the movie and we went to see it yesterday. Or rather we saw most of it, somewhere near the 2-hour mark, during the umpteenth heart-to-heart scene between Speed and his Pops, our own heart-to-heart went something like this:
SON: "Dad, this is boring, can we go?"
ME: "I thought you'd never ask."
On a general note, both my son and I were left slack-jawed with confusion at why an action movie for kids, with a wholly transparent good-guys v.s. bad-guys plot, would favor long, static and redundant dialog scenes to action seemingly 10-to-one? The action scenes could have been satisfying enough if it wasn't quickly apparent that the filmmakers were intent to make us "pay" for each with subsequent bombardments of incessant talk. The villain in particular machinates and threatens with trenchant and unimaginatively cliched menace over and over again, each exchange dragging on and on long after the point has been made. Alternately, we are confronted with repetitive turgid domestic scenes of Speed and his family and girlfriend espousing utterly hackneyed and hollow homilies about virtue and destiny.. (Interestingly enough, the actors pull this off with a complete simultaneous absence of both sincerity and irony.) Much like the over-bloated Peter Jackson KING KONG (which I liked in spots), SPEED could have been at least a third shorter (no exaggeration) and greatly improved if somehow someone had intervened in the editing room. Indulgent cases like this would seem to enforce the complete lack of trust that studio management has toward filmmakers.
Length aside however, here at this blog I'd like to be permitted a short, public rant against the tendency of live-action filmmakers to adapt the visual sense of animation with either contempt, confusion, or a complete lack of understanding. Similar to the 1990's debacle DICK TRACY, (as one close friend pointed out), the filmmakers of SPEED RACER have decided that cartoon artwork is all aggressively hideous kitsch, comprised of garishly saturated primary colors, shrill lighting and indiscriminately tacky details. The surreal race track scenes aside, the "natural" world of SPEED RACER is limned out with the deliberately pornographic bad taste of artists like David Lachappelle and Jeff Koons: electrified sodium blue skies, blinding white cotton candy clouds and blood-red rosebushes surround homes decorated with screeching decor that looks more like merchandising than anyone's actual rugs or wall paper. It makes literally everything impossible to digest, especially considering the unfathomably sober and sedate writing in the off-track narrative. Although I'm not an expert on the old show, none of these visuals resembles it to me, the show seemed somewhat bleached out and ordinary. For that matter, the production design and art direction don't look anything like any classic cartoon of any genre which would be considered a touchstone for this sort of assignment. None of this seems to matter. When the experts go to work, I guess they just figure they already know what cartoons look like: crap. The rest is up to them to exaggerate and extrapolate as they feel free to.
I wish the movie had been better and I doubt this professional quibble accounts for it's failure. But at some point maybe this recurring pattern will dawn on live-action movie makers and point them in a different direction. Like actually referencing good cartoons for a change.