Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Talk about visual storytelling!
I’ve heard this movie’s been panned for being too hard to follow, too generic, nauseua-inducing, etc. ... and I don’t know what to make of that! It might have to do with what Alan Moore said in his recent (boring? controversial? I dunno.) interview about Hollywood film and “immersion,” because even though Speed Racer has super-slick all-CGI backgrounds, is shown in IMAX, etc… there’s a lot more to it than that, if you’re not so distracted by the kaleidoscopic colors (which is easier when you watch it on your iPhone, at work, when you should be planning English lessons…)
IN FACT, it’s rare to see a movie this carefully laid out, where so much happens, and that’s so simple and exciting. Cartoony conventions like horizontal screen wipes, bright colors and fast-revolving flashbacks are developed into a unique and successful grammar and make it a wholly original film. If this kind of praise holds any traction (Alan Moore?), it couldn’t be done in another medium, comics or cartoons or anything.
I really like how, unlike some action films with shaky cameras or arbitrary zooms and cuts, every shot in Speed Racer is important and helps build up the sequence, the scene, and the whole film. In a given race sequence we follow: a close-up of Speed, his rear-view window (and dialogue) signaling an incoming racer, close-up of a new character, dialogue signaling his move in advance, him making his move, Speed reacting, the cars reacting, and then dialogue confirms what happened for the audience. Was I clear just now? The movie is. This all takes place under a score that’s always narrating and highlighting emotional highs and lows. The rhythm of the shots itself is quick, even, and makes the race more exciting.
Speed Racer has a sophisticated structure. Flashbacks weave in and out of the present – especially during races – with a rhythm that heightens the tension. Anyway the core of the movie’s story revolves around exactly 4 long races, and runs through several other fast driving scenes, which I think is impressive. It’s difficult to tell a story in a racing movie when you want as much time racing as possible, but SR succeeds so well in large part due to that flashback rhythm. I do think that Speed Racer has an advantage in that, like cartooning, it can achieve wild camera movements and anatomical flexibility regular film can’t.
I like the attitude, the campiness, and yes, the immersive world of Speed Racer. There are some micro-moments that are fantastic like a fight scene in which the characters and the falling snow animate each other, and a tremendous, cinematic orgasm! I love this movie as a comics artist and I think you should go out of your way to see it (preferably on your iPhone but otherwise in Blue-ray or IMAX or something).