Entry for May 13, 2008: Go, Speed Racer!

Friends, I hope you had a good weekend. Congratulations to Brian & Melissa F. on the birth of their daughter Alison Lynn!

On Saturday, 10 May 2008, Janice and I caught an early matinee of Speed Racer at the AMC Chestnut Hill multiplex. Although the anime-based movie hasn't done as well as Iron Man in terms of box-office returns or reviews, we enjoyed it.

Based on Japanese manga (comic books) and the influential 1960s cartoon, Speed Racer follows its titular hero (played by Emile Hirsch) through several key automobile races on tracks of escalating difficulty, from a giant roller coaster and a dangerous Mad Max-style cross-country rally to the international Grand Prix.

The film breaks up these races with flashbacks to the hero's childhood and interactions with his family and friends, as ably played by John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci, among others. Matthew Fox was properly mysterious as the renegade Racer X, who may or may not be Speed's brother. I was pleased to see Peter Fernandez, who worked on the animated series, as an announcer. Even Speed's younger brother Spritle and simian sidekick Chim-Chim are tolerable, as they mostly play pranks on villainous sponsor Mr. Royalton.

I thought the movie did a decent job of showing the value of family as the drivers grappled with gadget-driven competition, commercialization, and ninjas. In case you haven't realized by now, this is a children's movie, similar to Disney/Pixar's Cars, not Ben Hur or even Talledega Nights. At two hours, it was a bit long for that audience, but still relatively fast-paced.

Speed Racer's hyperkinetic, color-saturated cinematography reminded me more of the live-action adaptations of Dick Tracy or Thunderbirds than of the Wachowski brothers' cyberpunk hit The Matrix. The computer-generated backdrops are similar to those in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Beowulf, but for a younger audience, not unlike Spy Kids.

The tricked-out Mach 5 race car looked sleek (see above), and the soundtrack pays homage to the cartoon. Fans of the original or of anime in general should like the live-action Speed Racer, which was rated PG for some violence and language. I'd give it about a 7 or 8 out of 10, or a B+.

On a related note, I finally caught the comedy Surf's Up on cable television. It was part of Hollywood's recent penguin craze, which included March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. I thought the computer-aided animation and soundtrack were solid, and the talking animals were cleverly written. Now, if only we wouldn't get such spates of lost cities; insect, bird, or rodent flicks; or singing princesses.

While we didn't get together with Thomas K.Y. and Sara F. & Josh C. for Stardust this past weekend, we did get a lot of yard work done. I also saw trailers for the Star Wars: Clone Wars movie pilot and the Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Batman video games. We also enjoyed ensemble period drama Cranford on PBS's "Masterpiece Classic." Tonight is the final session (for now) of the D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains" Arabian fantasy group.