The new cinematic primitive: The Wachowski brothers and Speed Racer
The film invites the question--what was so great about The Matrix? Aside from granting Keanu Reeves the Godlike status of “the One,” The Matrix took pleasure in imagining the world as a computer program that hides a monstrous machine that uses immobilized deluded humans for energy. It could be a metaphor for fascistic takeover of modern day entertainment, what Jonathan Franzen might be describing when he writes “Technological consumerism is an infernal machine” in his novel The Corrections. Jean-Luc Godard often spoke of how
The one recognizable theme of Speed Racer, aside from the importance of family, is its dislike of corporate cooptation. Once Speed (Emile Hirsch) establishes his talent on the race course, Royalton attempts to lure Speedy into joining Royalton Industries by showing him around the factory, giving him a suit, and generally treating his family, who otherwise run an independent business making race cars, to all kinds of corporate perks. When the conscience-torn Speedy eventually refuses to sign, Royalton cannot restrain himself from giving Speedy a snarling history lesson in the corporate control of racing since it began. He also threatens to ruin Speedy with lawsuits and highly publicized slanderous accusations that Speedy cheats on the course just as his lost brother Rex, another excellent racer, was accused. While The Matrix kept its villainy subtle in the cold formal clothes of Agent Smith, every bad guy here telegraphs his nastiness either by snarling or by sporting a poor complexion.
In this manner, the Wachowski brothers find a way to make car racing a way to battle corporate corruption.
Technically, the Wachowski brothers include all kinds of surrealistic distortions. The computer graphic backgrounds seem to keep everything in sharp focus, thereby eliminating any sense of depth perception, especially outdoors. The ravings of the radio announcers, endlessly hyping Speed's driving skills, oblige the filmmakers to insert talking heads into the race scenes that wipe cut rapidly, blending one scene into the next. The editing is so rapid, much of the film swirls into a kind of candy-dazzled blur of bright blues offset with yellows and reds. I had a hard time telling if the film was beautiful or just demented.
Overall, though, I very much enjoyed the eye-candy graphics of the film. It reminded me of 1960s light shows, and it all has a trippy Japanese iconic weightlessness that would suit a rave well. With its shiny surfaces and fast food interior design, Speed Racer is the ultimate glossy media product, visually but not verbally a worthy successor to Toy Story. It’s just a shame humans had to be involved.