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Speed Racer Is The 99%

February 20th, 2012 No comments

Last Friday our local art theater (cunningly named the Art Theater) offered a late-night screening of Speed Racer. Now, I own the DVD and even have the movie in permanent storage on my iPad, but I went anyway. Leaving the aside the rarity of seeing it on the big (well, biggish) screen, I figured that if I wasn’t going to support Speed Racer, who would?

As it turned out, there were several die-hard fans in the audience, none of whom were old enough to have seen the TV show back in the day. So that was nice.

What occurred to me while watching Speed Racer again was that–as the title of the post suggests–it warrants a critical reappraisal by the Occupy Wall Street crowd. This is, after all, a kids’ movie that’s all about the little guy standing up to the strong-arm tactics of a corporate conglomerate.

When Speed Racer debuted, some reviewers were critical that a heavily-merchandised movie would argue against capitalism over art. I don’t see any hypocrisy here. For one, it’s not as if the film is railing against action figures and Happy Meals; the corruption on display is that of corporations fixing race results in order to manipulate stock prices. Besides, isn’t the subversiveness of using Time Warner’s vast financial resources to tell such a tale worthy of appreciation?

As John Goodman’s character says:

I’m feeling more intimidated than impressed. This kinda company scares me. People like you have way too much money. When someone gets that kind of money, they start thinking that the rules everybody else plays by don’t mean squat to them.

Sound familiar to anyone following the news these past few years?

Look, I’m not saying that Speed Racer has a deep or profound message. But the fact that a movie which by all rights should be nothing but monkeys and exploding cars even bothers with a message at all ought to be worth something. And if a few kids begin to consider the possibility that the world they know may be nothing but the machinations of great powers, that’s good, right?

While I’m on the subject of Speed Racer, I want to give a shout-out to J.P. Trostle’s Speed Rally blog. Since last June, he’s been engaged in an exhaustive review of every car designed for the film. Like so much of the Internet, it’s an excessive amount of information about a very limited subject, and therefore very impressive.

 

In Defense Of Speed

May 22nd, 2008 No comments

Ken Lowery does a fine job of defending Speed Racer, calling out critics on praising Transformers for the exact same reasons they used to damn Speed. It’s the same sort of thing that bugged me when pre-tumor Roger Ebert gave The Phantom Menace three-and-a-half stars [“I wish the “Star Wars” characters spoke with more elegance and wit …but dialogue isn’t the point, anyway: These movies are about new things to look at.”], while post-cancer Ebert gave Attack of the Clones a mere two (“But in a film with a built-in audience, why not go for the high notes? Why not allow the dialogue to be inventive, stylish and expressive?”).

Ken makes an especially good point: “In those debates and in those negative reviews, it always came down to this: that serious stories are better than fun stories, and think-pieces are superior to movies that dazzle. The underlying mentality, sometimes stated but more often implied, is that some storytelling goals are simply worthier than others.” That’s something I’ve been trying to say in my own way for some time; that with few exceptions, a Chariots of Fire or Gandhi will always be seen as superior to a Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T., simply because one is high-minded, “spinach is good for you” filmmaking, and the other just wants to have fun.

But when was the last time you watched Chariots of Fire?

Adventure’s Waiting Just Ahead!

May 9th, 2008 No comments

One of Speed Racer’s greatest challenges was posed by the Gang of Assassins, featured in the episode “Gang of Assassins.” Another ninja-themed group, they had a couple of clear advantages over the previously-seen bat boys: sheer numbers and bitchin’, death’s head cars. Also a flying dragon submarine, but more on that in a minute.

They had been hired to disrupt the International Peacemeal Conference, the name of which was probably as close to political satire as the American translators of Speed Racer ever got. The Mach 5 happened upon the scene of their next assassination attempt, but when Speed used the homing robot to give them the bird, one of the gang retaliated by throwing a million, billion ninja stars.

Speed and Trixie gave chase in the Mach 5, but the assassins’ cars proved to have an overwhelming array of weapons: machine guns, spike strips and flamethrowers.

Later, Racer X, who had been in town for the Fujiyama Grand Prix, was standing on a lake shore watching a boat full of delegates to the Peacemeal Conference when he was ambushed by the assassins. Who were buried in the dirt beneath him. That’s how kick-ass the Gang of Assassins were: they could burrow. They snagged the Masked Racer’s wrists with chains, but he gave them a spin.

Racer X learned that the attack was just a test: they wanted to recruit him into the gang. Just then, a dragon-headed submarine reared out of the water and a whirlpool sucked the delegates’ sightseeing vessel below the surface!

After a series of adventures, Speed, Trixie, Spritle and Chim-Chim all found themselves in the underground lair of the worldwide assassins’ organization.

The assassins deliberately kept their lair chilly.

Speed met their leader, Professor Anarchy, who offered Speed a job on the team. When the racer refused, Anarchy threatened to make him his 2,708th victim. (That’s right, he kept track.)


Even’s Anarchy’s eyepatch was twisted.


The conversation was cut short by the arrival of Racer X, seemingly in cahoots with the villains. Rex was put in charge of murdering Speed, Trixie and the captured delegates. Indeed, he blasted away with a submachine gun…and, in what was arguably the greatest feat of precision ever achieved by a racer-turned-secret-agent, shot off their ropes.

Not even Speed is buying it.

A fracas ensued, and, as this was Speed Racer, it involved submachine guns, and lots of ’em.

After that, it all got a bit insane. Racer X led the freed delegates out of the underground complex, then went back to blow it up with a time bomb. Spritle and Chim-Chim stowed away aboard the dragon sub. Speed and Trixie raced off in the Mach 5 in hopes of intercepting the remaining assassins before they could reach the Peacemeal Conference.

Then, because no Japanese adventure series was complete without a flying submarine, the dragon lifted off and began pelting the fleeing Speed with fireballs. Once again, Spritle and Chim-Chim saved the day by sabotaging the sub and parachuting out as it made a final, fatal power dive smack into the highway, demolishing the killers’ cars. Suck that, assassins.

“Aieeeeeee! I dishonor my ancestors!”

The fate of Professor Anarchy was unrevealed, but I believe that surely his sinister eyepatch would once again endanger world peace.


This brings me to the end of my less-than-comprehensive retrospective of Speed Racer. The movie opened today, and I’ll be seeing it this evening. While it’s being savaged by the critics, their descriptions make it sound as if it’s exactly what’s promised in the trailer: an eye-searing visual display that’s relatively faithful to the cartoon in both tone and level of sophistication. (Make of that what you will.) Fortunately for me, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Getting ready for tonight.

He’s A Demon And He’s Gonna Be Chasin’ After Someone

May 8th, 2008 No comments

While most Speed Racer bad guys suffered the indignity of such names as Zoomer Slick and Splint Femur, some never received so much as a proper noun. Such was the case with the unidentified ninja bat boys who bedeviled the gang in the episode “The Royal Racer.”

I was never quite sure what in the heck these pint-sized killers were supposed to be. I suppose that they were agile midgets, but their mugs were oddly monstrous.


A face only a ninja bat mother could love.

In addition to cool costumes and mad acrobatic skills, they had frightening metal claws on both hands and feet. Great for opening cans; lousy for digging change out of their ninja pockets.

The bat boys were employed by Omar Offendum of the Kingdom of Saccharin, who was out to steal the throne by having the dimwitted (and pig-nosed) Prince Sugarin crowned instead of the rightful royal heir, Prince Jam.


Prince Sugarin was the ugly stick with which the bat boys had been beaten.

Wouldn’t you know it, Prince Jam just happened to be a dead-ringer for Spritle. And before you could say “Mark Twain,” the two became mixed up. Spritle was welcomed into the palace, where he gorged himself on sweetmeats and prepared to drive in the “Baby Grand Prix.” Meanwhile, the real prince was locked in a bathroom by the Racer family as they practiced their usual “tough love.”

Over the course of the two-part episode, the ninjas went first after Spritle and then after Jam once they recognized the latter’s tell-tale royal birthmark.

Eventually, the little killers captured both the prince and Speed, but one of their own was caught by the reunited Spritle and Chim-Chim. In order to make the ninja talk, Chim-Chim went Gitmo and unsheathed his hitherto-unsuspected razor-sharp talons.

Let me repeat that: Chim-Chim had razor-sharp talons. And he would cut you.

The monkey sidekick wound up being the real hero of this story, even disguising himself as a bat boy to untie Speed and Jam while Trixie pulled out the heavy artillery.

Seconds later, in berzerk bloodlust, Chim-Chim ripped out Speed’s jugular. Stone cold Trixie.

In the end, Prince Jam was crowned and both he and Spritle raced to a tie in the Baby Grand Prix.

Still later, unknown to the Racers, Chim-Chim began a secret double life as a master ninja monkey. But that’s a story for another day.

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He’s Jamming Down The Pedal Like He’s Never Coming Back

May 5th, 2008 No comments

The forthcoming Speed Racer film looks to have numerous references to the original cartoons, among them the Mammoth Car, Snake Oiler and Kabala. However, the one featured most prominently in both the trailers and the merchandise is the super-car known as the GRX.

The GRX debuted in the story “The Fastest Car on Earth.” Indeed, the experimental GRX engine was so powerful that it had already claimed the lives of four drivers, and was subsequently buried in a cemetery. Naturally, people simply couldn’t let sleeping engines lie, and so grave robbers dug it up and loaded it into the back of a hearse, no less.

Installed into a dazzling, golden car by its new owner–the venomous Oriena Flux–the GRX was so fast that its driver had to be sprayed with “V Gas,” a drug that heightened reflexes and made the subject immune to fear. Unfortunately, it came with a side effect: extreme thirst which when satiated brought unbridled terror of speed. (Other reported side effects include headache, nausea, eczema, spontaneous combustion, cheese aversion, and tertiary testicular growth. Consult with your doctor before taking V Gas.)

Our own Speed Racer became obsessed with the idea of driving the fastest car in the world, and volunteered to be a test subject for the V Gas. Pushing the GRX past 340 mph, he entered a state of crazed euphoria.

Kids, don’t do drugs.

The real trouble started when Trixie kindly gave Speed a glass of water, leaving him in quaking fear on the drive home. Subsequently, the Racer family did what they always did when one of their own was suffering withdrawal symptoms: they tied him to a chair and employed the Ludovico technique. Pops ran a projector displaying film of a car in motion over and over until Speed recovered. (You shoulda seen how they handled Spritle’s candy addiction.)

The GRX was destroyed at last when its new driver couldn’t resist the temptation to take a swig of water. (Reported side effects of water include tremors, incontinence, unexpected hair growth, and fiery wreck.)

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Motorcycle Apaches!

May 2nd, 2008 No comments

Motorcycle Apaches!

Motorcycle Apaches!

Motorcycle Apaches!

To be honest, I don’t have much to write about the Motorcycle Apaches. They were Indians. On motorbikes instead of horses. And their leader was Geronimo, who was known to shout “Meeeeeeeeee!” as he rode into battle.

The Apaches regularly harassed convoys on their way to the Space Development Base, so it was up to Speed to convey the latest shipment of Uraniumtane in the trunk of the Mach 5. Meanwhile, Spritle and Chim-Chim were tasked with driving an old-fashioned wagon full of food to the same base, along a different route. Ultimately, it turned out that Speed was a decoy and that Spritle’s wagon actually carried the Uraniumtane, because the U.S. space program often put children and monkeys in charge of their radioactive materials.

The reason I bring all this up is not to praise the Motorcycle Apaches, but to comment on the far freaky dream Spritle had while en route to the space base. In it, he saw himself as a Western gunslinger riding into a bandit-ridden town to go all Sergio Leone on their asses.

That’s right: an afternoon kids’ show featured a school-age child gunning down outlaws. Sure, everything except Spritle was rendered as still images in some sort of chalk-and-charcoal style, but that’s still what appears to be a gout of blood erupting from that bad guy’s chest.

Here’s some more:

And then, because it wasn’t disorienting enough, the masked Spritle was romantically serenaded by Queen Starsha of Iscandar. Thank you, early ’70s syndicated TV, for rocking my world.

By the way, I believe “The Masked Spritle” would be a terrible name for a professional wrestler.

And Now, A Monkey Interlude

May 1st, 2008 No comments

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Malange Still Races!

May 1st, 2008 No comments

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but in the world of Speed Racer, it’s delivered by car. For example, when Dr. J.D. Crepit‘s wife was killed and son was crippled in an accident, he may have overreacted when he vowed to destroy all motorcars. Yet he carried out his vehicular villainy with automotive ingenuity, employing a fleet of tiny, remote-controlled cars that attached themselves to the undersides of his targets and allowed him to drive them away to his castle to be smelted down and used, naturally enough, to build a completely-automated theme park decorated with metal flora and robotic animals. He racked up 48,000 kills before Speed foiled his entirely sensible plan and ironically revealed that his wheelchair-bound son had been able to walk all along.

Granted that was perhaps the most audacious act of revenge to occur during the series, but for style points I have to give it to Flash Marker, Jr. and his deathmobile, the Malange.

Speed first encountered the Malange while practicing for the Danger Pass Race, when a mysterious black auto recklessly passed him. Later that evening, the same car tailgated another driver, who was terrified when its hood ominously began to flash “X3.” The sinister motorist deliberately collided with his victim, leaving behind a flaming wreck, a slip of paper, and the eerie, electronic pronouncement: “Malange still races.”

“Malange loves hats.”

The X3 soon struck again, and before long Inspector Detector sought Speed’s help, as only the Mach 5 could match the velocity of the deadly driver. A furious chase ensued, which ended at a railroad crossing when the descending gate ripped the assassin from the front seat, revealing him to be a robot!

“Malange still ra– Agh! My nards!” The Tin Man became a bitter drunk after Dorothy left him.

Pops Racer eventually put two and X3 together and realized that the dead men, Mr. Green and Mr. Black, had both been coaches of the racing team known as the Three Roses Club. (After quitting the Reservoir Dogs.) Furthermore, they had been involved in a previous race at Danger Pass which claimed the life of the driver of the original Malange, Flash Marker, who was forced off the road by a Three Roses car.

Suspicion immediately fell upon his surviving children, Lily and Flash, Jr. Lily, who ran a flower shop, was clearly too pretty to be the killer, and Flash, Jr. was hobbled by crutches. However, the latter was indeed the culprit, remotely controlling the rebuilt Malange from the cockpit of his helicopter.

Forcing Lily to enter the Danger Pass race, he installed a revolving hood on the X3 so that it would only sport an innocent-seeming “3” until his moment of revenge. Steering the Malange from above, he destroyed two of the Three Roses cars. When Speed interfered, Lily managed to keep Flash, Jr. from shooting him. Eventually Speed overtook the then-driverless X3 and leaped aboard, forcing open the revolving hood and ripping at the car’s wiring. The Malange was annihilated, but not before taking out the last of the Three Roses Club. In shock over losing his father’s car, Flash failed to notice the rather large mountain in front of his chopper. Which served him right.

In Speed Racer, revenge was sweet, but mountains tended to get the last laugh.

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You Bet Your Life Speed Racer’s Gonna See It Through

April 22nd, 2008 No comments

Second only to the “Mammoth Car” episodes, my favorite Speed Racer storyline was “The Fire Race.” This was the one in which the writers decided that driving near active volcanoes was for pansies; why not drive through one?

It began, as so many professional races do, with an international border dispute. The League of Countries demanded that the tiny nation of Kapetepek open itself to visitors, but Chief Zuma was concerned (correctly, as it turned out) that doing so would invite thieves to steal its national treasures.

The argument was settled when it was decided that an auto race would be held. If the winner was an outsider, Zuma would open the borders, but if a Kapetepekan racer won, the country would remain isolated forever. Kapetepek was to be represented by the infamous Kabala, a driver so badass that his home was full of portraits of the racers he’d killed.

Kabala also won the “pointiest nose” trophy every year.

When the racers arrived, it was only then that they learned that the course would take them through an erupting volcano. The mountain blew its stack every 100 years like a lava-riffic Old Faithful, and by sheer coincidence, it was about to go off. Furthermore, the entrances would only remain open during the brief period of eruption, after which they would seal shut for another century. (How anyone was certain that there was a traversable passage through to the other side was left unexplained.)

As a bonus, the winning racer was to be given Chief Zuma’s smoking hot granddaughter Silvana in marriage. Neither Silvana nor Trixie was happy with this arrangement. Speed was noncommittal.

As the race began, Speed noticed that Racer X was nowhere to be seen. However, there was no time to ponder this, as he would have to maintain an average speed of 160 mph to escape the underground tunnel in time.

Some participants began to rethink that “race through the volcano” thing.

It turned out that the track wound its way through petrified forests and other strange sights. Stopped by an underground lake, the drivers were startled to see a sea monster emerging as the waters were sucked down in a whirlpool. However, the dinosaur was only a statue, which didn’t stop it from killing one of the racers when its head unexpectedly plopped off. Kabala shot through the legs of the collapsing sculpture, followed closely by the rest of the pack.

Things were further complicated, as usual, by the presence of a team of evil racers: treasure hunters led by Kadar. After whittling down the other competitors, most of them met their end thanks to an unexpectedly frisky vine plant. Kadar himself was done in when his car, overloaded with gold and jewels, failed to jump a pool of lava.

Kadar gave one hell of a shoulder rub.

Prior to his demise, Kadar confronted Speed and Kabala in the ruins of an ancient palace. In the fracas, Kabala’s goggles fell off, and…

…was revealed to be Racer X. Wearing a mask. Over his regular mask. Racer X (who, as we recall, was secretly Speed’s older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago) had pretended to be his old racing mentor, who had died some time earlier. The Masked Masked Racer wanted to preserve Kapetepek’s borders.

Speed, however, thought the whole thing was silly; he only cared about winning. And so, the race furiously continued with the two driving underneath the skeleton of the biggest fucking dinosaur ever.

As Trixie, Zuma and Silvana waited at the end of the course, the volcano erupted a second time. The only two survivors (out of an initial 96) drove for the closing exit…

In case you were wondering, Speed Racer did not end with Speed being buried underground for a hundred years, eventually dying in starvation and madness.

The race resulted in a tie, though Zuma was adamant that Kabala was the winner. In return, Speed revealed that Kabala was not Kabala. Racer X unmasked (well, one mask anyway) and said “I’ve risked my life to save your treasure. Now, you gentlemen must come to some agreement. Compromise. Open your borders to the world some of the time.”

And so, in the years to come, international jewel thieves poured into Kapetepek, but only some of the time.

He’s A Demon On Wheels

April 18th, 2008 No comments

“The Most Dangerous Race” also included a scene which never failed to freak my shit when I was small. The night that Trixie received word that Speed had fallen into Yawning Chasm Pass, she had a nightmare which had her running in slow motion across a reddish landscape. She then saw Speed standing next to the Mach 5, his back to her.

Now, I hate scenes in which someone slowly turns to reveal that they are some sort of monster, which was exactly what happened here. “Speed” turned out to be a blue, fanged demon who cackled, “Heehhaa! I am not Speed Racer, Speed Racer no longer exists!” Then he grabbed Trixie with his flaming arms.

Gah. It repeatedly freaked me as a second-grader. Truth to tell, it’s still pretty…well, gah.

However, because terror loves company, I’ll share with you the following nightmare fuel before wishing you a good weekend.

Sleep well.

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