Speed Racer Now!
Part 5: The Movie and Beyond
Author: James Long
On May 9th, one of the most eagerly awaited events in the history of SPEED RACER came to fruition when the big screen, live action adaptation of the adventures of these classic characters was released to theaters across America.
The notion of a live action version of SPEED RACER has been bandied about Hollywood for a couple of decades now. The earliest mentions of such a project appear to have come about in 1986, when then-student David Lane Seltzer was watching the movie TOP GUN. Scenes of Tom Cruise wearing his helmet while sitting inside his airplane’s cockpit reminded Seltzer of Speed Racer in his race helmet, driving the Mach 5. Latching onto that image, Seltzer realized the potential behind a big screen version of SPEED RACER, which led him to buy the option for the film rights from Tatsunoko Productions.
Upon graduation, Seltzer began to shop the project around Hollywood and made efforts to interest people with the right clout to get the project off the ground. Initially landing at Universal, Richard Donner was the first of what would become a long list of Hollywood names that would, at one time or another, become attached to SPEED RACER.
When production for the film at Universal went nowhere, the option for the live action SPEED RACER was picked up by Warner Bros. in September of 1992, this time with Joel Silver signed on as Producer. Over the next 14 years, Silver tried again and again to get the project rolling. By mid-1995, it looked as though the film might go before cameras before the end of that year. The film was to be directed by Julien Temple, and to feature Johnny Depp as Speed and singer Henry Rollins as Racer X. Unfortunately, by August of that same year, the skyrocketing budget costs forced the film to be shelved. During the next 10 years, people associated with SPEED RACER would include Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron, and Hyper Williams announced as Directors, with Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett, JJ Abrams, Patrick Read Johnson, Christian Gudegast, and Paul Scheuring all named as Scriptwriters. In 2004, actor Vince Vaughn strongly campaigned to get the film going, with himself cast in the role of Racer X. But, like so many others before him, Vaughn’s efforts were for naught.
The tide turned in October of 2006, when the Writing and Directing team of Andy and Larry Wachowski was brought on board. The two Wachowski brothers were best known for their efforts in films like the MATRIX trilogy, V FOR VENDETTA and THE INVASION. Wishing to make a film that could reach a broader audience than their usual R-rated fare allowed, the Wachowski brothers felt that SPEED RACER would be a good match for their style. With that powerhouse pair on board, production on SPEED RACER finally got under way, this time for real.
By May of 2007, the Wachowskis had their script ready and their cast assembled. The coveted role of Speed Racer went to Emile Hirsch, joined by Christina Ricci as Trixie, John Goodman as Pops Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer, Matthew Fox as Racer X, Paulie Litt as Spritle, and chimpanzees Willy and Kenzie sharing the role of Chim-Chim. Beyond the main SPEED RACER characters, a few other names familiar to fans of the TV series would also appear in the film, such as Snake Oiler and Cruncher Block. Fulfilling a long-standing promise from Joel Silver, Peter Fernandez (Who provided the voice Speed Racer in the original TV series) was given a small role in the film, playing the part of the “Local Announcer.”
Principal photography for the film was done in Germany, beginning in June of 2007 and lasting two months. The film was shot entirely in high definition video against greenscreen backgrounds, allowing the directors to give the film incredible backgrounds that would be impractical to build as physical sets. This technique also allowed the Wachowskis to use multiple layers of video for any shot they wished. When doing this, the Wachowskis have decided to keep all the individual layers, from the furthest background object to the closest foreground object, in perfect focus. Their goal in doing this is to help make the live action world more closely resemble the animated world of the original TV series, an effect enhanced by the use of bright, highly saturated colors throughout the film.
The music for SPEED RACER was created by Academy Award nominated composer Michael Giacchino, known for his work on TV series such as ALIAS and LOST, as well as movies like THE INCREDIBLES and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III. Giacchino has further helped to recreate the feel of the original SPEED RACER series by incorporating elements of Nobuyoshi Koshibe’s MACH GO GO GO scores into several of his pieces for the new film.
The core of the “Speed Racer” feature film is the story of Speed as he is beginning his professional racing career in order to earn the money needed to help save the family business. Along the way, Speed runs afoul of the evil Royalton Industries, which intends to control the sport of racing by any means necessary. Events come to a head when Speed must join with his one-time rival, Racer X, to defeat Royalton’s schemes during a climactic cross-country race known as The Crucible.
It’s taken 22 years, but now-Executive Producer David Lane Seltzer, the man who started this ball rolling while watching TOP GUN in 1986, has finally seen his dream of a big screen SPEED RACER film come true.
Believe it or not, this SPEED RACER movie is actually not the first time that Speed and company have been on the silver screen. In 1993, Streamline Pictures worked with Speed Racer Enterprises to produce THE SPEED RACER SHOW. This film was created by editing together several episodes of the TV series, “The Car Hater” and the 2-part “Race Against the Mammoth Car,” specifically.
Since the episodes of the show were formatted with built-in commercial breaks, Streamline decided to enhance the nostalgic feel of the movie by including a variety of vintage commercials during these “breaks.” Just for fun, and to help fill out the running time of the film, Streamline also added in an episode of the animated series “Colonel Bleep” between the two “Speed Racer” stories. The popular film made numerous appearances in art houses and college campuses around the country over the next couple of years, and was eventually released on home video by Family Home Entertainment, who renamed the film SPEED RACER: THE MOVIE.
Of course, the release of the live action SPEED RACER film doesn’t mark the end of the SPEED RACER story. Several new chapters to its history are already on their way.
Taking SPEED RACER back to his TV roots is SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION, a brand new animated series produced by Lionsgate. Airing on Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons cable channel SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION takes a cue from the web-based SPEED RACER LIVES by updating things to a current day setting. Aside from that, though, the two series have nothing in common.
SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION is set at The Racing Academy, a training ground for young racers, whose Headmaster is the now-adult Spritle. Speed Racer isn’t present in the series, having disappeared mysteriously years ago. In his place, the focus falls to an orphan who is also named Speed. Speed has just entered the Racing Academy, hoping to become the best racer possible. He is aided by his friends, including Lucy, a opinionated know-it-all with a drive to win, Conor, an expert mechanic who is also a die-hard fan of the famous Speed Racer, and Chim Chim, a robot chimpanzee made by Conor. Speed faces challenges against the best racers in the school, including X, who is the son of Speed Racer.
Not long after Speed arrives at the school, the boy discovers that he too is a son of the missing Speed Racer. He also uncovers the plans for the solar-powered Mach 6. With all this thrown at him at once, Speed has to try his best to prove he has what it takes to carry on the Racer family name, to investigate what happened to his missing father, and to work on building the Mach 6.
Seeking to tie in with the publicity surrounding the release of the SPEED RACER movie, SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION has already premiered. The first episode aired as a “sneak preview” on the regular Nickelodeon channel on April 27th, with the official 90-minute premiere occurring on Nicktoons on the evening of May 2nd.
This series is being created for Lionsgate by the New York-based studio Animation Collective. The first season will have 26 episodes, with the potential for more if the series is popular enough. One highlight for fans of the original SPEED RACER is that Peter Fernandez has signed on to voice Spritle, adding a bit of continuity between the two series.
Though Tatsunoko Productions is not directly involved with either of these latest SPEED RACER events, they aren’t letting the opportunity pass them by. The studio has announced plans for a new TV series called MACH GIRL, which they hope will premiere later this year. If this series does come to pass, MACH GIRL would consist of episodes that run a mere 5 minutes each. MACH GIRL would feature the lighthearted adventures of a young girl and her MACH GO GO GO inspired motorcycle.
The designs for the series have been created by Suzuka Yoshida, the daughter of MACH GO GO GO creator Tatsuo Yoshida. Unfortunately, MACH GIRL has yet to be picked up by any broadcast networks, so whether or not it will actually go into production remains uncertain at this time.
Far more definite is the MACH 5 LINE PROJECT. Announced at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in late March, this is a merchandising effort where five notable Japanese designers are developing their own take on the SPEED RACER characters, with their creations to be featured on a line of clothing, toys, stationery, and the like.
The designers include Gogh Imaizumi (Department H), Masahiro Takase, Toru Fukuda (Drawing Wonder), the 5-man DevilRobots team (Monkey Robo), and the aforementioned Suzuka Yoshida. The MACH 5 LINE PROJECT merchandise will be hitting Japanese store shelves in June as part of the promotional campaign leading up to the release of the SPEED RACER movie in Japan on July 5th.
In conclusion, it’s obvious to anyone that the more than 40 year history of SPEED RACER has certainly been exciting! By the look of things, it’s safe to assume that this trend will continue far into the future. As the theme song says, “Go, Speed Racer, Go!”
Thank you for joining SciFi Japan in our celebration of all things SPEED RACER! This concludes our look back at the classic series and all its incarnations up to and including the new feature from from Warner Bros.
We would like to thank James Long for all the hard work he put into researching and writing the 5-part Speed Racer Story. We would also like to thank Gemma Cacho of Warner Bros. for all her support in our coverage of the new movie.
We have one more special surprise for all the SPEED RACER fans out there! Get ready to tap your feet and snap your fingers as Dutch DeSentis takes a look at both Nobuyoshi Koshibe’s score for the original series and Michael Giacchino’s music from the new movie. This article will also feature special interviews with both artists! Don’t miss out on our special final bonus feature! Just stay tuned to SciFi Japan!
And Go Speed Go!