What Went Wrong With Speed Racer?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Earlier this week, movie fans have their eyes and ears peeled- to see if Speed Racer can dethrone Iron Man from the top box-office spot.

Well, the results are in: I'm sad to say that it's bad news for Speed Racer- probably the first box-office casualty this summer. Iron Man continues to kick box office ass, making US$180 million alone in domestic receipts in its second week.

As for Speed Racer? It's only made a paltry US$6.1 million on its opening day, with a predicted take of around US$20-25 million for this weekend. And with an estimated US$200+ million to make and market, that's bad news for Warner Brothers indeed.

Even critics are giving the movie adaptation of the late 60's anime a hard time. Let's check out these reviews from IMDb.com. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

"This toxic admixture of computer-generated frenzy and live-action torpor succeeds in being, almost simultaneously, genuinely painful -- the esthetic equivalent of needles in eyeballs -- and weirdly benumbing, like eye candy laced with lidocaine."

A.O. Scott of The New York Times offers this critique:

"The childhood experience the Wachowskis evoke is not the easy delight of lolling in the den watching one cartoon after another, but rather the squirming tedium of sitting in the back seat on an endless family car trip, your cheek taking on the texture of the vinyl seat as some grown-up lectures you on the beauty of the passing scenery."

And then you have this from Kyle Smith of the New York Post:

"This adventurously awful film is awful in many ways at once... It is, like a Ferrari poking across East 42nd Street at rush hour, fast yet slow... Its attention span is measurable in microseconds, yet it runs more than two hours. And it spent a trillion dollars imitating the look of a 10-cent cartoon from the primitive '60s -- artistically, the Cro-Magnon era. I was initially awed by its splendors. But when I'd had my fill, there was still an hour-45 left."

I was marginally curious with what Speed Racer had to offer, but after these bits from the internet, I doubt if I'll actually catch it on the big screen this weekend. Or any other weekend for that matter.

After all that money spent on The Wachowski Brothers and production and marketing, what went horribly wrong? Initially, you might blame marketing for this box-office fiasco. Was it perhaps targeting the wrong demographic?

The Speed Racer cartoon originally came out in 1967 as a Westernized (read: dubbed) anime for the US market. It was a huge back then- there was nothing like it, kids loved it- it was, one of the first successful anime franchises, together with other series like Astro Boy and Gigantor.

Which means, those who actually DO remember the show are probably in their 40's or 50's, maybe some of the 30's as well, if you consider the reruns and syndication in the 1970s.

So naturally, our live-action adaptation of Speed Racer would be best positioned towards a more family-oriented market. From what we have read on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily,

According to the "Parents and Kids" premium tracking, Speed Racer was first choice among parents and boys aged 7 through 11.

Which means the movie is positioned well for parents who have appreciated and loved the TV run in the 60's and 70's, and kids who are about to see Speed Racer for the first time.

But the movie clocked in at 2 hours and 9 minutes- substantially much longer than the typical kiddie movie runtime of just a little bit over an hour.

And then you have the critics. And all the online buzz. According to the respected Top Critics community on RottenTomatoes.com, the consensus about Speed Racer is that it's "overloaded with headache-inducing effects, without a coherent script". Final Tomatometer score? A dismal 27%.

What I read from this is that it's probably not marketing to blame for it at all. Despite their success with The Matrix Trilogy, maybe the Wachowski Brothers came up short on this project. It seems that Warner Brothers gave the two siblings too much control, with horrible results.

Maybe the movie should have been re-written to appeal to a broader group of kids, maybe even teenagers, but it's all too little, too late by now. Next week, another Chronicles of Narnia movie (Prince Caspian) is coming out, and I doubt if Warner Brothers can catch up with more matinee screenings. By then, it's going to be the scrap heap for Speed Racer.

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