‘Speed Racer’ Stars Insist Cartoon-Based Flick Is ‘Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before’
Emile Hirsch likens the Wachowski brothers’ direction to their groundbreaking work on ‘The Matrix.’
You’ve seen good movies. You’ve seen bad movies. But when was the last time you truly saw a movie unlike any you’d ever seen before?
“This film has all these visuals and elements to it that you’ve never seen before,” 23-year-old “Speed Racer” star Emile Hirsch promised when we caught up with him recently at the movie-theater industry convention ShoWest.
“That’s what the Wachowski brothers, when they were making that first ‘Matrix,’ [were doing]. No one had seen anything like it.”
It’s a bold claim: In the more than 100 years that “movies” have existed, hundreds of thousands of them have been made. Most fit into a handful of categories, and the majority rip each other off with glee (“It’s ‘Die Hard’ meets ‘Wedding Crashers’!”). But early trailers for the May 9 release have impressed, and the movie’s promises continue to grow, Speed Racer, grow.
“It’s going to be like nothing you’ve seen before -really,” echoed “Lost” star Matthew Fox, who plays the mysterious Racer X in the flick. “Larry and Andy [Wachowski] are huge fans of the material, so they’re going to pay homage to that and respect that in their version of ‘Speed Racer.’ But the world that they’re defining is so unique to itself.”
If the Wachowskis really are such huge fans of the subject matter, they’d likely be the first to admit that the words “unique” and “Speed Racer” have never really gone hand-in-hand. Originally titled “Mach GoGoGo,” the Japanese anime cartoon was conceived as a cross between James Bond and Elvis Presley in “Viva Las Vegas.” Like many cartoons of its era, “Speed” relied heavily on recycled action sequences, as well as formulaic and repetitive plotlines. How many times were Spritle and Chim Chim stowed away in the trunk of the Mach 5 before Speed knew to look in there?
Nevertheless, the talents behind the new movie believe the cartoon’s brightly colored backgrounds and never-fast-enough mentality have provided them with the perfect canvas.
“They’re editing this film as though it was a cartoon,” explained Christina Ricci, who plays Trixie. “There isn’t a film that’s been edited in this particular way.”
The “Matrix” masterminds have developed top-secret technology and effects to keep both the foreground and background in focus at all times, creating a 2-D look reminiscent of the classic cartoon. “With this movie, they’re layering, layering, layering,” Ricci explained. “They’re layering these 2-D images in order to create depth, and that allows you to just sweep one image across the screen, the way that a cartoon does. It allows you to edit in a style that’s never been seen before, and they’re also using digital effects that no one has seen before. It’s just crazy.”
But at the end of the day, the greatest weapon not found in the Mach 5’s steering wheel is the cartoon’s beloved cheese factor -and the stars insist that buried beneath all that eye-popping originality, they’ll still be bringing the Velveeta.
“There are definitely things in this movie that are an homage to that cheese factor,” grinned Ricci, remembering the over-the-top elements of masked racers, rocket-launching automobiles and pit-mechanic monkeys. “There are certain sounds that we make that are very similar to the sounds that Speed would make, or other characters would if they were in trouble. … But I’m not making those sounds now, don’t even try to get me!”
“I grew up on ‘Speed Racer’ too,” beamed Hirsch, remembering MTV reruns in the early ’90s and subsequent TV reimaginings. “As a kid, I don’t know if I completely identified with the cheese factor, as much as the adventure and the craziness of it.”
“I’ve been working on this for about 15 or 16 years, because I always thought it was a great idea for a movie,” insisted mega-producer Joel Silver, the man behind everything from “The Matrix” to the “Lethal Weapon” movies. “It really worked out for it to be made now, because the way the Wachowski brothers made the movie, it never could’ve been made before. The visual effects that are in this movie are being invented pretty much now as we’re making them. … We couldn’t have done what we’re doing with these cars before now.”
“You’re on green screen most of the time, pretty much the whole film,” Fox said of the shoot. “Also, technically, many times you would shoot a scene with other actors and those actors would be removed from the scene, because there’s a depth of field, a plane of focus that they’re doing. … It was sort of like learning [how to act] all over again, which was really fun.
“It’s a different technique,” he insisted. “And it’s a completely different experience.”
More bold promises from the big-screen adaptation -and if all this stuff doesn’t turn out to be as wholly original as “bullet time” was in “The Matrix,” at least we know that there’s one thing in the “Speed Racer” movie that we’ve never seen.
“There’s a helicopter that is mine,” Ricci grinned, when asked about her favorite vehicle in the flick, “and it’s bright pink!”
In some newly revealed footage, Ricci can be seen at the controls, proudly piloting the unique craft. “Hell yeah, I do!” she winked. ” ‘Cause I’m Trixie!”