Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Moment Of Reflection

We here in The Middle Room would like to take a moment to remember a friend, taken from us before his time.

Speed Racer, we hardly knew you.

This past weekend, when we visited our local theater, we saw that the flood of new movies has washed away this small, artistic, 100 million dollar production.

After a mere month in theaters, Speed Racer, the single most enjoyable theater going experience we've had this summer - surpassing even Iron Man, mind you (and we loved Iron Man) - has been wrenched away from us. Sure you might still be able to find it playing on a screen here or there, but overall, it is gone.

And it is not coming back. Except on DVD.

There are many factors we might blame for this injustice, not the least of which being critical response. Perhaps we were wrong to expect better from film critics. "Remember the Hudson Hawk," is something of a battle cry in these parts.

Rather than allowing ourselves to become possessed with anger, we feel it would be more constructive to take a moment and focus on the contribution Speed Racer made in bridging the divide between live action and animated films.

We think Speed would have wanted it that way.

First, some history. For as long as anyone can recall, there have been two types of movies: live action and animated, and the line between them was never crossed.

Until recently. Now, Speed Racer was not the first movie to blur the line. Disney was experimenting back in the 60s and 70's with movies such as Mary Poppins and Pete's Dragon, where reality and animation crossed paths.

These were intrusions, really, where one medium crossed over with another. Still, these managed to utilize animation to surreal effect. It was a simple beginning, but a beginning nonetheless.

Things became less clear in 1988. That was year Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released. Roger was a turning point in more ways than one. It marked an end to hand-drawn animation in big budget live action films (sure, there would be others afterward, but nothing so grand), while serving as a harbinger of the CG filled movies to come.

The combination of computer generated imagery and characters along with live action actors and settings became common place in the 90's.

But then something happened: the stakes were raised.

Movies like Sin City, 300, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Spy Kids 3-D began to test the boundaries between the two worlds by pushing actors further and further into animated environments.

On the other side of the fence, CG animated projects began to incorporate live-action. Movies such as Polar Express, Monster House, and Beowulf have are building towards incorporating an actor's entire performance without having them in the movie at all.

The line between animation and live action grew thinner and thinner.

And then a movie came along that tore through the boundary altogether. A movie so stylized, so bizarre, and so much fun that our very lexicon cannot contain it.

That movie, of course, was Speed Racer. It was not live action, nor is was animated. It was a living collage, a true fusion of the two basic types of film.

And the critics could not understand what they were viewing. They attacked it, because it was too cartoony for their tastes.

And now, too soon, Speed Racer is gone. But it has paved the way for other films to follow. There is no longer a need to make movies either live action or cartoons: the whole spectrum of possibilities has been opened.

As for Speed Racer, we can only trust in our faith that there exists life beyond the theaters. We have to believe in DVD and the possibility it will become a cult favorite and rise from the ashes.

It's a shame, though. It was truly glorious up on the big screen. To those of you who didn't get to see it there, in its natural environment: you have our pity.

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