Continuing our coverage of the 2008 ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas, ComingSoon.net attended the Warner Bros. presentation “The Big Picture”, which gave a bit more of an expansive view of Larry and Andrew Wachowski’s adaptation of the popular cartoon Speed Racer.
Warner Bros. President Alan Horn introduced the Wachowskis’ long-time producer Joel Silver, who looked like a proud Papa as he brought out three of the film’s primary cast: Emile Hirsch, who plays Speed Racer, Christina Ricci, who plays his girlfriend Trixie, and Matthew Fox, the mysterious Racer X, before showing an amazing four-minute clip that included some of the footage from the recent trailer but also gave a far clearer picture of the movie’s plot than what’s hinted in previous footage. Essentially, a rich mogul has gotten tired of Speed Racer winning every race and he offers a million dollar bounty to anyone who takes Speed Racer out in the next big race. With such danger all around him, Speed’s Mach 5 is upgraded to the Mach 6 with lots of new devices added to help counter the assassins’ weapons and the extended footage included a lot more flying and spinning cars as well as some of the weapons that Speed Racer will have to face on the track. The extra footage included some more expositional dialogue between Racer X and Speed Racer that hints at their relationship. One of the reasons the film might look so strange at first is that it’s very colorful, but also, the Wachowskis wanted to make a movie where everything was in focus rather than the eye having to determine where to focus its attention. It’s similar to the way Robert Rodriguez brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel Sin City to life, and it’s also the closest that a live action movie can come to recreating the feel of a cartoon.
Before the presentation, ComingSoon.net had a chance to speak exclusively to Silver, Hirsch, Ricci and Fox on the red carpet, where Silver told us about the origins of the project, which is the first movie (officially) directed by the Wachowskis since The Matrix Revolutions in 2003. “The brothers wanted to make a film for their whole family, their nieces and nephews, for all their friends with families, who couldn’t go see the ‘Matrix’ films and they did it,” Silver said enthusiastically. “They made a really big fun family movie that is colorful and exciting and looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before in your life.” Despite that lofty claim, Silver was sure that people will figure out that it’s a Wachowski movie even if it doesn’t look like their previous films.
The extra footage shows more of Christina Ricci, who’s pretty smokin’ hot as Trixie, and she told us how she approached the character. “I’m not a huge cartoon fan. I did watch a few and I appreciate how the brothers were bringing a little bit of the kitsch element into the movie, but basically I was just doing what the brothers wanted me to do, ’cause it’s their film, their interpretation.”
Our main question for Emile Hirsch was how the experience making Speed Racer compared to making a movie like Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, which was mostly shot on location in the Alaska wilderness. “The green screen is like a whole other animal,” he told us. “It’s so much different from climbing mountains in Alaska on ‘Into the Wild.’ It’s like being in a sci-fi rig, nerds everywhere. We were like on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and that was the set. I loved that. People don’t realize that making a movie on green screen is a lot like doing theater, because it’s all make-believe and there’s kind of just a stage. It’s not even like doing theater with production and art in the backdrop. It’s like rehearsing on a blank stage, but I mean, some of the greatest acting ever done has been done on that, so people saying ‘Oh, I can’t act on green screen’, well, they must not do that much theater,” and a after pausing to think about what he just said, “which I don’t. Like I make this point and I prove I’m an idiot at the end of it but are you going to get mad at Mario Andretti because he doesn’t do NASCAR?”
“I haven’t seen too much of it,” Fox admitted when asked what he thought of the film’s look. “I’m really excited to see the four minutes of footage today. I’ve seen rougher versions of it when I was doing some ADR on the film, and while we were shooting, Larry and Andy showed me like 20 minutes of the film, but again, this movie is all the way up until the days right before it opens. They’re going to be working on painting out the 2200 shots in the film. I just can’t wait.”
Silver wasn’t too worried about the amount of work that needed to be done on the film before its release date in less than two months. “I wish I was six weeks from now talking about the finished movie, but I’m hopeful we’ll get there.”
Even though Speed Racer‘s action scenes include many scenes of cool cars zooming around the race track, that doesn’t mean that Fox or Hirsch had to do any driving. “They built a gimbel and they would swap out the cockpits of the car,” Fox explained. “I would always be sitting in the actual cockpit, and then it would be a hydraulically-manipulated gimbel and they could throw you around to replicate the actual sequence that you’re doing within the film. Really, it was amazing as an actor because really what you ended up doing was just reacting to the intensity of what the car was doing, and that made it very easy.”
That’s one of the reasons why Speed Racer’s helmet came in handy, as Hirsch told us. “It was good because the gimbel was kind of hectic, the hydraulic rig, so there was times where I was wondering, ‘Man, I’m glad I have a helmet because if this thing breaks, I’m going to be like feeling it!'”
“There were days when I was bruised my left shoulder would be black and blue and bruised from getting hit into the side of my car,” Fox confirmed. “I think Christina got a little bit sick as well. It was pretty intense.”
“I was the toughest on set,” Ricci disagreed when asked her about Fox’s previous statement. “That’s really what (Matthew) was trying to allude to. The second unit director was doing everyone else’s gimbel work with the remote but then Larry and Andy came in on Saturday to do mine and they really went for it. I’m not a complainer. I always try to be a tough guy, but I really got beat-up and I had to actually get out and vomit at one point and then get back in the thing, but like those kind of things to me are like war wounds.”
Despite the rigors of the shoot, Hirsch and Ricci were both very enthusiastic about replaying the characters in future films if the movie does well enough to become a franchise.
“I think that as long as the Wachowskis keep their hand on it and keep the inspiration like the have it, I think there’s a couple really awesome components to the story to keep going with,” Hirsch admitted. “I’m looking forward to certain other races.”
“I would love to,” Ricci agreed. “I think all of us had such a great time making this movie that when we’re leaving we were like, ‘Larry, Andy, write the second one. We want to come back!’ I loved playing her, she was so much fun and this cast was so much fun to work with, so yeah, I want to make another one.”
Speed Racer opens in IMAX and conventional theaters across the nation on May 9.