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Roger Donaldson’s original 1971 documentary Offerings to the God of Speed about Burt Munro
“Southland: Burt’s Hometown of Invercargill” featurette
“The Making of The World’s Fastest Indian” featurette
“Anthony Hopkins stars as Burt Munro, a man who never let the dreams of youth fade.
After a lifetime of perfecting his classic Indian motorcycle, Burt set off from the bottom of the world to test his bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. With all odds against him, he set a new speed record and captured the spirit of his times. Burt Munro’s legend lives on today.”
The World’s Fastest Indian is rated PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference.
Told in three distinct acts, the film begins in Munro’s native environment of Invercargill, New Zealand, where he spends most of his time in his garage-like home working on his vintage motorbike, even smelting his own pistons to make it as fast as possible. This opening half hour does a fine job setting up the late ’60s time period and introducing us to this eccentric personality. Like Geoffrey Rush’s David Helfgott in “Shine” or Billy Bob Thornton in “Sling Blade,” Burt is a strange character with a gruff exterior, and the boy next door is fascinated by his work. Burt’s fairly charming and loveable, and the acclaim he has achieved in his hometown has won him many fans and friends willing to help him achieve his lifelong dream of trying to set a land speed record with his bike at Utah’s legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, a vast dried-out lake bed that stretches for miles in every direction, making it the perfect setting for high speed racing.
After a long ocean journey, Burt arrives in America, and the film dramatically changes into a typical fish-out-of-water comedy with Burt meeting all sorts of strange L.A. characters, like a kindly transvestite and a used car salesman, played by Paul Rodriguez, who offers Burt a shop in exchange for his mechanical services. Once Burt hits the road to Utah, he meets an even wider array of Americans–a lonely window, a real-life Indian and even a hitchhiking soldier on leave from Vietnam–all of whom offer their help or company on Burt’s journey. This section of the film meanders a bit, since these encounters don’t do very much to move Burt’s story forward, particularly the soldier, who seems to have been included more as a statement against war.
Fortunately, things get back on track when Burt finally arrives at Bonneville, and the movie finally hits its stride. It’s pretty obvious that Burt’s earlier road trip encounters should have been trimmed or saved for the DVD to get to this point sooner. Burt’s attempt at a record almost doesn’t happen because he never registered to race, but he makes the most of the situation, building a fan club of supporters in the process. There may be a bit too much unnecessary melodrama in this section, between Burt’s problems with the judges and his escalating heart problems, but it builds to the film’s amazing climactic run with Burt riding his jury-rigged motorbike at upwards of 200 miles-per-hour. Although it’s hard to believe that Hopkins is ever really riding a motorbike, it’s hard not to be swept up by the huge adrenaline rush in those high-speed scenes.
Burt Munro may be Anthony Hopkins’ most instantly lovable character to date, even if it isn’t nearly as deep or complex a character as some of his past roles. Watching Burt deal with different situations and the people he meets is what makes the film such a wonderful change of pace, because Burt never gives up or lets things get to him. Everything Burt says or does is worth at least a chuckle, if not a hearty laugh, due to Hopkins’ note-perfect comic delivery. Despite an enormous supporting cast, none of them are ever able to get out from under Hopkins’ shadow, which is probably how it should be.
Wisely, Donaldson uses old-fashioned storytelling and filmmaking techniques to tell Burt’s story, and it’s really nice to see a biodrama that remains light and cheerful, rather than resorting to the dark and dreary drama that tends to be the norm. The attempts to stay true to the film’s late ’60s period sometimes falters, especially in the end where only a few costumes differentiate it from the modern day, but that aside, it’s commendable that Donaldson, like Burt, was finally able to achieve this lifelong dream and he’s made a truly entertaining film in the bargain.
Overall, “The World’s Fastest Indian” is a sweet and uplifting Kiwi-centric story, and Anthony Hopkins’ wonderful performance makes Burt Munro’s amazing journey one that should appeal to anyone looking for the type of simpler storytelling that has been sorely missing from today’s movies.
Commentary by: director Roger Donaldson Donaldson talks a lot about the real life Munro, how the movie got made, his relationship with Hopkins, and more. This is also the only place you’ll hear about the death of Munro in 1978. It’s a quite informative commentary though it would have been fun to hear Hopkins’ thoughts on the film.
Roger Donaldson’s original 1971 documentary Offerings to the God of Speed about Burt Munro This is definitely the highlight of the bonus features. It is the original documentary that inspired the film. You see the real Burt Munro racing his motorcycle, chatting about cycling, and philosophizing about life. You see a lot more of his family in this documentary, too. The movie makes it seem like he’s all alone. In any case, it’s great to see the real life man. You also see that a lot of the dialogue from the film came from this documentary.
“Southland: Burt’s Hometown of Invercargill” featurette This is a short tourism video showing the sights of New Zealand.
“The Making of The World’s Fastest Indian” featurette This is a quite long “making of” featurette. It’s around 45 minutes long. They discuss the director, the real Burt Munro, and each cast member is extensively interviewed.
Deleted scenes There are four deleted scenes and none of them were very major. One shows Burt breaking down in the middle of the road and flagging down a truck for help. The second scene shows Burt swiping some fuel from the competition to save gas money. Another scene features Munro advising Tina against a sex change operation. The final deleted scene shows Burt at a hospital in the US being treated for his heart condition.