“SPEED RACER, the
score, is nothing like what I expected, and just about everything I
dared not to hope for. ”
Review by Christopher Coleman
One of the most storied anime series of all-time is SPEED RACER. Beginning
as a Japanese, manga series, MACH GO-GO-GO, in the early sixties, it made
its way to television by the end of the decade, becoming one of the first
anime-sensations in the West. The super-quick dialogue and over-acting (at
least the dubbed acting) have, over the years, become iconic. Since the
early 70s, there have been a number of attempts to reinvent the series,
none of which managed to survive for very long. Fast forward to 2008 and
SPEED RACER is back again and in a big way. First, NickToons will release
an all new animated series, SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION. Second,
SPEED RACER: THE VIDEO GAME is being released by Warner for the Wii
console. Third, The Wachowski Brothers', live-action, SPEED RACER
film comes to the big screen. The wild, almost video-game like footage,
along with the heavy, electronica music used in the film's trailers
certainly lead potential audiences to expect a film tailored for
Generation X-Box...complete with A.D.D.-approved musical score. Yet with
composer MICHAEL GIACCHINO's name attached, there was room left to wonder
about what the final score would actually be.
SPEED RACER, the score, is nothing like what I expected, and just about
everything I dared not to hope for. Ah those tricky, tricky, Wachowski's.
A complete modernization of the franchise was not what they had in mind at
all. It was certainly modernized in terms of the visuals. Being a cross
between DICK TRACY and SPY KIDS, the film felt more like watching an
extended video game cut-scene than a live-action feature. With hyper-real
colors, disconcerting editing and non-stop screen wipes, the film found at
least some grounding in MICHAEL GIACCHINO's predominantly acoustic score.
Thankfully, for this SPEED RACER revival, Giacchino pays due homage to
NOBUYOSHI KOSHIBE's original themes from the 1960's television series,
delivering a full-throttled, retro-score.
Varese Sarabande's soundtrack release covers most of the important cues of
the film, but a few moments from the beginning of the film, showing Speed
Racer as a young boy, have been sadly left out. One of the first moments,
where the Wachowski' Brothers establish their video-game-like style, takes
place as Speed imagines himself racing, flying through a tube of more
swirling colors than you can throw a box of crayons at. During this brief
episode, Giacchino gives us the most familiar quote of Koshibe's original
Speed Racer theme in the film and while segments of the theme are quoted
throughout, it's a pity this short piece was left off. Another tender
moment that didn't make it's way on to the score was a nice piece played
with young Speed and older brother Rex Racer, sat together in the Mach 5.
Finally, of note, there was a cue featuring a bit of Far East
instrumentation left off, which played over characters Taejo and Horuko
Togokhan and would have added one more slice of variety to the soundtrack.
Well, enough about what is not there...
There remains plenty of music well worth listening to on this 60+ minute
release. For long-time fans, the best moments of the score will likely be
whenever bits of the original theme are heard...and there are quite a few
of them. Back in the original TV series, Koshibe would keenly utilize
smaller segments from the overall Speed Racer theme; often repeating the
4-note, Mach Go-Go-Go (or Go Speed Racer) motif or the 3-note,
here-he-comes segment as a fanfare. Forty years later, MICHAEL
GIACCHINO stays true to that technique...and it still works. Track 1, "I
Am Speed" starts things off with a subtle introduction of the
here-he-comes motif. Giacchino most often quotes the the
mach-go-go-go-motif, almost imperceptivity at times, as in "Thunderhead"
(3). In "Racing is in Our Blood" (7) we get the main melody of the
original theme played slowly yet emotionally on strings. In "Casa Cristo"
(9), one of the best tracks of the release, we hear the mach-go-go-go
motif employed in true Koshibe-style: briefly but strongly performed on
low brass and then bright strings. Track 14, "Go Speed Go" gives the most
triumphant quote of the mach-go-go-go-motif, but is unfortunately
short-lived. In "32 Hours," as the family builds the Mach 6 for the Grand
Prix, we have one of the best pieces of the score; making good use of the
various Speed-motifs throughout. Suffice it to say, while there are
some musical staples of the original series that didn't make it into this
score, Nobuyoshi Koshibe's original theme and even his style is well
Now, there is more to this SPEED RACER than Koshibe's theme. Composer
MICHAEL GIACCHINO proves his versatility and talent once again. I have to
restate how different this movie feels because it features this sort of
score as opposed to the electronic-avalanche I had anticipated.
(Those looking for that hard-core, electronica will find it, in abundance,
in Winifred Phillips' score for the tie-in video game). Aside from
introducing a handful of his own motifs. Giacchino masterfully infuses pop
and jazz elements of the 60s (vintage electric guitars, acoustic drums,
bass, marimba, congas) in tracks such as "Thunderhead" (2), "World's Worst
Road Rage" (6), and "Bumper to Bumper. Rail to Rail" (12). You might be
surprised by Giacchino's use of vocals in tracks such as "Tragic Story of
Rex Racer" (4) and "The Maltese Ice Cave" (13) where it appears Rex
Racer/Racer X is being represented by the subtly exotic, Lisbeth-Scott-like
vocals. The film concludes in rousing fashion with "Let Us Drink Milk"
(19), which offers an over-the-top-choral finale. "Speed Racer" (20)
echoes the closing title theme from TV show as well with the lead being
played on brass and guitar - and with vocal samples from both the American
version and the Japanese Mach GoGoGo version. This track would have
been much better to launch the end credits with as opposed to the 2008
version of "Go Speed Racer Go" performed by Ali Dee and the Deekompressors.
Perhaps SPEED RACER shines brightest when Michael Giacchino get's to score
the heart of this film - the racing sequences. Both "Casa Cristo" and
"Grand Prix are among the longest and most intriguing of the lot.
Sadly - there were many things wrong with this SPEED RACER, but Michael
Giacchino's score is not among them. It is a very uneven, movie
experience, never clearly defining just what sort of movie it is trying to
be. While there are some musical commonalities between Don Davis' score
and Giacchino's, this film fails to define a new genre as The Matrix did
back in 1999. That said, despite delivering a
far-from-first-place-film, due credit has to be given to the Wachowski
Brothers for paying their respects to the original series with countless
references that include: The Mammoth Car, the GRX, and Snake Oiler.
Further, they deserve a kudo or two for bringing on MICHAEL GIACCHINO to
help ground this surreal experience with a "real" score. As I like to say,
"You can't green-screen good music." The score for SPEED RACER is
certainly on the same plane as some of Giacchino's other recent (and
successful) projects like: THE INCREDIBLES, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3 and
RATATOUILLE. Remaining fairly faithful to the original score from the
TV-series, MICHAEL GIACCHION is still able to inject his own sense of
retro-flair that makes SPEED RACER one score you might consider racing out
I Am Speed
||World's Worst Road Rage
||Racing's in Our Blood
||True Heart of Racing
||End of the First Leg
||Taejo Turns Trixie
||Bumper to Bumper, Rail to Rail
||The Maltese Ice Cave
||Go Speed, Go!
||He Ain't Heavy
||Grand Ol' Prix
||Let Us Drink Milk
||Total Running Time (approx)