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ARTISAN

MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
Now, for the first time ever, the first eleven episodes of this classic, hugely popular "Japanimation" series are brought together in this special limited edition DVD. Turbo-charged with all of Speed Racer's trademark animated thrills, offbeat humor, unforgettable characters and cliff-hanger action, these collectible, specially rematsered episodes are the stuff of every fan's dreams. So fasten your seatbelts-and join Speed, girlfriend Trixie, Speed's two brothers, one mischievous monkey and an outrageous assortment of villains for one fast-lane, no-brakes, nonstop adventure after another! Ready...Set...Go, Speed Racer, Go!

Creator:
Tatsuo Yoshida
Cast:
Various
Writing Credits:
Various

MPAA:
Not Rated.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Digital Mono
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $22.98
Release Date: 4/22/2003

Bonus:
• Production Notes
• Theme Song Sing-Along
• Villains Gallery
• Interactive Mach-5 Control Demonstrations


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EQUIPMENT
TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.

RELATED REVIEWS


Speed Racer: Collector's Edition (1967)

Reviewed by David Williams (May 8, 2003)

I can remember being a 6 to 7-year-old boy (1976 – 1977) sitting cross-legged in my parents’ darkened living room in New Orleans every morning before school. Between 6 and 7AM, I would start my morning with old black-and-white episodes of The Lone Ranger and that would be followed by episodes of the show I’m here to discuss, Speed Racer. Little did I know that I was becoming indoctrinated to Japanese “Anime” in its earliest form. While Speed Racer looks quite simplistic looking back on it now – and the style has definitely evolved into something much more impressive – even back then, the show and its style of animation were on the cutting edge. The show was ahead of its time in many ways, with the emphasis on animation “tricks” used to indicate fast and furious speeds. The show also employed 360-degree rotations around objects and people and it even used wide and expansive overhead shots during many of the races … things not often seen in other animated shows of the day. Even as a young kid, I could tell that Speed Racer and “anime” had its own distinctive look – its own feel – and even back then, I could discern the glaring differences between a show like Speed Racer and any other “Americanized” cartoon I would watch.

The show became firmly entrenched in American pop culture and for the uninitiated, Speed Racer deals with a young 18-year-old by the name of … well … Speed Racer. His father, Pops Racer, has built him one of the fastest, most technologically advanced cars on the planet, the Mach 5. The Mach 5 is also equipped with all kinds of crazy gadgets that pretty much allow Speed to race on any terrain, any time (dense forests, under water, etc). With the Mach 5 ready to roll, Speed - along with Pops, his girlfriend Trixie, his young brother Spritle, his friend and master mechanic Sparkie, and their pet monkey Chim-Chim - enter these really dangerous races that take place all over the world. Speed wants the chance to prove that he’s one of the best racecar drivers around by competing with the best of the best. It also doesn’t hurt that according to the universe Speed Racer lives and works in, racing seems to be the sporting event to be involved with.

However, something bad always seems to happen at one of these races and the baddies are always on the prowl. They usually have their hand in some sort of dastardly deed and they seem to have infiltrated the racing community like the Mafia has gambling. Somehow, Speed always finds out about the plot and gets involved in making things right again … always coming out on top and saving the day … and not to mention, winning the race too.

The show is more nostalgia and camp than anything else as going back and watching it now, you see that the dubs are questionable at best (and I’m not taking anything away from the hard work that Peter Fernandez and crew did), the storylines are cheesy, the physics of the car are ridiculously comical, and the ability to walk away from some of the crashes and pileups seen borders on hilarious. An episode synopsis of the show would really be a waste of time, as the vast majority of the eps all follow the same storyline which has Speed and company enter some sort of crazy race, only to have some sort of bad luck and/or evil befall them in the form of some mastermind criminal. Speed ends up uncovering the plot, solving the crime in question, and becoming a hero in the process. More or less, that’s the plot for every single show.

The episodes included on Artisan’s one disc set are as follows - The Great Plan (Two Part Episode), Challenge of the Masked Racer (Two Part Episode), The Secret Engine (Two Part Episode), The Race Against the Mammoth Car (Two Part Episode), and The Most Dangerous Race (Three Part Episode). The episodes are presented in their entirety, although there is not necessarily any sort of running thread between all eleven episodes presented on the disc outside of the two or three-part storyline.

The fact that the show is still popular after all these years is a testament to Tatsunoko Productions (the Japanese company responsible for the show) and their American counterparts that worked so hard (and on such short time tables) to bring the show to American audiences back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The show definitely made an impact on me as a young child and watching episodes of Speed Racer before heading off to school is still vividly etched in my mind’s eye. Heck, having not seen to show for some 26 or 27 years, I could still sing the theme song right along with the best of ‘em when I popped the disc into my player the other night. And while the show hasn’t aged particularly well for me, there are legions upon legions of fans who are thrilled to death that Artisan has brought this nostalgic show to DVD and they have every right to be excited. The episodes included here are a great start and Artisan has given fanboys a nice taste of things to come.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio C+ / Bonus C+

Artisan presents Speed Racer in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 and the image doesn’t seem to have improved much with age. While I’m not sure whether or not Artisan went to any trouble restoring the picture, it doesn’t really look like they did and considering the rather small audience for the DVD, it was probably the best decision they could have made, as I doubt too many folks are clamoring for perfectly restored Speed Racer episodes.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the transfer, as it is as colorful as any other cartoon you’ve seen on a Saturday morning. While not as flashy as cartoons that have come out in the past decade or so, the hues found in Speed Racer are still somewhat bright and vibrant. The transfer displayed a good amount of print flaws in the form of scratches, dirt, flakes, and flecks, but that was to be expected and fans of the show won’t find themselves distracted in the least. I noted a few jaggies on occasion, but they were probably as much a manifestation of the rough animation used, as they were actually related to the transfer. Flaws such as edge enhancement and compression artifacting were never noted at any time across all 11 episodes.

Artisan doesn’t seem to have done much other than transfer the episodes from whatever master they existed on and moved them straight to DVD. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it adds somewhat to the “old school-ness” of the show and those familiar with it probably won’t care anyway. The transfer is fitting for the material at hand and the show is definitely in no worse shape than you remember.

Artisan has given Speed Racer a Dolby Digital Monaural audio transfer that isn’t really a huge improvement over what I heard years ago in front of my parents’ old, single-speaker television Monday-Friday mornings living in New Orleans.

The show is severely limited by it source material and is given a very, very restricted soundstage to work in. The roaring engines sound flat – squealing tires sound thin – and crashes don’t emit much more than a dull thud. However, considering it’s mono and considering it’s over 30+ years old, I doubt those of you familiar with the show expected much more. Dialogue was easily understood throughout the all of the episodes and there were only a few occasions were background hisses or pops could be heard. These issues were not overly distracting and were almost expected given the age of the series.

Artisan has included no subtitles or alternate language tracks to supplement Speed Racer.

While Artisan has failed to include anything substantive in the extras department, I’ve got to hand it to ‘em for their innovative slipcase cover for the set. By now, most of you know that the front of the DVD slipcase is made of real tire rubber – tire tracks embedded in it and all. There’s also a very colorful picture of Speed Racer etched into the front cover that looks quite striking as well. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it and it is definitely one of the more impressive uses of a slipcase I’ve seen in quite some time. The DVD contains a nice four-page Insert Booklet that gives us some good information on the original translation of the Japanese theme song, as well as some information about the episodes featured on the disc.

Now on to our extras – with the vast majority of them being text-based – and starting with Production. Broken down into four sub-selections, we learn a little bit about the show and how it found its way to American shores. Under “Tatsunoko Productions” (5 pages), we learn about the Japanese animation house of the same name, how it was founded, and a little bit about their early work. “US Translation” (3 pages) fills us in on how Peter Fernandez (translator/writer/voice actor) had three days to work up a translated script and then only one day to do the American voice dubs! Next up is “Theme Song” (3 pages) and here we learn that the militaristic version of the Japanese song had to be shortened (to allow for commercials) and jazzed up a bit for American audiences. “US Cast” (4-5 pages per actor) is next and gives us some biographical information on Peter Fernandez, Corrinne Orr, Jack Grimes and Jack Curtis. Good information for sure, but a featurette … or more information … would have been nice.

Mach 5 is next and is an interactive tour of all of the gizmos and gadgets included on the car. Using the steering wheel as our focal point, we are given the same selections Speed Racer is when he needs to activate one of them. Once we make our selection and press –ENTER-, we see a sketch/diagram of the gadget and are given the option to view a clip from the series showing off the particular gadget’s capability. In order, the selections are “A” (Auto Jacks), “B” (Grip Tires), “C” (Rotary Saws), “D” (Deflector), “E” (Illumination), “F” (Oxygen and Periscope), and “G” (Homing Robot).

A Villains’ Gallery is next and includes quick biographical sketches on “Ace Ducey”, “Mr. Fixer”, “Tongue Blaggard”, “Cruncher Block”, “Captain Terror”, “Mr. Van Ruffle”, “Mr. Wiley” and “Snake Oiler”. Each character sketch also includes the option to view a clip from an episode in which they were featured.

Last up is Speed Lives On! and here we can check out “Sequels and Spin Offs” which includes a clip from the 1993 series, ‘The New Adventures of Speed Racer’, as well as a text-based description of a Volkswagen commercial from 1996. Also, under “Speed Merchandise”, we see various products from the Speed Racer line including a Mach 5 die-cast car, a tissue holder, a racing set, a teddy bear, and a lunchbox. Woo Hoo …

Not much here and it’s unfortunate that the vast majority of it is text only. While there are some decent little tidbits gleaned from the few supplements that are included, hardcore fans of the show will find themselves hugely disappointed by what isn’t here.

I enjoyed the show as a 5 and 6-year-old kid, but sadly, that didn’t translate to me enjoying the series on DVD. However, Speed Racer does have quite a following and I’m sure there are quite a few people excited about its release on DVD.

The show looks and sounds exactly as it did 30+ years ago and the lack of any substantive supplements makes this a hard set to recommend to anyone other than hardcore fans of the show. I would highly suggest that this set not be purchased sight unseen by anyone unfamiliar with the show, although those who are familiar with it and enjoyed it should appreciate Artisan’s hard work.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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