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Warner Home Video presents
"I think, if any of us imagined, really imagined, what it would be like to go into a tree at 150 miles an hour, we would probably never get into cars at all. None of us. So it has always seemed to me that to do something very dangerous requires a certain absence of imagination."
DVD ReviewAlthough somewhat eclipsed in popularity by NASCAR, for years Formula One racing was the preeminent motor sport. The glamour of exceedingly high speeds and the somewhat daredevil nature of the drivers were a part of it, and John Frankenheimer's epic Cinerama presentation of their lives and loves probably didn't hurt one bit. Filmed in the days before safety equipment was standard (or even much of a consideration), Grand Prix takes a previously-unseen "you are there" approach to put you in the cockpit of the racers' cars, combined with virtuoso visual technique that has seldom been equalled since.
The film follows the lives of four racers as they pursue the 1966 World Championship. Teammates Pete Aron (James Garner) and tormented aristocrat Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) erupt into dissonance after a mechanical failure in Aron's car leads to a crippling wreck for Stoddard. Matters aren't helped any by Stoddard's wife Pat (Jessica Walter) dumping Scott to take up with Aron. Veteran racer Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) is starting to feel the effects of age and is considering retirement, when he falls in love with journalist Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint), and finds a new vigor in his sport. Ferrari driver Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabàto) enjoys his success as the season unwinds, especially in the company of groupie Lisa (Françoise Hardy). Also in the picture is Japanese industrialist Izo Yamura (Toshio Mifune), who brings Aron into his fold as a driver after the teaming with Stoddard falls apart. Before long, a recuperating Scott has Peter in his sights as they struggle for the cup.
One of the most striking aspects of this picture is its heavy use of split-screen photography during the racing sequences. These are used in several different ways, providing a kaleidoscopic view of many different subjects, or allowing one visual to comment upon another, or to include numerous repeated images, sometimes cascading into ever smaller fragments. The rhythmic cutting provides a heady energy to the racing segments as well. With cameras mounted directly on the cars, the curves approach at a ferocious 180-mph rate, and the viewer feels every bump in the track. Famed designer Saul Bass had input into the racing shots, and his touch is quite evident in the amazing artistry with which they unfold. Each of the half-dozen races is quite distinctive, with a very different approach to each, both visually and aurally. These sequences make the film legendary and still hold up exceedingly well today.
On the other hand, the linking sequences that provide the actual story tend to be hamhanded melodrama, with little compelling about them. Characters couple and uncouple in a variety of ways, but none of them feel particularly well-motivated. The performances help sell the picture, however, with Yves Montand (previously seen driving nitroglycerin in The Wages of Fear) a particular standout. When he loses control in one race, accidentally killing two young spectators, his grief is palpable. He also manages to get most of the best lines, which doesn't hurt his case. James Garner is a bit out of his league and has little to offer beyond being James Garner and actually having a talent for driving. Saint is fairly colorless, in sharp contrast to Jessica Walter, who takes her part and rips through it with sharpened teeth and claws. She could probably give Joan Collins a run for her money in this kind of role. Although one can clearly tell that Bedford's character was intended to be sympathetic, his portrayal seems far too aloof to involve the audience. Newcomer Françoise Hardy doesn't get much to do except look underfed and waifish, though she does get one great moment with Sabàto as he is attempting to make time with her. Mifune really gets the short end of the stick, his performance largely redubbed in pidgin English by an uncredited but nonetheless distinctive Paul Frees.
Despite the shortcomings of the romantic plots, Grand Prix is still a standout for its innovative visuals and the sheer excitement of the racing sequences. Even if you're not particularly interested in Formula One, it's difficult not to become involved in the spectacle. As such, it's still highly recommended. This edition is complete with the Overture, Intermission and Entr'Acte; if there was originally Exit Music, it's not presented here.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: There's very little at all to complain about in the HD transfer on this disc. There's a bit of ghosting on the black lines that make the split screens, but that may be the result of primitive optical printing technology rather than a flaw in the transfer. Color is bright and vivid and detail is extremely sharp. Textures come across beautifully, heightening the contrast between fabrics and the glossy finish of the cars themselves. Shdow detail is also excellent. The source print is close to flawless; I noted one minor speckle in nearly three hours of running time. A few shots that seem to be stock footage, or possibly filmed with an extremely long lens, are a little soft, but this is a very filmlike presentation. If you couldn't see it in Cinerama, this is the next best thing.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: A 5.1 DD+ remix is included, and it offers nice directionality that is quite thoughtful. As cars bank, the sound subtly shifts direction, volume and tone. When they go through tunnels, the surrounds come to life with vibration and echo. Low bass is rather lacking, but that's most likely a limitation of the original elements. During the non-racing portions of the film, hiss is fairly prominent. However, it is much, much better than the mono French and Spanish mixes, both of which sound muddy and rather unpleasant.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 45 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The same copious extras that fill the standard two-disc special edition DVD are included here (though the entire thing fits on a single disc in this version). None of the extras are in HD. Foremost is Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix (29m:06s), which like most of the other bonus material is in anamorphic widescreen. It's a thorough look at the film's creation, from Frankenheimer's youthful interest in racing, centering on his attention to detail and documentary approach to the reces. The actors are revealed to have done their own driving (except for Bedford), heightening the realism even further. Period interview footage is combined with current materials (plus a 1998 interview with Frankenheimer, who died too young in 2002). It's excellent and well worth watching.
The other materials are more focused on particular aspects of the film or racing. Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties (17m:25s) is a pretty straightforward look at the Formula One scene before it became highly commercialized, with some of the leading practitioners (many of whom appear in the film) reminiscing about that period. The Style and Sound of Speed (11m:40s) gives credit to Bass and sound effects editor Gordon Daniels, who contributed so much to what makes the feature memorable. Brands Hatch: Behind the Checkered Flag provides a guided tour of the quirks of the Brands Hatch raceway in England, where one of the featured races takes place. Finally, Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions (12m:14s) is a vintage full-frame making-of that leans heavily towards hype but also contains a fair amount of interesting behind-the-scenes material. The package is wrapped up with the lengthy theatrical trailer and a safe driving promo courtesty of the Speed Channel.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsHD does justice to the striking visuals, and the extras are here in abundance. Highly recommended, so long as one doesn't expect too much out of the rather flimsy storyline.
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