Buena Vista Home Video presents
Death Race 2000 (Special Edition) (1975)
"I have also given you the most popular sporting event in the history of mankind—The Transcontinental Road Race, which upholds the American tradition of No Holds Barred!"- Mr. President (Sandy McCallum)
Stars: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Colins, Martin Kove
Other Stars: Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Joyce Jameson, Harriet Medin, Fred Grandy, Carle Bensen, Sandy McCallum, John Landis
Director: Paul Bartel
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, gore, nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:19m:41s
Release Date: 2005-12-13
Genre: black comedy
DVD ReviewNothing gratified the drive-in market of the 1970s like fast cars, gratuitous violence, and a smattering of sex and nudity. Those who came in droves to see Death Race 2000, produced by quickie auteur Roger Corman, certainly weren't disappointed in any of those respects, but they may have been surprised to also get a fair amount of political satire and dark comedy to go with it. The result still holds up extremely well, even though 2000 is now in the past.
In a dystopian then-future Year 2000, the greatest form of entertainment in the fascist United Provinces of America is the Transcontinental Road Race, which pits five cars in a race to cross the country to New LA, amassing varying points for everyone they manage to run over on the way. The key players are Frankenstein (David Carradine), a reassembled racer who has legions of fans; gangsterish Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone); the cowgirl Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov); Nazi from Milwaukee Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins); and narcissistic Nero the Hero. But the racers aren't just in danger from each other; a rebel group led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) seeks to disrupt the race and discredit Mr. President (Sandy McCallum).
From a violence standpoint, the picture doesn't disappoint, with an ever-escalating body count. Although there's a fair amount of blood, it's not a gorefest or too explicit in its mayhem; many of the killings are played for comic effect, making the viewer a co-conspirator by being entertained just like the captive audience. The ingenious scoring system that allows for higher points for children and the elderly has become a part of the vernacular, only one of the significant influences of this rather subversive and bitterly satirical picture.
The politics of the film is intriguing, with a fair amount of prescience in depicting single-party rule, a President in a bubble (although here he actually rules from a foreign country), a tendency to blame the French for everything, and an utterly vacuous and compliant media that focuses primarily on cheerleading for the ironically named Bipartisan Party. Particularly funny is a creepy cross between Howard Cosell and Walter Cronkite, played by Carle Bensen. The satire is fast and furious throughout, with not only the government in the sights, but the ridiculous rebels as well. They're presented as hapless and incompetent, with only the vaguest sense of what they're up to, a set of freedom fighters/terrorists who are themselves subject to authoritarian command by Thomasina Paine.
Director Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul) does a fine job with a tiny budget; there's plenty of clever editing technique and camera work that makes the most of what little budget there is. Even the cheesiest moments (such as a bad matte painting for a futuristic New York) have a certain amount of charm. The performances really carry things too, with David Carradine playing a coolly evil monster, and Stallone having an opportunity to really chew the scenery in a way that he hasn't been able to since stardom. It's a lot of fun from start to finish, and there's still quite a lot to enjoy here, even if the drive-ins are all long gone.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: This film has previously been released at least three times, but always in the full-frame version. The widescreen 1.78:1 framing certainly seems right for the picture, even if it may have been meant for 4:3 drive-in screens. More picture is visible in the 4:3 open matte version, but it looks better in widescreen. Corman even mentions that certain shots are perfectly framed. He does, however, also complain about the color timing on the DVD in one shot, and he's right: it's too red and doesn't match the rest of the scene. The film is quite grainy, but it's well rendered, with a decently high bitrate (and presented on a RSDL disc for plenty of breathing space). The main defect is excessive edge enhancement that leads to heavy ringing on the daylight shots. A few sequences have heavy dirt, apparently printed into the elements. However, the crispness and clarity is a huge improvement over the initial 1998 release of the picture, though I haven't been able to compare it to the other intervening releases.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio is rather tinny, though it was of course meant for 3" speakers so that's pardonable. There's no deep bass, and certain shots have a piercing electronic whistle audible in the background. But on the whole it's pretty clean, without much other extraneous noise or hiss.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Annapolis, Dark Water
1 Feature/Episode commentary by producer Roger Corman and actress Mary Woronov
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:54s
Extras Review: Although there has been a previous "special edition" of this film, that DVD only included a short interview with producer Roger Corman. Things are upgraded substantially here, with a featurette (10m:43s) that includes discussions with Corman and Mary Woronov, among others. Those two are also featured on an informative full-length commentary that is packed with facts, slowed down only somewhat by the fact neither of them had seen the film recently. It's quite worthwhile and includes plenty of background with only some duplication with the featurette. There's also a pan-and-scan trailer that badly crops the compositions. The halting layer change is very badly placed, apparently at random, right in the middle of a fight scene.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsViolence and political satire are the order of the day, and there's hardly a dull moment in this classic. Finally available in widescreen with a full commentary from Corman, this is the version to own.
Mark Zimmer 2005-12-19