BluRay/DVD Reviews

GRAND PRIX

By • Jun 23rd, 2011 •

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John Frankenheimer certainly knew his way around an action sequence. With GRAND PRIX, his first film in color oddly enough, he pushed his cast and crew to the limits for realism in the film’s three incredible racing sequences. They’re the best ever put on film, period. Many of the actors are doing their own racing, and there’s absolutely no process photography or overcranking. All of this is helped along by Saul Bass’ ingenious montages that extensively use split-screen and include narration by the actors as their characters, talking about their pasts and why they race. It’s truly remarkable filmmaking, and the sequences have been immeasurably influential. The camera placement, cutaways to pre-recorded commentary and interviews with the athletes, car-mounted cameras to get us up close to the action, helicopter shots, etc. are all staples of live televised sports.

As soon as it moves away from the racetrack however, GRAND PRIX becomes an exercise in boredom. Two-thirds of the film’s three-hour runtime is devoted to plodding dramatic scenes that serve no purpose other than to pad the film to absolutely absurd overlength, and the plot is always straightforward and predictable. When you compare it to Frankenheimer’s previous films SECONDS and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, which relied on expertly composed and suspenseful dialogue scenes, as well as unbeatable pacing, it’s absolutely baffling how he turned in something this tepid and uninvolving. Talented actors like James Garner and Eva Marie Saint don’t make the material come alive either. Toshiro Mifune (whose voice is dubbed by an unbilled Paul Frees) is similarly underutilized as the head of a Japanese racing company that wants Garner as a sponsor. If you want to see Mifune in a good non-Japanese production check out HELL IN THE PACIFIC. One bit of notable casting however, is a young Jessica Walter, who later played the matriarch of the Bluth family in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, and is now doing voiceover work for the excellent ARCHER (in fact, during one episode of ARCHER, set at the Monaco grand prix, she states, “This isn’t my first grand prix you know”).

Regardless of the mixed quality of the film itself, this is a reference-quality presentation. The 70mm-to-hi-def transfer is like looking out a window, and the audio furthers the you-are-there feeling. The supplements, ported from the 2006 DVD, are an interesting mix of modern retrospectives and vintage promotional material.

GRAND PRIX has never been considered a ‘great’ film, but it has an hour of absolutely great spectacle. If you fast-forward through the glacially-paced dialogue and go straight to the racing sequences, it’s a remarkable (and short) viewing experience. If you can find it cheap, Warner’s Blu-Ray is excellent, and anyone looking to get the most out of their Blu-Ray player should certainly pick it up.

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