Andrew Lydon

Talking Pictures alias






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Stallone ready to be Driven.There is a cinematic rule that whenever someone wants to make a motor racing movie it will be a dud. Racing fans notice all the inaccuracies, whilst the general viewer is left cold by the loving shots of hot metal roaring around and around.

To please everyone the action on track is usually mixed with love stories and the traumas outside the cars. In recent years Sylvester Stallone tried to make an exciting racing movie with Driven but it was a poor Rocky meets Days of Thunder that was full of implausible racing sequences that upset genuine fans.

Away from the track The Fast and the Furious has young street racers linked to crime, but it is all flash and lip gloss - compare it with the real angst of the youngsters in Rebel Without A Cause who duel by motor vehicle for honour and peer group status rather than for hard cash. 

Often the most successful motor racing or car sequences appear in films that don’t have them as their main subject. Look at The Italian Job, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bullett, Terminator II or Diamonds Are Forever for such sequences that have a relevance and purpose to the basic narrative, not just for the sake of showing speeding internal combustion engines. 

Perhaps one day someone will make THE motor racing movie. Certainly I’d like to see one based on Formula One but I suspect the pressures and restraints on film producers makes this very unlikely. While we are waiting a good remedy is to see the new IMAX movie about NASCAR racing, that was given its European premiere in Birmingham on 24 March 2005. Andrew Lydon, who is not a racing car fan, went to see it and was suitably impressed. Here is his report:


150,000 screaming fans.....

3,400 pounds of rumbling metal.....

750 horsepower surging through the engine.....

One green flag, ready to drop for high speed action....

Stock car racing has never been big in Britain. But a new IMAX film now beginning to appear on the IMAX circuit is intended to change all that. Like many in this country, I came to see stock car racing as a form of ‘banger’ racing. But this new film shows how the American parent sport - which is known there as NASCAR ( the SC being ‘stock car’) - is a million miles from that. And that is what this new film definitely manages to put over.

Motor sport films might be assumed to be very spectacular. But this is often very far from the case. From the start they are confronted by the problem that if the camera does not move, the action just whizzes past. If instead, the camera moves, the car can end up a pretty static central- image, with the speed conveyed by how the background blurs so that we ‘feel’ rather than see it shooting past.  So reliance on close ups and fast editing plays just as big a part in conveying ‘action’, as it does in any action film. 
This despite the sport being assumed to be a spectacle in itself.

This is where the IMAX format changes a lot. What stays with the viewer after watching this new film are not really the action sequences, of which there are not too many. The deep focus 3-D images of the NASCAR event, and the action-off are what are really memorable. The huge vistas of the stadiums. The acres of camper vans accommodating the fans that must spend days at these events are really eye opening. Some of the most impressive images are the 3-D images of the pit crews changing tyres, filling  tanks and even beating out dents that might effect the car’s performance.

The large screen 3-D format - projected on a screen 5 storeys high and 4,500 times bigger than your TV set - gives the sense of the vehicle that flat images cannot. Racing cars are built by their teams and are assembled and dismantled on a daily basis and the NASCAR film brings this across very well. Many viewers will probably never have had any idea of the work going on behind the scenes in assembling cars, carting them round in huge trucks. Looking after spare engines. Pit crews doing weight training. Rehearsing the pit stops that are like conjuring displays in as much as you feel you must be missing something.

It is in the wider views of the cars all bunched together from a track-side vantage point  where the big 12000 watts of digital surround sound  that IMAX can deliver really impresses. Through sound and vibration you get the feeling of standing dangerously close to an express train hurtling past. The suggestion of a slipstream vacuum is certainly achieved.

This film could become a regular part of the IMAX repertoire. Those whose sense of motor sport has been fostered by TV images and computer games would certainly see something they had not experienced before. The film is sponsored by Rockingham racetrack, which is the home of NASCAR in the UK. It 
has probably not been a bad strategy on their part. An IMAX film has an ability to introduce an undiscovered sport in a way that even the limited TV exposure it has so afar had, cannot do. However, its strategic weakness is that it is dependent on the lively growth of IMAX.

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