Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#12: Speed Racer Stalls

By David Mumpower

January 7, 2009

Poor Speed can't believe the tragedy. No one came to see his movie.

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Some ideas are doomed at their inception. Movie historians will debate whether Speed Racer qualifies under this umbrella. BOP's staff is evenly divided regarding the topic. Some of us believe that under different stewardship, a reincarnation of the classic show from our youth would have done at least as well as The Flintstones ($130 million domestically. The rest of us (and I fall into this category) feel that the original cartoon was just too weird for the average consumer. The manga style and oddities such as a monkey crew member and a hero who likes to rock a scarf 24/7 are just too foreign for most people. The one aspect upon which we all agree is that casting Christina Ricci is always a mistake.

How did Speed Racer wind up to be the catastrophe it became? Assuming it wasn't fatally flawed from the start, the problems may be traced back to the introduction of the Wachowski Brothers to the project. Five years ago, such a comment would have seemed blasphemous, particularly on BOP, but time has been unkind to the men who invented The Matrix. The problems began with the mixed receptions audiences had to The Matrix Reloaded, a movie I consider to be a masterpiece. Alas, a lot of people found that whole dance orgy at Zion disconcerting, and they were never recaptured by the magic of the Keymaker, Monica Bellucci's heaving bosom, or those creepy twins with the inscrutable accents. Sure, audiences showed up to the tune of $281.5 million domestically (and almost $750 million worldwide), but we know from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that selling a ticket is far from the same as pleasing a customer.


As we all know, the real sign that the Wachowskis had slipped came from The Matrix Revolutions. Many trilogy finales fail to reach the heights of previous entries in the series. Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man 3 and Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith are but three recent examples of third films in a saga that failed to match the box office of either the first movie (Spider-Man and Star Wars) or the second (Pirates). Most movies are not like The Fellowship of the Ring: The Return of the King in this respect. But The Matrix Revolutions wasn't even close. It failed to make even half of its immediate predecessor, earning a pathetic $139.2 million compared to Reloaded's $281.6 million. In the eyes of most North American movie goers, the Wachowskis spit the bit in trying to tie up The Matrix. Any line of credit they may have earned with the first film was long gone.

Since the disaster of The Matrix sequels, the Wachowskis had kept a relatively low profile. Part of that was because of the...let's say lifestyle changes of one of them. The rest was that they didn't want to do a movie that was anything less than revolutionary in scope. In the interim since 2003, the brothers kept busy by helping others. First up was V for Vendetta, a high quality comic book adaptation that was a solid performer for their friends at Warner Bros. Its director, James McTeigue, was first assistant director on all three Matrix movies. The Wachowskis produced V for Vendetta with him behind the lens, and the overall project was a $132.5 million worldwide performance against a modest budget of only $50 million. Even better for the team behind The Matrix is that V for Vendetta was universally hailed as a good movie, helping reduce the stink of failure Revolutions had left behind.

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