10 May 2011

Indulgences from TBS (both of them)

Things I should totally hate, but didn't:

Three years ago, in the head offices of Warner Brothers, some people were celebrating the brilliant scheme they had just devised to draw viewers away from Iron Man.  It wouldn't just be an action movie, it would be a live-action version of Speed Racer -- yes, that silly 1967 anime.  Better yet, it would be directed by the Wachowski boys, who would fill the frames with enough CGI effects to rival Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  How, wondered these WB marketing whizzes to themselves could this plan to beat Iron Man possibly fail?

Um, because no one wanted to watch a Speed Racer flick that looked like a Sky Captain ripoff?  As someone who loved the original anime as a kid, I might have been in the target audience; but even I wanted no part of this.  Not unless someone else was willing to pay for the ticket, the overpriced concession food and the small military unit to drag me away from the screens that were showing Iron Man.  Helloooo, $30 million dollar loss.

Fast forward to this weekend.  I never developed the desire to fork over cash to even rent the Speed Racer DVD, but the movie was airing on basic-cable TBS, good ol' Turner Broadcasting System.  That's not costing anyone any extra, so why not give it a try?

As it turned out, the movie did have its positives.  The casting, especially of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon as Speed Racer's parents, worked nicely.  Corinne Orr, who voiced Trixie in the U.S. dub of the original anime, made an amusing cameo as one of the dozens of race-car announcers, as did real-life play-by-play man AndrĂ©s Cantor.  [Sadly, no shouts of goooooooooooolllllllll!.]

Generally, the movie's tone stayed faithful to the anime -- but that turned out to be its biggest problem.  Snake Oiler, the Monster Car, Inspector Detector and several new-for-the-movie antagonists would each have been worth two or three anime episodes, but the Wachowskis packed them all into a 135-minute flick.  Even without the annoying visuals, it was literally too much for even composer Michael Giacchino, normally a terrific film scorer, to handle.  Hell, Richard Wagner couldn't have scored this mess.

On balance, I didn't like Speed Racer, and I can't recommend it, but nor did I hate it.  I did change the channel at one point, to catch the season premiere of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1.  That's 15 minutes of my life that I did, in fact, get back.

Also snaring my attention during a recent channel-surfing sesson:  a Ninja Warrior marathon on G4.  I don't like extreme sports, even though real athletes play them.  And unlike the Speed Racer movie, I refuse to watch embarrassing obstacle-course shows like Wipeout, even on free TV.  The Japanese TBS, the Tokyo Broadcasting System, combined these in 1997 into a biannual special called Sasuke.  The original episodes are three-hour TV affairs in the homeland, but here in the U.S., G4 parcels them out in half-hour episodes of Ninja Warrior.

Ninja Warrior works mainly because the four-part obstacle course is genuine.  Of 100 contestants, maybe ten even reach Stage 2, and they are, to a man, genuine athletes.  [Some are even Olympic athletes.]  If even five of those survivors make it to Stage 3, it's an accomplishment.  Some tournaments don't even bother with Stage 4, because there's no one left to try it.  Every tournament has its pretenders, including Japanese celebrities; but even they are a cut above the poor fools who get humiliated on the likes of Wipeout.  If you want to avoid them, fine; just tune in five minutes late.  I didn't expect to find Ninja Warrior compelling, but now I have something to watch on G4.

New episodes are airing, and that actually sucks.  I'm going to have to choose every Friday between this and new episodes of Discovery Channel's Dual Survival.  Nuts!

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