In this edition of The silver liningwe will discuss Paul W.S. Andersonthe 2008 remake, death race!
Freely inspired by the short story by Ib Melchior The runnerby Paul Bartel death race 2000 is remembered as a groundbreaking B-movie that entertained audiences with fun, schlocky satire despite a shoestring budget and faulty cars. Starring David Carradine and featuring a first appearance by the legendary Sylvester Stallone, the 1975 film follows the masked “Frankenstein” as he embarks on a transcontinental road race intended to entertain a dystopian society with vehicular violence. With colorful characters and biting social commentary, the film became one of the most influential genre films of its time, inspiring comic books, video games, and even other films for many years to come.
Which is why it’s surprising that it took studios so long to revisit the franchise, even if it wasn’t for lack of trying. After decades of false starts and aborted reboots, with variants of the project even featuring Tom Cruise as both producer and leading man, Paul W.S. Anderson has finally managed to greenlight his proposal to revamp the franchise with assistance from the original producer. Roger Corman.
Although Anderson has spent nearly 13 years presenting his vision of a death race remake, its original plan had to be revised once the studio determined that a futuristic sequel (originally titled Death Race 3000) was not exactly “economical”. Forgoing high-tech flying cars and ridiculous sci-fi gadgets, the filmmakers ultimately settled on a gritty prequel/remake chronicling the fate of Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), a trapped prisoner trying to win back his freedom by taking on the role of the iconic Frankenstein and participating in the pay-per-view event “Death Race”, a brutal competition set on a futuristic prison island.
Boasting a passionate director and an admittedly thrilling premise, it stands to reason that moviegoers were excited about this updated take on hyper-violent combat racing. After all, the cars actually ran this time around, and it seemed audiences were clamoring for a more compelling depiction of automotive carnage.
SO, WHAT WAS NOT USED?
Grossing over $76 million at the box office on an estimated $65 million budget, death race didn’t really wow producers with its financial performance. Critical reception hasn’t been too positive either, with the picture currently rated at 42% on Rotten Tomatoes as critics lambasted its boring characters and messy editing as well as the unusually dark storyline.
Many complaints have been leveled at the film’s general lack of creativity and style, with over-the-top racers like the original’s Nero the Hero and Matilda the Hun becoming unremarkable villains with boring cars that are hard to tell apart during shaky-cam footage. actions. The film’s lackluster attempts at social criticism were also criticized, as many of Bartel’s jabs at American culture were removed in favor of a more direct commentary on privatized prisons and reality TV.
The Terminal Island Penitentiary setting was also an issue, as the unique location meant the film lost the compelling road trip aspect of the original, making the titular run look like a wilder version of Mario Kart rather than an odyssey across the country. Plus, the lackluster environments made for repetitive action scenes, with cars exploding and drivers being shot down with no extra personality to make those moments memorable.
Of course, the biggest problem here is the extremely serious tone of the picture, with the story lacking the dark sense of humor of the original film. While it maintained some of the over-the-top dialogue and overly brutal kills, this prequel/remake ends up being a mostly joyless experience that trades in the grindhouse charms of the original for a big-budget spectacle.
THE SILVER LINING
the original Death Race 2000 remains a schlocky classic that’s just as entertaining today as it was nearly half a century ago. While Bartel’s film is undoubtedly the superior picture, I’d say Anderson’s 2008 reimagining also has a lot to offer if you accept that it’s a fundamentally different but equally valid experience.
The larger budget and increased production value may have taken away some of the trashy charms of the story, but it also means the vehicular action is much more believable this time around. The movie even had 35 fully functional cars and a team of over 80 mechanics to make sure they were all in working order. Sure, it would have been nice to see wackier designs and crazier racers, but it’s hard to look away from those grisly crashes and explosions, especially during the second half of the picture.
The cast is also surprisingly great, with heavy hitters like Ian McShane and Joan Allen elevating an admittedly bland script. While Statham is a charming leading man, Tyrese Gibson stands out as rival-turned-ally Machine Gun Joe, though it’s a shame they didn’t give him any of Stallone’s hyperbolic ways. In addition, David Carradine actually reverts to Frankenstein’s voice in the film’s opening scene, which is a treat for fans of the original.
Beyond budget and performance, I think one of the death race The remake’s most unique aspects are its cinematic redirection of video game logic, with the picture successfully adapting absurd gameplay tropes like power-ups and optional risque shortcuts. These entertaining ideas don’t exactly make up for the uninspired visuals, but they do make the movie feel less goofy. twisted metalWhich is always a good thing.
It’s nowhere near as memorable as the original, but I really appreciate how death race is not a simple rehash of its predecessor, keeping only the general premise and mostly doing its own thing. If you can accept that, I highly recommend revisiting this gear spin on dystopian prison movies. While the death race the franchise would live on through a series of surprisingly fun direct-to-video sequels (and a full legacy sequel in the form of Death Race 2050), I know I’ll always have a soft spot for Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson teaming up for a big-screen armored truck boss battle.
Watching a bad movie doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Even the worst movies can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we try to look on the bright side with The silver liningwhere we spotlight the best parts of traditionally maligned horror movies.