With the 2012 theatrical release of Senna has brought several different projects surrounding Europe's Formula 1 racing to light, and last year's Rush brought a big studio effort to the big screen. However, both of those projects had a slightly narrow focus of time when it came to looking at Formula 1 or the drivers that were the subjects of the movies, whether the former was on Ayrton Senna in the 1980s and ‘90s or the latter on the friendly rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the mid-‘70s. This is where 1 comes in, attempting to fill the gaps between those and then some.
Michele Farinola, Nigel Sinclair and Glen Zipper, three of the producers behind the Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated, helped to produce 1, which Paul Crowder (Once in a Lifetime) directed. Narrated by Michael Fassbender (Prometheus), the film starts by showing us a crash from Martin Brundle, a driver from Great Britain who participated in the circuit during the same approximate time as Senna. The crash appears grisly, but Brundle is not only able to make it out of the car, but is cleared by the track doctor and runs to his backup car to resume racing. The significance of the event will be later amplified, but the damage at the time of the crash can certainly make the neutral observer cringe.
From there, the film takes us on a tour of the Formula 1 origins, the driving standards of which were agreed upon and used in the aftermath of World War II. The first driver to stand out among the rest was Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five F1 Championships in seven years, and finished second in the other two. The 1960s brought the dominance of British, Scottish, Australian and New Zealand drivers, with names such as Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. The 1970s brought more multinational driver prominence to F1 with Lauda, his Austrian compatriot Jochen Rindt and Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi. Senna's presence in F1 and his skill at winning Monaco (arguably the most prestigious race on the circuit) is illustrated.
Though Formula 1's popularity and visibility increased (like some people of a certain age, the author distinctly remembers Stewart's voice providing analysis during Indianapolis 500 races each year in his post-retirement days), the lack of attention and care given to driver safety and medical treatment had remained unchanged. Some of the names listed in the review died during racing and/or practice laps, with some even having an almost gallows humor about their seemingly inevitable fate as at times, a driver fatality would occur on a monthly basis. However, the drivers through the years had grown increasingly uniform in their voice for safety, with such prominent voices as Stewart and Lauda, who refused to complete the final race of the 1976 season due to unsafe racing conditions, and lost the Championship that year to Hunt. It should be noted that this occurred months after a crash where Lauda found himself permanently disfigured. With the help of Bernie Ecclestone (a then-owner), the circuit not only improved driver safety but its transformation into a multi-billion dollar enterprise was made. Ecclestone's inclusion of Sid Watkins to the circuit, initially as race doctor and later as chairman of an Expert Advisory Safety Committee has led to the elimination of driver fatalities, and circles us back to Brundle's crash as an illustration of it.
The feature uses a variety of interviews, not only vintage interviews with drivers who are no longer with us, but recent interviews with surviving ones, their contemporaries such as Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, and with reporters and executives such as Ecclestone and Watkins. The film includes ample racing footage from the 1960s on up, and covers such things as driver safety, the wives and girlfriends and their respective places at the track during the season, and some of the more memorable and infamous moments through the years. When the interviews are unable to illustrate a moment during the movie, Fassbender's narration does.
If there was a nit to pick about 1 it is that it serves more as a historical recollection without paying attention to an introduction. This is to say that there is very little about why Formula 1 was appealing to these men other than perhaps the ability to drive fast. In the film's defense, a scene showing Senna driving at Monaco set to the instrumental "Hocus Pocus" makes a pretty damned good case for it, with quick speed, even quicker decision-making and the song seemingly gets us into a driver's head as both the frantic nature of the events around him and the almost peaceful nature of his thought process is shown. It is an uncut scene which shows us the full lap, and for the presumed clichéd reaction to a driver camera, seeing it used uninterrupted while one of the legends is your guide is amazing. But within the context of the film, unless one is predisposed to being a peripheral admirer of racing, its impact fizzles.
That said, I am and it does not. While the resonance of 1 may be best felt for people who have seen the earlier mentioned films and want to see more about the environment the drivers dealt with, on its own it is a nice compendium of the events of the sport through the years. Cinema has enjoyed a couple of the more charismatic storylines of Formula 1's personalities but with 1, it shows us only the surface has been scratched.
1 is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and uses the AVC encode for this Blu-ray, which as previously mentioned uses a variety of film sources for the production. The old film from the 1960s, television video from the 1970s and forward all goods natural with little to no video enhancement. The contemporary interviews look sharp and throughout the feature, film grain is present throughout, and the colors appear surprisingly vivid in the old film. All in all 1 makes for a better than expected high definition experience.
In a bit of a surprise, the film comes with a TrueHD 5.1 surround track and the results are also pleasant. The film lacks a lot of directional activity in the satellite speakers, but the subwoofer gets some exercise in rounding out the roar of the engines in the old film and the more recent races. The interviews sound well-balanced in the front of the theater and require little user adjustment, and the underlying music for the film stands out as well. The overall result makes for a fine listen.
Sadly, what we see onscreen is it, save for some previews.
1 may be a little hard to get into for those that are unfamiliar with either the racing or Formula 1 universes, but if given the chance the viewer will be rewarded as the film shows how the open-wheeled racing circuit has evolved and improved through the decades. Technically it is a nice surprise, though definitely could have been improved upon from a bonus material standpoint. On its own it is a decent film, with seeing some of the recent Formula 1-centric projects it is even better. Definitely worth viewing.