It's really unfortunate that the IMAX company and the large-format film industry seems to be having some financial problems. Although there have been some films in the format that really do not do anything but try to supply some rather empty visuals (the format can be shown in 3-D, but requires bulky glasses), some of the best features prouced for the format take us far and wide across the world and allow us, through the format's giant screen and complex sound design, to experience what we likely would never experience. Some of the best IMAX pictures have taken us into space ("The Dream Is Alive"), into the middle of a storm ("Stormchasers") or, in the case, onto the middle of the racetrack.
Director Stephen Low has been one of the biggest participants in the IMAX format, directing pictures like "Across the Sea Of Time", "Super Speedway", "Titanica" and one of my favorite IMAX pictures of all time, "Beavers", a fascinating documentary about the little woodland creatures. For "Super Speedway", Low revolves around the two racing Andrettis, Mario and Michael. Mounting the giant, bulky IMAX cameras on racers, the director was able to capture some remarkable footage. Combined with the film's stunning sound design, the audience is put directly into the middle of the racing experience.
Not only is "Super Speedway" a technical achievement due to the fact that the footage was well-captured by the giant cameras strapped to cars going at hundreds of miles an hour, but it also does a fine job of telling the story of the Andrettis and their history of racing. We're also shown some behind-the-scenes footage of car production and restoration. Overall, a really marvelous IMAX film - certainly one of the best.
VIDEO: The original edition of "Super Speedway" provided a full_frame transfer, which I didn't particularly object to, since full_frame is generally show the large-format IMAX pictures are shown when they come to home video. Yet, Image Entertainment has gone back to do a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition of the picture - they've also brought back the original full_frame edition of the film, as well. Both are fine presentations, although the new anamorphic widescreen edition does provide some noticable improvements in quality. Sharpness and detail are improved; the picture looks consistently more well-defined.
Although the majority of the new anamorphic widescreen edition was visibly flawless, I couldn't help but notice a few minor speckles on the print used. This only happened once or twice and certainly didn't cause distraction. I saw no instances of edge enhancement or pixelation. The viewing experience, as with the majority was Image's IMAX titles, was free of distraction and provided a natural, "film-like" image.
Colors looked splendid, as well, appearing bright and well-saturated, with no flaws. Black level appeared solid and flesh tones looked accurate and natural. This is a marvelous effort from Image.
SOUND: The original edition of "Super Speedway" contained a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation that was considered one of the best examples of demo material for home theater ever. This new edition includes both the original Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation as well as a new DTS 5.1 edition. The film's sound design is really magnificent and it's rightly regarded as one of the top sound experiences that's currently available for home theater.
Both subtle, dialogue-driven sequences and the racing sequences are quite agressive when it comes to surround use. As with nearly all IMAX features, the amount of ambient detail is absolutely amazing. Even in early sequences when the car featured is being worked on, there is a tremendous amount of detail coming from the rears, allowing the viewer to hear all of the work going on in the background. The amount of depth and dimension to the sound of every scene in "Super Speedway" is breathtaking.
Also amazing are the racing sequences themselves. As the cars go around the track, it sounds as if they're rumbling through the room. The convincing feeling of being at the race track is really amazing while listening to the film's soundtrack. This is especially apparent on the DTS track, which, remarkably, actually improves upon the already outstanding experience that the Dolby version delivers. The sounds of the race cars zooming around the listening space seamed noticably more seamless on the DTS track. The DTS track also came through with slightly improved detail and clarity.
The other elements of the soundtrack also were quite strong: the light rock music score came through with great clarity and warmth, while dialogue and Paul Newman's narration were also clear and easily understood. Bass was occasionally very strong during the intense racing sequences. I've been thrilled with the soundtracks for many IMAX features (including "Speedway" director Low's "Beavers", which also boasts suprisingly agressive sound, considering the material). "Speedway", though, remains a real masterpiece of sound design; while the film transports us into the middle of the racing experience, the sound design really completes the experience and elevates the thrills to a far higher level. The feature is rightly regarded as incredible home theater demo material and with the new DTS soundtrack, the film's exceptional sound experience can be experienced with an even higher level of quality. Definitely A+ audio.
There is a rather interesting configuration of the DVD's soundtrack, though. The new widescreen edition can be played with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS 5.1. The original full_frame edition can be played with English, French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art.
Documentary: As with most Image Entertainment IMAX releases, a lengthy documentary about the making of the picture is included (47 minutes). The documentary isn't quite as interesting as most documentaries about the making of a film in this format, though. Although there are some informative interviews and good behind-the-scenes moments showing how the filmmakers were able to work with the cameras on the cars, there's a bit of footage here and there that wasn't really necessary. It's a good documentary, but compared to some of the other IMAX "Making Of"'s, it seems a little less in-depth. Still, this is worth viewing.
Bonus Footage: New to this edition is about 5 1/2 minutes of additional racing footage that is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This can be found in the special features menu.
Also: Director's bio.
Final Thoughts: "Super Speedway" is a terrific IMAX movie, capturing the thrills and behind-the-scenes details of the sport. This new edition is an improvement on an already marvelous first edition, providing even more advanced audio and video quality. Both a great film and truly superb home theater demo material in terms of both video and especially audio, "Super Speedway" is simply a must-see.