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Image has been releasing a number of top-quality Blu-ray discs adapted from IMAX attractions lately. Among the nature subjects and travelogue shows is Stephen Low's exciting Super Speedway, a fine-tuned look at high speed IndyCar racing. The last time we had a seat-of-the-pants POV racing experience this good was John Frankenheimer's 1966 Grand Prix. Super Speedway has an advantage because it doesn't wear out it's welcome; its running time is perfectly matched to its subject matter. We see the dynamic world of modern racing from all sides, including a nostalgic trip into the past.
Paul Newman was apparently part owner of Mario Andretti's racing team in 1996 when this show was filmed; he narrates sections of the 50-minute IMAX movie. We start in a handsomely shot framing story about a car restoration specialist working on the wreck of an old Andretti racer discovered in a country barn. We return from time to time to the shop to see the loving care invested in the car's restoration. The handmade racer provides a strong contrast with the modern machines in the show's main section. Designed by computers, perfected in wind tunnels and constructed of exotic materials, the IndyCars are as sophisticated as spaceships.
The show carries a nice balance of racing scenes, pit action and Andretti family background. We see the retired Mario advising his son Michael and Mario, watching the cars being assembled and trying to make them race-worthy on the track.
The glimpse of the reality of racing car driving emphasizes the danger involved. Mario's skill and luck kept him competing for five decades but he's had his share of mishaps and accidents. A montage of crashes makes it look as if avoiding horrendous wrecks on the Indy track is next to impossible. Cars slam into a wall or go out of control, sometimes in bunches. All is going well, and then suddenly the track is filled with bouncing tires ripped loose from their mounts.
That's when we finally get to the key racing footage, which is beautifully filmed and backed by excellent audio work. Driving at over 200 mph seems to be a key male fantasy, for the moment we're put in the position of a driver hurtling down the track, the visuals become hypnotic. The wide-angle car mounted cameras show racers passing at terrific speed and frequently almost touching each other. We can feel the power of the machines. When one car spins out, the driver rights it by throwing it into an instant sideways skid to realign it to the track. Barely a second or two later, he's accelerating again, as if fired out of a slingshot. The visuals encourage one to pitch about in one's chair.
Super Speedway works because we get right up close to the cars and the races. The pit stops are so fast that we can barely understand how the mechanics can replace wheels so quickly. The actual racing part of the show lasts just long enough to be satisfying, without inducing migraine headaches. Our interest in the subject matter is not betrayed by writer-director-producer Stephen Low's choice of angles and cutting patterns. The pace is brisk but each marvelous shot is given the opportunity to make its impact.
I'm assuming that more knowledgeable racing fans will find technical faults with the film or complain that the staged track-side dialogues aren't natural, etc. As Super Speedway isn't a drama, none of this bothered me in the slightest. We know that the opening with the chickens in the barn is staged, but so what?
After all the excitement, the show ends on a pleasant, relaxed note atypical of racing films. Andretti visits the country auto shop where his much older speedster is now ready for him to try out. He slides into the seat and puts on an old helmet to take it for a spin. Backed by Matt Monro singing "On Days Like These" (previously heard over the titles of the original The Italian Job), Mario speeds down some country lanes, scattering leaves as he goes. It's like Buffalo Bill riding a horse into the sunset. The internal combustion automobile engine needs to be retired forever, but there's nothing wrong with being nostalgic.
Image and Openwheel's Blu-ray of Super Speedway looks simply fantastic, with an amazingly bright and sharp image. It could easily serve as a demo disc for a fancy home theater setup. I'm told that the DTS audio track is practically identical to the final product as heard in the show's professional mixing room.
The original IMAX format of 1.44:1 has been adapted to 1:78 for Blu-ray, but whatever scan they used, the image shows no sign of unwanted cropping.
The show is accompanied by a 47-minute making-of film that will interest fans wanting to see how the individual shots were accomplished. Disc producer Ryan Mullins has also included a trivia quiz and text bios on the filmmakers. You'll find yourself visiting the various trailers, just to see glimpses of impressive HD shows like and Hurricane on the Bayou.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Super Speedway Blu-ray rates:
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