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Category:    Home > Reviews > Cars > Automobiles > Racing > Funny Cars > Canada > Action > Adventure > Drama > Large Frame Format > Horror > David Cronenberg’s Fast Company (1979/Blue Underground Blu-ray)/John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966/Warner Blu-ray)/Super Hybrid (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Top Gear – Season 16 (2011/BBC Blu-ray set)

David Cronenberg’s Fast Company (1979/Blue Underground Blu-ray)/John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966/Warner Blu-ray)/Super Hybrid (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Top Gear – Season 16 (2011/BBC Blu-ray set)


Picture: B- (Grand Prix: A)     Sound: B-/B/B/C+     Extras: B-/B+/C+/C+     Films/Episodes: B-/B+/C+/B-



Summer and cars are a great combination and Blu-ray makes that even more so.  Here are four titles worth checking out and then some…


We start with David Cronenberg’s Fast Company (1979), an early feature film of the famed Canadian director than may not be the challenging kind of film (Spider, The Dead Zone, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers) he made later, but it is a fine, underrated piece of filmmaking from Canada whose best films are underrated and sometimes mistaken for U.S. product.  In this case, this is a drama about car racing Cronenberg co-wrote the screenplay to, but even here the line between man and machine slowly starts to break down.


However, this is more in the spirit of the bandit/chase cycle (though it is not one of those films) or other great car films of its decade like Two Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, the many Australian car films of the period and even Death Race 2000 in feel, attitude and love of cars.  Here, it is the racing world of funny cars, race cards with shells that are oversized, made to amusing show and barely constitute that the vehicles are cars versus chassis with engines and a seat.  William Smith (who often played bad guys) is good here as an experiences racer whose time may or may not be up, but Fast Co. Oil (the film title has several meanings) John Saxon may be up to no good and want him out.


Though fun like the many such films noted, it is also smart like the more challenging films in the genre and tends to have subtly stark moments, but it also goes out of its way to appeal to a teen audience with would-be Pop/Rock this and follows (though in an almost ironic way) the formula of such films.  Still, it is very well made, has aged well enough and is a film that deserves to be as rediscovered as other early Cronenberg films.  It also is better than many such genre films but being just a little more raw in its realism.  Claudia Jennings and Nicholas Campbell co-star.


The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer may show some age and slight flaws on occasion holding it back overall, but the transfer was supervised by Director of Photography Mark Irwin (who became a regular collaborator with Cronenberg) and it has plenty of great shots and even a few demo shots that any HD playback or home theater will enjoy.  The color range is great and color as consistent as it is clear.  The sound is here in both DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes and though the original film was originally monophonic, this is not a bad set of upgrades (the DTS is just slightly better than the Dolby) and a third soundtrack in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 EX is also included.  Of course, the sound recording can show its age, but I cannot imagine this sounding better.


Extras include the Theatrical Trailer, feature length audio commentary by Cronenberg, two earlier short films by Cronenberg (Stereo (1969) and Crimes Of The Future (1970)) and two making of featurettes: Inside The Character Actor’s Studio with Smith & Saxon and Shooting Cronenberg with Irwin.  Blue Underground has given great deluxe treatment to another missing gem on Blu-ray.  Though realistic, there are other car films that have been as effective.



After a long wait, Warner Home Video has issued John Frankenheimer’s equally realistic Grand Prix (1966) on Blu-ray, though it was issued in 40th Anniversary editions in a DVD set and now defunct, out-of-print HD-DVD that we reviewed here:




That also has a link to the DVD set.  Now celebrating its 45th Anniversary, the film continues to be one of my favorite High Definition demos sporting the same amazing transfer from the original 65mm negative elements that were used in the previous editions and in HD-DVD form was THE image demo in my collection for a long time, stunning all who saw it.  Best of all, the sound has been upgraded!


While the DVD had lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and HD-DVD somewhat better Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (remember that format?), this Blu-ray takes the same fine soundmaster and offers it in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix that may show the limits of the older magnetic multi-channel master, but is much warmer and fuller than the previous editions and the Maurice Jarre music score now sounds more in line with what the original music recording would have sounded like.  Yes, there may be some dirt on the print and the sound is not going to be spotless all the time, but the combination will stun those not used to seeing films of the 1960s in all their glory and this is a must-have Blu-ray for any serious collector.


For more great John Frankenheimer films on Blu-ray, try these links:


Manchurian Candidate (1962)







Another big surprise lately has been Eric Valette’s Super Hybrid (2011), a release that looked like another bad “get the product down the pipeline no matter how bad” release that it seemed we were in for another painfully bad release.  However, there are not many killer car tales out there and this one is surprisingly consistent enough to work just enough to watch it.


When a car is brought to a garage ion Chicago all busted up, they cannot take it, but it turns out it is more than just another semi-totaled vehicle.  Early on, we see it has night vision, can move on its own and may run on the one fuel lost in the environmental debate: human flesh and blood!


Eventually it is brought in, which is when strange things start to happen and it slowly by surely becomes obvious something is wrong and wrong with it, especially when workers at the garage start turning up dead.


No, it is not totally original (the elements of Aliens and Transformers are worked in, but not as badly or as sloppily as you’d think), but it also has a consistent pace, amusing acting without being too stupid, a look and feel that hold up and enough suspense to help it survive some of its clichés.  No, it is not a great flick, but it is a solid piece of B-moviemaking and in a glutted market with a seemingly endless series of no-talents, it is fun.


The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer is softer than I would have liked, shot on the all-HD RED ONE camera that has a limited look, plus we also get more motion blur than I would have liked, but Director of Photography John R. Leonetti is on a genre roll with the underrated Piranha 3D and Insidious (both reviewed elsewhere on this site) even if the latter failed where the former and this release succeed.  He gets a mood out of that HD camera and that is not easy, but it works here.  The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is even better with a very solid sound design and well recorded work overall, which helps this all the more.  The only extra is an amusing featurette Under The Hood Of Super Hybrid that runs about a half-hour and you should watch only after you have watched the actual feature.



Finally we have Top Gear – Season 16 (2011), the continuation of the original British series version of the hit show that I think is the best TV series on automobiles ever.  This season, the automobile highlights include the Ariel Atom 500, latest Porsche 911, the 959 vs. Ferrari F40, a Ferrari 599, Pagani Zonda R, Pagani Tricolore, Jaguar XJ and even ultra expensive Mark II NASA Moon Buggy!  Among the stars in “reasonably priced cars” this time around include Director Danny Boyle, Boris Becker, Amber Heard and the filmmaking/acting team of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.


The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image again stylizes the cars during initial tests sometimes to their slight detriment, but this looks fine for such a show and is as solid as the previous Blu-ray seasons (not to mention better than the DVD versions, some of which need Blu-ray upgrades) and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is good, though fans would like some kind of lossless audio.  After all, we’ve had DTS DVDs with automotive material and they had richer sound than this, but that is what we get.


Extras include Outtakes, Studio Tour, Behind The Scenes of Celebs In A Reasonably Priced Car, End Of Season 16 chats and a few more surprises that will make more sense once you’ve watched the whole season.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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