Prix (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Sound: B- Extras:
B+ Film: B
While there's yet to be a truly great film made about the world of
professional auto racing, John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966) was the first major film about the
sport, and four decades later, it arguably remains the best.
Originally intended as a starring vehicle for real-life racing
enthusiast Steve McQueen, who dropped out to do his own inferior racing movie, Le Mans (1971), Grand Prix is the story of four professional
race-car drivers competing on the international circuit during a
single Formula 1 season.
It alternates between the American Pete Aron (James Garner,
who took over for McQueen), who gets dropped by his sponsor after causing
an accident that injures a teammate, the British Scott Stoddard (Brian
Bedford). As if Stoddard's injuries weren't enough, Aron starts sleeping
with Stoddard's wife (Jessica Walter), who claims to love her husband so much
she just can't bear to watch him compete in dangerous races anymore.
Then there's Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), a married
driver who has an affair with an American journalist (Eva Marie Saint), an
Italian playboy (Antonio Sabato) and a winning-obsessed Japanese industrialist
(Toshiro Mifune), who hires Aron to drive one of his cars.
But the personal stories are merely filler in between races, all
of which were shot beautifully and excitingly by Frankenheimer and
cinematographer Lionel Lindon. Making great use of split-screen
photography and aerial shots, Frankenheimer pretty much had to learn
how to properly film races as he went along, and his impromptu work
remains unsurpassed 40 years later. Filmed in Cinerama,
Frankenheimer's racing sequences are amazingly coherent compared to
those by directors like Tony Scott (Days
of Thunder) and Renny Harlin (Driven), who got carried away with
the trendy quick cutting of today, which makes racing sequences much
harder to follow.
Most auto racing and racing films, to me anyway, tend to bore
after a while because the cars usually keep driving around in a circle on a
standard track (I realize it takes enormous skill to drive a race car at
these high speeds, but I'm just talking from a spectator standpoint).
However, the Formula 1 races in Grand
Prix take place over courses that extend for miles in various
directions with diverse topographies -- for instance, one race even goes
through the city streets of Monte Carlo. The uniqueness
of each route makes the racing scenes far more interesting than usual.
Warner Bros. two-disc special edition of this 176-minute MGM
epic is a super new digital transfer from restored 65mm elements in
anamorphically enhanced (and accurate) 2.20 X 1 framing with the soundtrack
remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Those
65mm materials were also cut into three Cinerama strips to project in an even
wider 2.76 X 1 blow-up in that great system and the sound derives from the
6-track magnetic stereo where five of the tracks were behind the Cinerama or
70mm screen. That means there is
traveling dialogue and sound effects, recaptured very well here. Except for the lack of a DTS option, this is
an amazing presentation for a film this age and proves once again how
larger-frame formats are always so amazing.
The extras include a vintage featurette about Grand Prix racing as
well as four new documentaries about the making of the film. You get lots
of information about Formula 1 racing, and recently recorded interviews with
surviving cast members such as Garner, Saint and Walter, but most interesting
to me were excerpts of interviews with Frankenheimer where he talks about his
hard-driving attitude and penchant for yelling on the set.
Unfortunately, the only thing missing is one of Frankenheimer's always
entertaining audio commentaries -- I'm sure he would have recorded one had
he still been with us. Also included is the original theatrical trailer.
- Chuck O'Leary