I have to admit that I was shocked when I read that Ron Howard had the green light to make a Hollywood action movie based on the 1976 F1 championship battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It’s not that I don’t find the story riveting, I’m just skeptical of the American people parting with their hard earned money to see a movie that is very Euro-centric. Let’s face it, over the past 30+ years, pushing F1 on the American public has resulted in more than a few financial disasters. Long Beach, Detroit, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix and Indianapolis all attempted to host races that for various reasons didn’t capture the locals interest. Phoenix even had the dubious distinction of being outdrawn by an ostrich race held in nearby Chandler on the same day. Really Phoenix? Big Bird over Ayrton Senna? This country is so indifferent to F1 that Michael Schumacher used to do all of his vacationing here because this was the one place in the world where he could go incognito.
But the tide seems to be changing course of late. First a Senna documentary, then a successful F1 race in Austin and now blockbuster movie? Even TV ratings have increased from Erik Estrada infomercial viewership levels on Speed to a respectable 700,000 households per race on the NBC Sports Network. I find this all very strange. Being a fan of the sport has often led to living a hermetic existence, one that I’m not accustomed to sharing (hence this site – I feel like I’m sending messages off into the galaxy to see if there are similar life forms in existence). It was bizarre enough going to dinner parties and listening to people share their viewpoints on Ayrton Senna, now I’m going to be surrounded by James Hunt experts?
Anyways, enough ramblings about my insecurities. This is about the movie dammit!!
To get my facts straight and regain perspective of what a racing film should look like, I read Gerald Donaldson’s solid James Hunt biography and watched John Frankenheimer’s fantastic 1966 film, Grand Prix.
This being the first ever bulseyeview official movie review, I think the establishment of a ratings system is in order:
For the general movie review, I’ll go with the classic Siskel and Ebert “Two Thumbs Up or Down.” Why mess with perfection?
For the buzzardly aspects of the movie, I’ll go with the rating scale of 1-5 Condors, with 1 Flapping Condor being downright terrible and 5 Flapping Condors being supremely wonderful.
To score high marks on the buzzard scale, all aspects of the racing from driver conduct to on track action have to be realistic. In other words, Do Not make another Driven! Jean Alesi cameo aside, Driven is the worst movie ever made and will have to be the subject of a future separate review.
Five Basic Buzzard No-No’s:
Using incorrect exhaust notes and revs.
Going wild with CGI to transform basic contact into flaming plane wrecks.
Using 1980’s super-vee’s painted like F1 cars in action crash sequences.
Having the driver in the cockpit scream cliches while weaving all over the track blocking his adversary and missing apexes by 5 feet.
Bill a race as the German GP but show the cars racing on a make believe track fit for Gran Turismo.
Two thumbs up! Not way up, but I’ve got them both pointed at the sky. It’s a great story of a rivalry between two wildly contrasting characters that moves along at a nice pace. In the pantheon of sports movies it’s not Hoosiers, but it’s a story that people with no interest in racing (my wife) will still enjoy and get caught up in. Daniel Bruhl, who plays Niki Lauda, is fantastic. In fact I think the story of Lauda is the show stealer. Bruhl nails everything about the legendary Austrian, from his mannerisms to his propensity to use the word “Bullshit”. He does a nice job of opening up the complexities of the mind of a driver in that perilous era. We don’t really get to know Hunt, aside from his determination to win and his swashbuckling lifestyle.
4 Flapping Condors! I had to pinch myself at one point during the movie when Lauda was driving through the countryside with Clay Regazzoni because never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be witnessing a conversation between Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni on the big screen in San Francisco, Ca in the year of 2013. I loved the vibe of the 70’s GP scene and everything about the cars, tracks, helmets, driver suits, officials, grandstands, etc. seemed dead on accurate. Any movie where Dr Harvey Postlewait is introduced to a sexy nurse accompanying James Hunt is off the charts buzzardly. And the soundtrack is a beauty!
However, the actual on track action sequences were a little too CGI for my taste and prevented me from handing out the elusive 5 Flapping Condor rating. At one point early on in the movie I cringed when they went all CGI on us to show a tangle between Hunt and Lauda at Brands in F3 cars. But to Ron Howard’s credit, he kept the computer wizardry to a minimum, or “Bullshit” as Lauda would call it, and seemed to capture the excitement of a race through a lot of engine noise and abstract shots of steering wheels, engine valves, monster Goodyear rears, footwork action, cheering buzzards, pouring rain and quick shots of cars side by side through corners or brief in car looks. A wise choice if you ask me.
Solid Movie. Go See it!
Finally, we know that Hollywood tends to have a bit of a copycat mentality so here is the next motorsports movie that I would like to see made: Gilles Villeneuve- Life Lived at Speed.
Pitch: Small town French Canadian snowmobiler gets discovered by The James Hunt in a Formula Atlantic off season race in Canada and ends up a Ferrari legend. Everything he does from flying helicopters to driving his rental car is a done in a death defying manner. Just as he’s poised to become a champ, his dirty French teammate (Didier Peroni) goes behind his back and beats him in a race after they had agreed to not fight each other in the closing laps. Gilles is so incensed that he declares war on Peroni and during qualifying for the very next round, Gilles is tragically killed while going for an impossibly small gap left open by a car off the pace on the racing line. But his soul hovers around and causes Peroni to have a leg shattering accident a few weeks later and then Gilles passes on his gift to his son and helps Jacques win the title that should have been his. It’s got everything. Action, glitz, glamour & ghosts. Get it done Hollywood!