TALK about the fast and the furious.
The Wachowski brothers are making a live action version of "Speed Racer," the '60s Japanese-animated series that gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "X-treme" motor sports.
Like the cartoon, the action adventure is focused around an elite group of professional racers -- among them Speed, played by "Into the Wild's" Emile Hirsch -- who vie for primacy on the international circuit. They hurtle around torquing loop the loops in spaceship-like roadsters and thunder across far-flung road race locales in tricked out rally cars, all at speeds surpassing 300 mph. Their gleaming machines explode into the air using "jump jacks" on the vehicles' undercarriages and drivers battle tooth, nail and cylinder to knock out one another. Fending off hell-bent competitors, corrupt corporate sponsors and booby traps, they're as likely to wind up in a fiery wreckage as to come in under the checkered flag -- even if in Speed's PG-friendly world, nobody ever dies in a crash.
Befitting a movie that owes a stylistic debt to the early '60s, as well as notions of what the future would look like, writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski came up with a mashed-up nickname for the film's mélange of Formula 1, the X Games and demolition derby.
"Car-Fu -- that's what the boys were calling it," said "Speed Racer" producer Joel Silver, speaking for the notoriously media-averse Wachowskis, the dystopian auteurs behind the blockbuster "Matrix" trilogy. "Cars fighting in the air."
Chief among them, the hero's new wheels: a vehicle that looks to be a kind of rocket-propelled F1 car on steroids called the Mach VI -- the next generation from the cartoon's Mach V. "That wasn't on the show," visual effects supervisor John Gaeta confirmed, explaining that races will compose about a third of the film's action.
With "Speed Racer's" March post-production deadline quickly approaching -- the film is due out in May -- the filmmakers are scrambling to finalize their vision of a candy-hued, effects-heavy "bright, optimistic, exaggerated reality" -- one they say will eventually include some 2,000 visual effects (nearly triple the amount in most CGI-aided movies) and employ what they are calling "2˝-D" technology that the notoriously exacting Wachowskis helped innovate especially for the project.
"The car races in 'Speed Racer' couldn't have been filmed until now -- there would have been no way to do these races without the effects we created," Silver said. "There are no cars, no stands, no people. It's a composite world and most of the movie was shot on green screen."